A few weeks ago, Doug and I had the privilege of attending an event hosted by Northwest Neighbors that celebrated ten years of their ministry in Northwest Pasadena. As an organization, they do significant work in the lives of youth in their community, ranging from tutoring and mentoring to leadership development and discipleship. They are not a big, flashy organization but rather a small group of people who are choosing to work and raise their children alongside the needy of this community, and to learn what it means to be a blessing in their community. I love the passage from Isaiah 61 that is on their website: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
One of the highlights of the event was hearing from Rudy Carrasco, Executive Director of Harambee Ministries of Pasadena. I have always heard a great deal about Rudy; this was my first time hearing him speak. He is warm and funny and extremely engaging, and toward the end of his message, he said something that has stayed with me. Earlier in the evening, a young woman stood up and gave her testimony of how God had changed her life through the ministries of Northwest Neighbors. She shared that she was in college, and she spoke of what her own dreams and hopes are for her life. We all applauded and celebrated the amazing ways that God has been at work in her life in the midst of some very real challenges. Rudy brought this up at the end of his talk, and he said that we are quick to feel so proud of the achievements of these young people who come out of underprivileged situations and emerge as successful students in community and state colleges.
He said, and this is my paraphrase: “We are so quick to celebrate the amazing feat of these young people getting through adolescence without getting pregnant, or joining gangs, or turning to drugs. We are thrilled by these stories of success.” And then the smile left his face, and he spoke strongly: “How low our expectations are for these young people.” And he went on: “Are those the same expectations we have for our children? Are those the things that would make us proud of our own kids? How little we settle for.”
His words have haunted me on more than one occasion since that event. We had a situation here where people we care deeply for were living in some very substandard conditions for quite some time. But, considering they had spent much of their lives homeless and in worse places, it felt as if them having that place to live was such a victory; one we celebrated often. And they were grateful for it, but again, Rudy’s words haunted me: would it have been okay for any of my family members? Would I have felt okay with Mercy or Aaron living there? Certainly not.