Series 13: For the Love of Giving | Episode 05
Angels & Peacemakers: Mending The Divides
Susan Ramirez and Jon Huckins are giving their all in some of *the* hardest work: lending voices and love to two communities who are suffering deeply. In our last episode of For the Love of Giving, we’re going to talk with Susan and Jon about the problems their communities face, and how we can give our time and privilege to help solve these complex problems. First up, Susan Ramirez is the CEO of National Angels, an org that walks alongside children and their caretakers in the foster care system. Today, we learn how one National Angels program is changing lives by providing love and belonging to kids who need it most. In the second half of the show, we talk with Jon Huckins. Jon is the co-founding director of the Global Immersion Project, a peacemaking training organization that equips people of faith to engage our divided world in restorative ways. Jen and Jon discuss how we can be good brothers and sisters to our neighbors who are suffering on the border, and how those with privilege can use it to fight on behalf of their marginalized neighbors.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey guys, Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show.
Today we have come to the final episode of our For the Love of Giving series, and I think we maybe saved the most impactful episode for last.
I’m really glad and proud of this community where we can talk about hard things and complex problems that have just a lot of nuance and without necessarily clear solutions. And we’re able to talk about situations filled with people at the intersections of margin and power, where some of the most vulnerable members of our community fall through the cracks, are faced with pain.
I think when we encounter problems like that, it’s just easier to look away, it is, when we maybe aren’t close enough to it or we’re not in proximity to someone else’s pain in that conversation or it doesn’t affect us in any way. It’s just easier to turn our minds toward other things, lighter things, happier things, especially when we all have our own stuff we’re dealing with, I get it.
But we are called to a standard of love and I believe that deeply, you know I do. And love loves its brothers and sisters. I think that’s the bottom line.
Today I’m talking with two people who are basically in the thick of some of the hardest work. They are lending voice and support and love to two communities who are suffering.
My first guest, you guys, is my good friend, Susan Ramirez. And you’ve heard me talk about her before because she is the CEO of National Angels. They offer support for kids and their caretakers in the foster system. She’s got big, audacious, long-term goals, which we’re going to talk about.
This is what Susan says about this work, which I love. She says, “Not everyone is called to foster, not everyone is called to adopt. But everyone can make a difference to kids in our foster care system,” and that is true. Wait till you hear how wonderfully marvelous her work is and how easy it is to join in. I’ve done work with the Austin branch of National Angels. And I can’t wait for you to meet Susan and hear from her and learn about the work that they are doing and how we can help. It’s a fabulous conversation in which I cried for five solid minutes, so do prepare yourself for that. I couldn’t get that under control.
In our second half, I will be talking with Jon Huckins. And Jon is the co-founding director of the Global Immersion Project, which is a peacemaking training organization that equips people of faith to engage our very divided world in restorative ways. Specifically, we’re going to talk with Jon about his work at Global Immersion and what they’ve been doing to help families at the San Diego-Tijuana border, which is just . . . if you follow me online you know that my heart is there right now. I am deeply engaged with what can we do? How can we be good brothers and sisters to our neighbors who are suffering on the border? So I look forward to bringing the second half of the conversation to you too.
SUSAN RAMIREZ: NATIONAL ANGELS
First up is my friend Susan Ramirez, CEO of National Angels. And I’m telling you, you are going to love this one, you guys. Without any further ado, here we go.
Jen: So, I am so happy to have you on today, my friend. This is . . . I mean, you’re one of my favorite people in the entire world. Thanks for coming on the podcast.
Susan: Oh, my gosh. I’m so tickled. Thanks.
Jen: Same. You and I have done quite a bit of work together in the Austin Angels chapter of National Angels. You know how I feel about you. You know how I feel about your work. I just believe in you so much, and I believe in Angels.
Of course, people who’ve followed me for a while already know who you are, and have seen your work. For those who didn’t, I’ve told them a little bit about you, but I wonder if you could just give a high-level view of you, who you are, and of National Angels? Just essentially about your organization and the scope of the work that you do.
