Kia Ora; My name is Jeremy, and this is about how I got here, why I do what I do and write this blog....
I live in Uptown, Chicago. I have been living here in an intentional community, called Jesus People USA (JPUSA), since late 1996. I was born in New Zealand, and lived my first 24 years in West Auckland....
My childhood consisted of living in a good, stable and loving Christian family. Both my parents are still living and I have a younger brother and sister. Our family was always involved in our local Church; Kaurilands Church of Christ (now called Titirangi Baptist Church), with both my parents continuously being in some form of leadership. Our social life predominately revolved around church events. My young years featured nothing spectacular and nothing horrifying. Life was good and enjoyable.
As far back as I can remember, I was always considered a shy kid, who turned as bright red as a beetroot whenever embarrassed or attention focused on me. People pointed out this obvious fact and I became a very self-conscious teenager. On this blog, I have written my own self-diagnosis of this ongoing struggle; I have what people generally refer to as simply "shyness", yet in actuality, it is officially considered a mental illness or anxiety disorder called Social Phobia Anxiety Disorder.
All this to say that my teenage years turned from blissful naivety into a nightmare. I entered a new phase of life. I quickly became extremely depressed and suicidal. Nothing bad happened to me or my family, I just retreated into my deep dark places and couldn't get out. I believe it stemmed from starting to realize how unjust, unfair and unequal this world is; from this reality I questioned the fairness and love of God, while battling my own inability to fight for the rights of the weak. My social anxiety played an enormous part in skyrocketing my depression into a self-absorbed suicidal risk. I wanted to be something I couldn't be; this phobia was crippling me.
From a very young age, I can always remember questioning things and wanting to stand with and fight for the oppressed, the poor, minorities and the suffering. Whereas, most my struggle was internalized, I would incessantly question and argue the complexities of life with my parents. Internally, I would brew at jokes aimed at Maori and Polynesians, generalized stereotypical comments about poor people and minorities (laziness, drug addicts, alcoholics, beneficiaries etc) and the uppity superiority that lingered with those remarks ("stealing our hard earned tax dollars" etc.). In Church life, I questioned things like policy's that didn't allow women to preach or become elders. In society, I questioned how one race could be rendered superior, while another inferior. In world affairs, I questioned how rich countries like the USA could have so much wealth, while many starved to death in countries like Ethiopia. My head was rattled with never-ceasing questions about one group of people treading on or mistreating others, but I didn't have the courage to raise my voice or my fist in protest, and that reality ate me up!
The music and movies I delved into and remain to this day, often feature elements of intense social justice and internal tumultuous questioning. That is why my musical tastes evolved from the likes of Rez, U2 and Midnight Oil in my early teens, gravitating to groups like Metallica and Iron Maiden a little later, until eventually my collection included all the above and a range of artists like Bob Marley, Rage Against the Machine, System of A Down and Public Enemy. In those days, this music played an essential part in speaking to my "inner woe", having both a positive and negative affect. I would often pray or scream out to God, while loudly listening Metallica's "One" and "To Live is to Die". It was at this time of suicidal madness, my prayer life became real and sincere. I put aside all superficiality, I was desperate, so following Metallica's lead I really started crying out to God; "oh please God help me"!
Near the end of my teenage life, in the quietness of my room, after months of agonizing internal questioning and grave suicidal tendencies, I fell face down and surrendered myself to the One who sets us free.
After my re-commitment to Jesus, I still struggled with social anxiety and seeing God as primarily a Judge. My re-dedication stemmed more out of fear, than love. Psalm 139 was no comfort to me, as I felt God's judgmental and condemning eyes always focused on my wrongs. I still struggled with seeing all the racism, prejudice and inequalities running rampant. I read the words of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount and what did he did while wandering this earth, and the Bible made me question why His words aren't always taken seriously; like loving our enemies, giving the seat of honor to the despised and embracing tax-collectors. So over the next few years, through prayer, attending church, many theological discussions with friends and going to the Bible College of New Zealand, I rediscovered God. I rediscovered Jesus. I started seeing God as One who deeply cares and loves the poor, who wants to liberate those in bondage and doesn't always focus on rules and regulations. A new relationship was beginning to form and it was beautiful.
