By: Justin Chambers
I have been here in Georgia and at Mercy for roughly eight months now. That’s been more than enough time to have more than a few life-changing experiences. Each experience has invited and forced me to grow my proverbial edges, sometimes to the point of discomfort. Yet each produced amazing growth. I came to this year of service expecting to help others and be the face of God for someone else. More often, however, I have seen God’s face in those I came to served.
I followed God’s call to Atlanta, but was skeptical about what I would find. I wondered if I was going through some kind of a quarter-life crisis, spending a year volunteering instead of getting a “real job.” I came seeking to change the world, instead I have had a journey-to-Damascus-scales-falling-off-the-eyes-life-changing kind of experience.
I first started to notice that my world view was changing when I visited the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia—it is the largest immigrant detention facility in the country and is privately owned. The detention center looked a lot like a prison to me. Security was tight: the gates were 10 feet high with barbed wire at the top, families were sent away unable to visit their loved ones, and for those of us who did make it in, we had to talk to the detainees on a telephone because the plastic window was too thick for sound to pass through.
I assumed once again that I would have the opportunity to be a super-volunteer and minister to an “evil-doer” who had reason to be locked away. Once again, I was wrong. The detainee ministered to me more than he may ever know. He asked me about my life goals—he was genuinely interested, and it showed. We even talked about my relationship with my estranged eldest brother who is in prison. My life connected with that of this stranger—noticing injustices in the world and expressing our hopes for the years to come. In the midst of all the uncertainty—deportation—we connected and the figurative barriers fell, though the thick plastic remained. At the end of our conversation, we fist-bumped through the glass and parted ways.
I had no idea that many people like my new friend had no choice in coming to the States. Frequently, people are brought to the States by their parents when they are just two or three because their parents hope to be able to better provide for their family here. And honestly, I had never cared about what I did not know—I was comfortable with the “us/them” rhetoric and scapegoating debates of politics. They were not like me and it did not concern me.
Soon after, I found myself standing at Catch-Out Corner sharing food with Mercy. As I looked at my sisters and brothers who had gathered around our coolers, grateful for lunch with few prospects of catching-out a day labor job, I realized that many of my friends could easily end up in the detention center. I saw how vulnerable my Latino sisters and brothers were, standing out on this corner, ready to work, and frequently watched by the police. I knew I saw them differently.
But they were not the only people I saw differently. I knew other scales had fallen to the ground, in fact, the ground around me was littered with scales. I hadn’t realized it, but I spent my first month at Mercy in a state of blindness. I realized that day by day folks in our community were helping to free me of those scales that blinded my eyes. Now I am aware that some days my sisters and brothers merely had to wipe the scales off, my view of the world changed, became clearer. Other days they were surely using pliers to yank off the scales as I resisted change.
I am grateful to know that I don’t go about experiencing change alone. I am supported. I am in community. Just as Paul had Ananias, I have my sisters and brothers at Mercy walking with me. We help each other. Saul would never have regained his sight if it were not for his obedience and the obedience of Ananias. Talk about walking by faith and not by sight! Ananias chose a hard, uncomfortable journey—that is living in community. We all have shameful moments in our past, but in this same community we come together and find, or regain, our sight and perspective. It is in this community where folks come and touch my eyes with their stories. Day by day, I learn to see this world a little differently.
This community has changed my life; I can never look at church the same. Truth be told, sometimes I find myself living with my new sight and other times I find myself on my knees trying to piece my old life back together.
Christ offers new sight every day! The choice is ours. We can either stand up and live or try to take steps back into blindness.
I know I have so much more to see and learn (and it’s probably going to take a jackhammer to get the rest of the scales off), but I choose to see. I choose to see the church being called outside the four walls of a building. I choose to go out to the hedges and highways, remembering to look in the hedge and under the highway because that may be where one of our brothers or sisters is looking for community. Seeing as Christ sees is a process, one that can be painful and joyous; yet a process never the less. I look forward to what is to come; there is no point in turning back now!