Susan: Yeah. Absolutely. We started Austin Angels in 2010 with the intent just for children to experience foster care differently.
Susan: We started by joining community service projects where we would go in, we would do barbecues and picnics, and we would do days of beauty for girls at a local shelter and home here in Austin. While that was good, the truth is, is that wasn’t changing the trajectory of children’s lives.
Susan: So we know through statistics what happens when kids age out of care. For the first three years that’s what we did, and then we just began to have the conversation, “What can we really do to make a lasting and greater impact?” We would should up with things like bags and backpacks, and things that children needed, and we still do that today, but we wanted to get to the root cause and figure out, “How do we create lasting impact and change?”
Susan: We piloted a program, which you were actually a part of In October of 2013.
Susan: We ran it until 2015. We gave it a good bit of time to say, “Is this even going to work?”
Susan: What we found in that pilot program was really the impetus for me to quit my career, and decide to push the mission forward.
Quit my job in 2015, and we launched Austin Angels’ The Love Box Program, which is the program that we do today that . . . this year has served 598 children, which I’m real pleased with. But we have a long ways to go because just in Central Texas alone there’s about 5,600 kids. And on a national scale, there’s about 423,000 children.
Jen: Yeah. Gosh.
Susan: Our goal is pretty aggressive. We are trying to reach every single child in every family in foster care across the nation. We launched Austin, and we ran that. Then we piloted the chapter program of National Angels. We started in Amarillo, Texas.
Susan: We piloted that for two years, and in 2018 we . . . It’s just amazing. I can’t even believe this, but we have 22 chapters now that are either fully up and running, or they’re about to be up and running.
Jen: I love it.
Jen: So, outstanding. I can’t believe it. I remember when we first . . . when you first got the email from the Amarillo girls.
Jen: And you called me . . . That was our very first hit on the expansion of Angels, and it was just like Christmas day.
Susan: It really was. Yes.
Jen: Would you talk to us for a minute about just the enormous out-sized needs, frankly, that our foster kids have? I really agree with you that it is one of our nation’s great social crises. Will you talk a little bit about with foster kids: what they face within the system, and then what happens when they age out?
Susan: Well, the truth is, is that I do believe in this. I believe that every child should have every opportunity to grow up and reach their fullest potential. So, just a couple of statistics that was really the impetus for me to quit my job, to do this fully.
We talk all the time, and we believe in the sense of belonging and how powerful it is to have connection. That is what we are trying to build. We want every child to feel fully seen, fully known, fully loved, and then equipped so that they can reach their fullest potential.
Just a few statistics. We know that about 50% will not graduate high school.
Susan: We know that because on average, within a two-year timeframe, children will move seven different times. Just to let that sink in for a moment, that’s seven new mommies and daddies, seven new sets of friends, if they even make them. Seven new schools.
Jen: That’s right.
Susan: What happens is every time they move they’re six months behind from an educational standpoint. That’s why 50% won’t graduate.
Jen: Of course.
Susan: Then 97%, even though they have a full-ride to any state school, 97% will not obtain a college degree.
Jen: That’s right.
Susan: This is who is human trafficked. And we know that 66%, when they age out, will either be in prison, homeless, be human trafficked, or die within one year of aging out of care.
Susan: I just believe we can do better than that. I believe there is hope and beauty in the foster care system, and I’m reminded of it every single day because there are normal, average, everyday people who stand up and say, “You know what? I’m not called to foster. I’m not called to adopt, but I care deeply about the children in my community, and I’d like to play a part and do something.”
That’s what’s happening. It’s just normal, everyday people are making a difference in children’s lives, and that’s really exciting.
Jen: It sure is. You’re right. Just fundamentally, we can do better than that.
Jen: Straight up. We solve complex, nuanced, complicated problems every single day, and yet these are the pervasive statistics when it comes to our kids in foster. We positively can do better.
Let me say this. Hats off to everyone listening who is a foster parent out there.
Susan: That’s right.