Upon leaving high school in 1989, chronologically I worked a few different part-time and full-time jobs for about three years; newspapers, supermarket, cleaning, some art projects and putting safety equipment under playgrounds. From here, I went to Bible College for 3 years to study theology. Upon graduating, I was unemployed for a few months until I got a job driving taxis. While studying, I had decided to visit Jesus People USA, so in October 1996 I set off to Chicago. I returned to Auckland in August '97 and drove taxis again until I returned to JPUSA early 1999.
Looking back, these years were all beneficial in different ways. Whereas BCNZ helped me learn how to study the bible and glue a lot of my thoughts together, it was taxi driving that opened my eyes to what's really happening in the world, While studying, I decided I wanted to travel to JPUSA to work with the poor. I had liked and listened to Rez since I was about 12, I knew their message, what the community did and how they worked with the homeless, so it became my desire to travel to the States and learn how to put what I had learned and believed into practice. At this point, it was not my desire to remain in Chicago, but really to just learn and bring back gems to Auckland to work amongst the poor and disenfranchised in my home city. I started driving taxis for one purpose, to make money to travel overseas.
But taxi driving had more than one purpose, it taught me some invaluable lessons. I was robbed twice; the first time it was done with a knife to my throat, I was thrown into my cab's boot (trunk) and driven about, and secondly, I was robbed by 5 young gang-bangers who hit me about 50 times in the face and got less than 20 dollars. Actually, throughout those two incidences, I remained surprisingly calm and peaceful, but there were times I was scared for my life and my knees literally knocked together. Being a victim, or the more terrifying prospect of thinking I was going to be violently attacked, took a host of ideals out of my naive mind and helped me see how people can quickly resort to violence and trickery to satisfy their needs and wishes.
I worked the graveyard shift, and got to meet people from every sphere of society doing the same things; cheating on their partners, clubbing, acting violently, doing drugs, getting drunk, paying for prostitutes, going to massage parlors, demanding (but not getting) sexual favors from me etc. I could go on, but it didn't matter how rich or poor, what religion, race or gender the person was, I was exposed to an underbelly of people living their secret lives. A cab driver becomes the ears of people "living lives of shame". Whereas, I also saw a lot of love and goodness, this insight helped me realize that the poor often get blamed, condemned and imprisoned for things that people from all walks of life regularly do in secret!
Finally, taxi-driving help me realize my own weaknesses and the power of the mob. As passenger after passenger entered my car, nearly everyone expressed the same generalized passions of drunkenness, getting high and meeting their sexual fantasies. They may meet, or not meet, these desires in different ways, but it's all my ears constantly heard, my eyes constantly saw and nose constantly smelt. They would draw me into their relentless glorification of these things. Temptation rose and rose, making me think these things were what life is all about. I was alone, I was weak, but this was a time I can be thankful to God I had social anxiety, because I didn't succumb to the enormous weight of temptation that was relentlessly hitting me. Driving cabs taught me that we cannot exist on our own, we need others who are on the same path, have the same vision and convictions. If we don't have this, we can quickly succumb to the power of the mob!
After driving cabs for well over a year, I had paid off my Bible College debts. I knew I was too weak and too socially anxious to start my own social justice thing in Auckland, I knew I needed others, so I returned to the USA indefinitely, wondering about the how, where, when, who and what of my calling to work with the poor and disinherited. I returned, and immediately started working at JPUSA's homeless shelter, Cornerstone Community Outreach, again.
That was a quick summary of my life up to the time I returned to JPUSA in January 1999. The rest of my story is seen throughout this blog. I will write briefly about my beautiful family under that particular heading......