A Brief Family Update

I write this reflection with my New Zealand friends and whanau on my mind. As we inch closer to 2013, I thought it was time to write a brief update of what's been happening here in Uptown, Chicago...

I have been writing about a lot of things throughout the year; this particular post will have a number of links attached, so please feel free to click them; you can read in greater detail about some of the things I'm referring to throughout this post.

2012 has been an extremely busy year; there's been a ton of things happening and there never seems to be a dull moment, but I'll do my best to try and keep this as brief as possible.

Our year started in Aotearoa; we had an absolutely wonderful time catching up with friends and family "down under". I wrote a couple reflections about the two lives we live, and the contrast between the peaceful tranquility of New Zealand and the chaotic madness of Uptown. (Of course, and it's important to note; we're always holidaying when we're down in NZ and we always seem to be working frantically in Chi-town). That being said: We love both lives and feel privileged to live the way we do!

Our Whanau (family):
As a family, we've had a good year; we love living where we do; at JPUSA and being part of this wonderful and unique community....

Beth and I continue to work at Cornerstone Community Outreach.
Beth is the Development Director at CCO, and has been working hard promoting our homeless shelter, mainly through the blog, our facebook page, newsletters and pamplets.
I continue to work as an outreach worker and case-manager with homeless people in mainly the Uptown area.

It is such an honor and privilege to be the parents of our two beautiful children; Cyrus (9) and Muriwai (7). We love watching and seeing them grow and mature. They both possess so much love and compassion for everyone who surrounds them. With their different personalities, they show this in unique ways; it's mainly seen through their artwork, prayers, tears and questions. Just below, I included 3 links about this; it can be seen through my instagram photos, Muriwai's unique friendship with the "self proclaimed craziest man in Uptown" and Cyrus' relating and knowing a few ex-cons in the neighborhood.

    I wish I could have recorded some of the heart-felt prayers that have been prayed by our kids, they are truly beautiful. Often they are for people they haven't even met, they have just heard Beth and I talking about a certain event or situation, and they tell God about it with their simple "child-like" faiths.

    As you can see from the photos, Muriwai does ballet and will continue dancing in 2013. This year Cyrus started his journey as a boy-scout and is thoroughly enjoying it. Cyrus loves drawing and is very creative, so we enrolled him into a comic book class and it begins in January 2013.

    Both kids are doing well at school, and the teachers say they work very hard and how it's a pleasure to have them in their classrooms. Cyrus' teachers say he has made incredible leaps and bounds this year, this has come about through a combination of his own efforts, tutoring and special classes.

    All that to say; we are very proud of our two wonderful, crazy and beautiful children. It is a privilege and honor to be their parents!

    Our Job, Our Calling and Mission:
    As I mentioned above, Beth and I both work for Cornerstone Community Outreach; a homeless shelter in Chicago's north-side neighborhood of Uptown. This year has been a roller-coaster journey of so many emotions, with constant and rapid ups and downs, sudden turns and pleasant surprises.

    This roller-coaster is seen in the giant encouraging leaps forward that have been made in progress and networking. This is for the sake of the people we work with, yet at the same time, we've never experienced so much negative opposition. Even though we see miracles every single day, with chronically homeless people getting housed and conflicts constantly being resolved, there's never been such a consistent effort of people trying to tear us down. Yet, despite all this opposition, we fervently know what our job, calling and mission is, and we will keep on fighting and loving the "least of these" through whatever storms may come!

    Though the stories are certainly plentiful, I'm going to summarize this year by focusing on 4 quick points with a number of links that you can read at your own pleasure:

    1. We've had remarkable success in seeing chronically homeless men and women housed. I'm talking about men and women who've been homeless for 10, 15 or over 20 years, defying the odds and getting into permanent housing. I don't think I'm exaggerating by proclaiming that these successful moves are truly modern day miracles. Through networking and personally knowing these chronically homeless men and women, these miracles have been happening at a good steady pace throughout the year. To emphasize how miraculous I believe this has been, I called one of my writings: Movement of Irremovable Rejects

    Here are some more LINKS (with plenty of photos) to the successful movement of many homeless men, women and families:
    2. Throughout the year, I also did some writing on various subjects or issues that continually affect the men and women I work with; these are things that keep them down, keep them captured, and make it difficult for them to move toward freedom and self-sufficiency. This is a big reason I gave my blog the name "setting prisoners free", I see this as a significant part of the gospel message and our life's job, calling and mission; to assist and help free people from whatever may capture them!

    Throughout the year, I spent time writing about the never-ending repercussions of mass incarceration, mental illness, medical issues and even being a homeless veteran in this modern society. Here are the 4 links:

    3. This year, we've had to cope with a lot of death. This reality has obviously brought about new challenges. Because of the never-ending wear and tear of living in shelters or on the streets, homeless people are extremely vulnerable. People experiencing homelessness have a lower life expectancy than most other groups of people living in the United States. A lot of this has to do with what I mentioned and highlighted in the links in my 2nd point.

    Not all deaths are the same; Some people unexpectedly faded into the night (RIP David D), while others were expected to pass (RIP Papa G) and while others suffered a very traumatic death (RIP Walter M). We've been learning how to deal with all this grief and comfort those who are mourning around us. I wrote O Death, Where Is Your Victory? around the same time I discovered a few of my homeless friends had passed away, this was also around the time that Bob, a friend and long-time member of JPUSA, also breathed his last.

    My thoughts can be summed up by remembering two men who had the same name, they both passed away this year; both were called Walter, yet they had very different personalities. One of them was a very lonely and isolated dying grumpy old man, while the other Walter was a popular young man in his prime, who got gunned down in broad daylight on a busy street. The young Walter's death was extremely traumatic and happened before our eyes, and affected the whole homeless community (his remembrance here), while the old Walter was expected to pass away. One was alone, the other had many friends. One had family, the other had nobody. Yet, the deaths of both Walters signified so much; the need to remember these homeless men, people who could easily be ignored and forgotten. As we move in 2013, and with knowing death is constantly surrounding us, I plan to hold more memorial services and be a source of comfort to those who desperately need it. It is imperative that we not forget these homeless brothers and sisters, the "least of these", who are often ignored and forgotten both in life and death...

    4. We need to keep fighting for the "least of these", especially as we venture into 2013. I write this final part with a heavy heart. We have been ordered by the "powers that be" to shut down one of our programs on January 1st. This is not just any program, this is one that houses our most vulnerable residents (apart from new born babies of course). For a few years, we've been housing old, sickly and disabled men, and this program gave them an opportunity to rest their weary bones. We saw miraculous recoveries, as strength and energy was restored in weary men like my friend George, who recently passed away. Old man Walter (see above) was also one of these residents, and so is an 86 year old man who is currently living there. Read this link about George to see why I considered this program is so important and significant: George: Homeless and Fragile...

    Pray for us, especially as we try and find appropriate places for these men. The reality is: such a drastic move could bring about the death of some of these men. This is happening in the dead of winter, in Chicago's coldest month, and such a move will be too hard on their fragile bodies....

    Despite this negativity, I feel we are so blessed to live the lives we live, and to know the people we know. I feel we are in the place God wants us to be. I feel we are filled with joy and hope, and we are thankful....

    "the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy"
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