Jen: I mean, oh, my. Just a few months ago, actually, when we were doing our parenting series on the podcast. We had on Jami Amerine, and she is a mom who’s been in foster-to-adopt, and you and I both can not say enough about foster parents who open their hearts and their homes to children.
That said, one of the biggest needs of kids in foster, like you just mentioned, is a sense of belonging, and that they matter. I mean, these are building blocks right here. They belong, and they matter. So many of those kids have been absolutely stripped of any sense of familiarity and place, and so many of their problems—I understand this to as a mom—have to do with attachment, understandably. The thing about that is it translates to problems forming relationships everywhere: at school, at home, in the future.
To that end, how can we help these children feel safe, and loved, and like they matter? How do we help them have the emotional and the educational resources to succeed, specifically, even after they age out? Because, your org has a couple of programs that helps kids here. Right?
Susan: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. We have a program called Dare to Dream, and it actually starts with kids who are in high school, and we follow them through. I think all people, but specifically kids, spell love T-I-M-E.
Jen: That’s good.
Susan: It’s about just showing up, and being consistent. In our program, we say that if you want to sign up to be a part of our program you have to commit to a minimum of one year.
Susan: Because, there’s so much turnover in these children’s lives.
Jen: That’s right.
Susan: You just commit to visit once or twice a month. More is better. The more we can invest our time into these kids, that is how they feel seen. That is how they feel heard. We say, “Get on the floor with them. Read them a book. Do flashcards. Play a matching game. Teach them how to cook. Be a mentor to them. Visit them at school, and have lunch with them. Teach them how to ride a bike.”
Jen: Yeah. I mean, as I’m listening to you talk, because essentially, what does it just mean to be a good parent to any kid? It’s exactly what they need, and it’s not magical. It isn’t . . . It doesn’t require superhuman strength or knowledge, but rather they’re just kids. They’re just kids who love what kids love, which is being loved.
One of the kids in the Love Box program right now is Damien, and he’s got a pretty powerful story. Would you tell it to my listeners?
Susan: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Damien is in a household where there are six teenage boys, and is being raised by a single foster mom. Damien’s mom, when the Love Box group started in this household, she had said to the Love Box group, “Listen. Damien, of all the boys in our home, has taken the most amount of abuse, and the most amount of neglect of any child that I’ve ever had in my home. We’ve had over 50 boys in our home, and he’s got the worst case, and in fact, I could only get to about the first two pages in this book that we got when we got him, and we had to close it. It was so horrific.”
Susan: Damien, when we came into his home, and into his life, he wouldn’t even make eye contact. He was really, really, really withdrawn. He didn’t fit in at school. He had been in over 17 placements, and he just struggled to build relationships. Rightfully so.
The Love Box group starts showing up month after month after month, just building him up, doing puzzles, loving on him so well, visiting him at school. Really, just loving on this boy well.
Well, it had come time for school, and he had gotten a brand-new backpack with all of his supplies, and inside the backpack there was some Dr. Seuss quote or something like that.
Susan: The Love Box leader said, “Damien, we hear you want to go out for the football team.”
He’s now in the 7th grade, and he says, “I do want to go out for the football team, but it’s never going to happen for me.”
The Love Box leader said, “Well, why?”
He said, “Because I don’t make good grades. In fact, I’ve never made a passing grade.”
Susan: “I’ve never made anything more than a D or a C.”
That Love Box leader got down and said, “You know what, Damien? We believe that this is your year.”
Susan: “We’re going to walk alongside you. We’re going to help you get the grades that you need.”
They had taken that Dr. Seuss quote, put it on his poster board then and said, “Every morning when you wake up we want you to read this out loud to yourself. We want you to know that we’ve already prayed before you have talked to God every morning that this is your year.”
Damien had brought home his six-week progress report card home waving it in the air as he was barreling in the front door. And the foster mom called and said, “Susan, you’re not going to believe this, but Damien, the little boy who has no self esteem, the little boy who has never made good grades before has just brought in his progress report card with straight A’s.” She said to me that Damien had said, “For the first time in my life, I had somebody that believed in me, and I didn’t want to make a liar out of them.”
When we hear stories like that we have the power and the impact to show a little boy that, “You’re life matters and it matters deeply to me, and it matters deeply to this group.”
Damien is now on the football team, and Damien is still in the same placement. Damien might not ever be adopted, but what we know is that he now how relational permanency. We know that he is now a part of a group, a football group, that he has self-esteem, that he’s making good grades, and one of the best parts about our program, Jen, is that we have 100% graduation rate.
Jen: That’s amazing.
Susan: Which means that kids can graduate high school, and these kids will grow up to become who they were always intended to be. If people would just walk alongside these kids and say, “You want to make the football team? We’re going to make it happen. You want to graduate? We’re going to make that happen. Do you want to get your driver’s license? We’re going to open up a bank account. We’re going to visit college campuses. We’re going to visit military recruiter. We’re going to do all the things . . . maybe trade school, whatever,” but we walk along them, and we keep walking along them until they grow up.
These kids don’t want a hand out.
Susan: They want a hand up. They want to grow up and contribute back to society like every single one of us do, and we have the power to change it. It doesn’t have to be like this. One of the massive statistics is that we hear that 80% of our prison population is made up of former foster kids.
Jen: That’s right. I’m sorry. I’m just sitting here wiping my face.
Susan: I know. I do it every single day, but I tell you what. I cry more now over the redemption that takes place than I do over the sadness.
Susan: That’s what’s so great about that program is that I’m reminded of the beautifulness of humanity. I guarantee you it’ll change your life.
Jen: No doubt about. I mean, absolutely no doubt about it. It’s so interesting how you obviously, have a lot of structure built into your program, as you should, and systems and processes, but the impetus is really just love and care. It feels like a nebulous lever to pull, like, “Well, but what about the systems?” Those are good questions to ask, but the power behind, “We see you, we love you, and you matter,” is . . . It’s monumental, the effect that has.
I’m thinking about the people listening right now. If they’re in a city that already has a chapter, up and running or about to, what can they do? If they are hearing your story and their heart is pounding and they got tears running down their face in their car and they’d like to know more about potentially. What does it mean to start a chapter in my town? What do they do.
Then if they’re just in a place where there’s not an Angel’s chapter, and they’re not in the capacity to build one, what does anybody do, right here, right now, right this minute, where they live, as they are to step into the world of kids in foster care?
Susan: So good. Okay. Question number one is they can go to nationalangels.org to find the closest angels chapter. Like we said, we have 22 chapters. We have six in Texas. We have two in Washington. We’ve got two in Tennessee. So, we’ve got chapters all over the place.
Susan: They can go to nationalangels.org, they can click on the chapter. All they have to do is fill out a form that says, “I want to know more information.”
Susan: “I want to sign up to be on your newsletter.” That’s the first step. If you’re interested and you feel called to start a chapter, on the National Angels website, as you scroll down to see all the chapters. At the very end it says, “Start your chapter here.” You can click on that. It will come to us. We will contact you, and we will give you all the information about what it looks like to start a chapter.
Then, for anybody else, there’s two things you can do. One, you can go to any chapter and make a donation because your donation directly correlates to how many children we can serve. If you’d like to make a donation right now, it’s the holidays. We would gladly accept and be honored and grateful for any donation.
Then the last thing is if there is not an Angels in your city, but you care deeply about children in foster care. What I would say for you, is go to the old Google bar and type in “foster care placement agencies” or “foster care support.” There are tons of organizations all over the country that help. I would just reach out to them and say, “Hey, what can I do? How can I serve? How can I help?” Because, what I know, is that most nonprofits don’t fail because of resources. They fail because they’re not resourceful. You just make the call to them and say, “Listen. I want to come and be an extra set of helping hands. What can I do?”
Jen: That’s good.
