WHO is your community?
by Chris Baeza
For me, the community has been the students at Biola University for the last four years. Interestingly enough, I got off-campus very little in order to participate in initiatives that help out my community. The word “community” means “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” (according to Lexico.com). At the time, I did not realize that there were so many diverse vibrant communities that surround our campus and I was not interacting with any of them. Christian campus culture can consume a student’s life to the point where they may not even have to step out of university grounds at all.
My worldview really changed eight months ago.
I was assigned a project in my investigative reporting class that asked me to look into the life of those experiencing homelessness in Orange County and Los Angeles. In order to complete my first assignment, I took a walk through Downtown Fullerton and ended up at Community Park. A woman named Alva and I sparked a conversation; she has been living on the streets for 10 years and explained to me her day-to-day experiences living on the margins of this community. After our conversation, I realized that I have been blind to everything going on around me for the last three years. I learned that our worldview will only change when we begin to engage with people and places that are different than our own norm.
It is so easy to get comfortable in our tiny communities and miss out on other people and places around us. It isn’t a bad thing to invest the time in the college we attend or community we’re a part of. There is a reason why we’re involved there in the first place. However, it can cause us to become blind to what is going on in the lives and communities surrounding us. My project forced me to step out of the bubble and onto the streets. I met people in the community who are struggling and those who have given their lives to help.
Stepping out of the bubble
In March, I walked into OC United to talk to Mike Carman about how they are helping make a difference in Fullerton. Mike runs the Jobs for Life (JfL) Program at OC United, a jobs and mentorship program for those experiencing homelessness. He explained to me that they run JfL at one of the local shelters and teach those experiencing homelessness career and life skills. But that’s not it nor is it the heart of the program. The program does not just provide job training, it provides those attending with positive and committed relationships. Each student is paired with a champion that mentors them through the program and continues the mentorship for one year after students graduate. I was extremely encouraged by their focus on community and building healthy relationships for the students in the program.
Interning with OC United has illuminated my view of the community and has helped me get out of the bubble that I have been living in for three years. OC United is not forcing me to write a fluff post about how great they are or why you should be supporting them. I wanted to encourage other college students within Christian campuses to step out of their bubble and engage the people in their community. We talk so much about being a light and building relationships with people in order to be a better witness in their lives. But what I lacked and I’m sure many others do, is a community of people outside of their school or church. I was forced out of my bubble, but I hope that those of you reading this will step out willingly. College is a time for us to discover some purpose for our lives and take the steps toward adulthood. But because of the focus on school and self-discovery, we forget to step out of our comfort zones and give something back to our communities.
The Belizean Fish Market
During the same semester, I was working on a story about a couple that owned a restaurant called the Belizean Fish Market. Dean Gonzales and Marie Walton are both from Belize and immigrated to the United States in the ‘70s. Although they had begun assimilation to the United States way of life, both Dean and Marie held onto their cultural heritage through their food. Meeting with the couple was difficult at first because of our cultural barrier. I offended them one day by walking in for an interview but ignoring Dean as he tried to talk with me. I was rejected an interview with them when I returned. However, after weeks of attempting to talk, they finally opened up to me and told me their story.
I share this because I would have never learned what it was like to get to know people in my community if I had just given up. Dean and Marie have had such a major impact on the way I see people in my community now. I can’t always assume that someone will open up to me right away, I now know that I need to be humble in approaching people in my community. Dean and Marie encouraged me to look past cultural differences and step out of my comfort zone to learn how to love people better.
We can’t fill every problem in our community, but …
So take a walk-off your campus and see the community around you. Engage with people you would never talk to if you hadn’t left campus. Give some of your own time to create a community that you want to be a part of. Volunteer at local non-profits and help bring change to your community with others. Relationships with those in the community are not going to be easy and it will take work but if we are called to be light in the community then don’t just keep it in one place. Spread it all over the greater community that you are a part of. We won’t be able to fix every problem in our community, but we can definitely start to fill some gaps.
Chris Baeza is interning with the creative team at OC United. He is an incredible copywriter and storyteller.
Interested in connecting with Chris? Email firstname.lastname@example.org