August 25, 2014

Calling Home by Jenny Pan

The following guest post is from Jenny Pan, who until moving recently was a core volunteer at The Well. 

When I first discovered the Well, and the Tampa Underground for that matter, back last December, I related to the guests of the Well on a level that most people didn’t know about. I lacked a true home even though I did have a roof over my head. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for the blessing of a physical home, but my heart craved a place of belonging too. As human beings, one of our fundamental needs is for connection. As much as we try to be self sufficient, no man is actually an island. 

Why does belonging mean so much to me? For the last two years, I was in a rotational leadership program for my company so I was moving to a completely new location every 8 months. I would move, get settled and then move again. While I grew immensely from moving around for work, it was painfully lonely. With much difficulty I opened myself up to coworkers, friends and church community at each location only to feel the inevitable feeling of loss when I had to say goodbye. Even during my first rotation in Raleigh, NC, I was telling everyone that I had an expiration date to make sure that the expectations were clear. I set those expectations because I wanted to be honest about my situation but also, I didn’t want to get too close to people because saying goodbye and letting go is one of the hardest things for me to do. 

Tampa was the third stop on my journey. I was used to the moving part by this point; however, my heart was weary from always being on the move. Nowhere felt like home and I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Not even the gorgeous sunset vistas and abundant palm trees could convince me to forget my deep sense of loneliness. But God has something planned for me that I couldn’t fathom because He knows the innermost longings of my soul and He loves me like no one else can.

Through some incredible measures, He led me to the Tampa Underground and subsequently the Well. Immediately, I knew this was the sense of belonging God wanted me to have. What a sweet embrace the community gave me too! Regardless of my expiration date, the Well community freely welcomed me like family without expectations of me returning the hospitality. Serving the guests at the Well was life-giving as well. I needed the guests and the community’s perspective because it revealed to me a more complete view of the world that God was trying to show me. It helped me step out of myself and the narrow perspective I had. Hearing the stories of our guests and the Well community strengthen my faith that God works tangibly in the lives of the people He loves. It inspired me to love this rare and beautiful community more not only because of the lives it was changing, but because the Well gave me a place of belonging that my soul desperately desired. A realization that hit me hard was that I didn’t call the Well home, but the Well was calling me home because belonging is acceptance by someone or somewhere. And acceptance can't be self-declared because it is an act of grace outside of oneself.

So where am I now? God knew that Tampa wasn’t the last stop on my journey. My 8 months on the west coast of Florida ended as quickly as it started but I can confidently call the sanctuary that is the Tampa Underground and the Well home. I moved to Durham, NC in mid-July and started a new job here and I have taken the lessons I have learned about being called home to heart. Though it took me 2 years to return here after graduating Duke University in 2012, God ultimately knew that it was Durham that was calling me home. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from T.S. Eliot, 
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

It did feel like I was knowing Durham for the first time because it was finally my home. I recognized the sense of belonging I have here because it is the same feeling of belonging that I felt at the Well. Though saying goodbye to all of you was hard, I know that when a place is home, goodbyes are temporary and insignificant. I will forever be grateful to the Well for calling me home. Thank you! 

-Jenny Pan

August 14, 2014

A Reflection from one of the Firm Believers Crew

The following guest post is from Violetta Pavlovna Remeslova, about her work with The Well's Firm Believers outreach in and around Downtown Tampa. This post was originally posted on Violetta's personal blog.

As I reflect on my experiences with the poor in the past year, I realized the amazing effect these people have had on my life. This is just a small summary of the amazing lessons I have learned on the streets of my city.

I have been going out with my friend for a while now, and have met a lot of people in the downtown areas as well as built deeper relationships with a handful of them. I have noticed that as I keep going out weekly or a couple times a week, I am more and more involved in their daily struggles. These relationships are so beautiful and vulnerable, but naturally, they also cause a great deal of tension as I leave my friends at the end of every outreach, knowing that I am going home to my comfortable bed while they have to find a spot to sleep with their switch blade at hand.

Realizing that this tension will never go away has been a hard lesson to learn and on so many occasions, I have felt absolutely helpless to their situations. Feeling like I cannot offer anything to my brothers and sisters breaks my heart. And the things I am trying to offer are not actually making any kind of change to the system which is always going to title them as less than human, dirty, and forever marginalized. Honestly, overtime, my heart has become hardened to this reality and before starting [the Underground Institute class] Urban Theology, I was feeling weak, tired and wanting to give up on the outreaches we do every week. It felt more and more hopeless every time we ran out of food before everyone was fed, or we didn’t have the things they needed, or we couldn’t provide a real release from the struggles they face daily. Being in class has opened by eyes to gods amazing power and to the suffering he calls us to.

I have embraced the tension I will forever feel and let it propel me to further action, for a louder voice to speak on the behalf of the voiceless. I have looked for every opportunity to embrace them and reaffirm their purpose and their dignity and to never be the one to rob them of that. There is so much they have taught me about simplicity, patience, endurance, importance of deeper relationships, and so much more.

As I begin entering into a relationship with them, one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had is listening to their dreams and aspirations for the future. The poor’s pursuit of luxuries and unnecessary comforts is virtually nonexistent. The things they want from life are as simple as a job that gives them dignity, a place to live that is simple but safe, and reconciliation with family who have not forgiven them or quickly forgotten them. Some want to change the world and the systems that have been against them for years and others simply want to remember what it is like to have peace. Some want to lead rallies and speak prophetically about the injustices while others want to buy a trailer and park it on the beach.

Their dream is simply to have choices, to regain their dignities, and almost always, to help other as they have once been helped. As they so patiently wait for these dreams to come true, for justice to be served and for promises to be fulfilled, they have trust, in God and in people. Even after years of abuse and unfaithful promises, they are still hopefully that one day everything will change, one day people will do what they promised. And I see their despair when a promise does not come through or when a plan to finally get off the streets falls apart.

It is painful to watch them being let down over and over again as their destinies are in clenched in someone else’s hand. And I know I have let them down too. I also have been part of the “just like everyone else” statistic that the homeless are far too familiar with. But even in my shame and embarrassment, I come back to see them, maybe have a conversation or two if they will allow it, but they welcome me with open arms every time, as if old friends are once again reunited.

I am still only brushing the surface of what it means to live in solidarity with the poor and honestly, I don’t think I’m even close. But still, I cannot live without the poor. I need them way more than they need me. I would be the one who is less than human without them.