Jen: What I want everybody to hear, and they may have picked up on this based on what you said, but for your volunteers that get involved in the work of Angels, again, this is this beautiful space that isn’t . . . There are for folks that are like, “I’m not in a position to foster myself, but this is what I do.” The groups that work with the kids in your chapters are, I mean, they run the gamut, right? These are groups of friends that come together.
Can you just talk just a teeny little bit more specifically about what that program looks like, the Love Box program, and who comes in to support and volunteer in that space?
Susan: That’s right. I’m just going to use Austin because that’s where I’m at. If you were in the Austin area, and you went online. You said, “I want to be a Love Box leader, and find out. What it is, is we tell you get with the people that you already do life with.
Susan: So, like Jen, when we were launching a pilot program, we were a part of little motorcycle club.
Susan: Both of our husbands ride Harleys, and we . . . said we’re going to do this together.
Susan: So, every single one of us financially contributed to the cause, and we focused on three areas of impact in the program. The first is intentional giving.
When we launched this pilot we said, “Okay. What are the needs of this family? How can we serve them the best?” What we knew is that we were supporting a single mom that had a couple of kids. We would show up with things like toilet paper and paper towels, and laundry soap, and snacks. And then depending on the month it depended on the needs. In January, we showed up with brand-new coats. In February, we would show up with things for Valentine’s.
Susan: Every single month we would assess, What are the needs? And then we would meet those practical needs. That’s the intentional giving component.
The second one is relationship building. Let’s say you get paired with two little boys, Jimmy and Johnny, and they always wanted to be in baseball. They had a real desire for that. The Love Box group would then show up with equipment, go to games, take them to practice, and just build a relationship around what their giftings were, and what they wanted to do.
Then the last component is mentorship. We had talked about earlier sitting and reading to a child, engaging with their school work, making sure that they’re on track. For older kids, getting a driver’s license, opening up a bank account, filling out a job application, helping them build a resume. We say get with the people that you do life with because there is a financial component, but the money that you are giving goes directly to the family. It doesn’t come through the agency.
We’d say, “Okay, Jen. You buy two coats, and then Sandy, you buy two pair of pants,” and everybody would just come together. We’d usually share a meal together, build the beautiful boxes, and then a handful of us would go and visit the family every month. We just bring them into our community. We say, “You are now a part of our family.” That’s where the real magic is.
Jen: Right. There’s a one-year commitment, but a lot of the groups just keep going.
Susan: Oh, they keep going.
Jen: Those relationships are so strong. I know that Shauna and Teresa’s group, some friends of ours, at this point the foster moms that they support are their friends now.
Jen: They literally brought them into their friend circle.
Susan: That’s right.
Jen: It was such a long term relationship, and I want my listeners to think outside of the box for it. This can be . . . It can be you and your big, huge extended family. It can be your group of best friends. It can be your little neighborhood bunch. It could be your book club. It could be you and your co-workers. It could be your Bible study group. It could be your church small group. I mean-
Susan: That’s right.
Jen: The sky’s the limit here for how creative you can get.
Susan: That’s right.
Jen: When you share the load amongst several families . . . I mean, heck, for me a Susan’s group and our motorcycle club, we had at least eight or nine families—
Susan: 10. It was a lot.
Jen: Yeah. I mean, really, it’s not an out-sized burden on anybody.
Jen: We shared it, and we carried it together, and what a joy. This is why we . . . I’m behind you. Let’s see it in every city.
Susan: Let’s do that.
Jen: Let’s have every foster kid touched.
Jen: I mean, honestly Susan, I 100% graduation rate is just bananas.
Susan: I know.
Jen: It’s bonkers. That is so against the trend. It is such a phenomenal statistic to come out of your program. That should tell my listeners all they need to hear about does this work or not?
So, look. This is our last episode in our series on giving. So, we’re asking every guest on this series just three quick questions, and I’d love to ask you too, if you don’t care.
Jen: Here’s the first one. What is the most memorable gift someone ever gave you?
Susan: This is so hard. You know?
But honestly, I would say the best gift that was ever given to me was a job that I went out for. When I . . . