Week 1: Mutual Conversion

Hello Readers and Partners!

Greetings from downtown Oakland! We’re settling in nicely after a week of orientation and trainings. My name is Natalie Sue and I’m one of the two InterVarsity staff staying at the CityTeam living site. You’ll be hearing from each member of our team throughout the next 4 weeks at least twice a week. For this first week, I’ll introduce our living space and team briefly, and then give you an overview of what we’ve been up to.

For those of you who don’t know, the CityTeam building is in a old hotel in downtown Oakland. We’re within walking distance to Chinatown and Jack London Square and newly discovered farmer’s market every Friday.  This makes the facility easily accessible to the community, which CityTeam offers housing and meals for free.

The 4 women live together in an apartment with a living room, bathroom, kitchenette, and bedroom. This is the where we have most of our meetings as well as hang out, play cards, journal, make artwork, workout, and watch mice from our window (or Mickey and Minnie as the residents call them). 🙂 The 3 men share an apartment with some of the staff- placing them in a prime location to get to know the community of men that go through the faith based rehabilitation program.

Our team consists of 5 students and 2 staff. We come from colleges all over (3 states!!!!)

1. Hawaii- Jason (the other staff from University of Hawaii, Manoa), Jackie (Hawaii Pacific University ), and Philip (Hilo Community College).

2. Nevada- Afton (University of Nevada, Reno)

3. California- Shelby (Chico State), Hiram (University of the Pacific), and me (staff at University of the Pacific).

Also, individuals on our team will be assigned to 1 of 4 non-profits in Oakland: CityTeam (helping men in the rehabilitation program), BOSS (rehabilitating the homeless youth), Freedom School (empowering African American youth), and First Place (working with Foster youth). So not only will you hear our multi-state experiences, but also from multiple working environments. We all started work yesterday, so look forward to hearing more about that later!

But before we moved in on Tuesday, we spent 7 days in orientation and training. It was great to explore Oakland together for the first time, face the hard realities of many of our new neighbors, and listen to the different cultural communities about their stories and systemic injustice. One of our first activities was to go to different locations in the city and interview people about ‘how they view Oakland’. I was encouraged to find hope and resiliency in the people on international and 25th Ave. We even spent around 40min talking to a self-proclaimed Oakland historical expert, listening to his passion for the people, environment, city, local artists and contrasting that to how his city is portrayed in the media.  As we ate from a taco truck with whatever we could buy for $5 (which is more than enough satisfying food), I realized that this city has so much beauty and lessons to offer.

I think when we normally think of missions, we can be tempted to assume arrogance with what we can offer and bring. But this project is meant to create space for a ‘mutual conversion’- experiencing a mutual change of our paradigms of justice, love, poverty, God’s heart, etc… with everyone we interact with.  And we are experiencing this every day. I see it in relationships with the homeless children I will work with. I see it in relationships with the CityTeam men in rehab. I see it in the buildings graffitied with messages that ‘women are Queens and not Hos’. I see it in the community gardens. I see it in the non-Christian supervisors of our job sites. I see it in the Cambodian refugee stories. I see it in the street corners and neighbor’s faces. Hope. Resiliency. Shalom. I know I will, if not have already, fallen in love with this city.

Until next time! Many Blessings!

-Natalie Sue

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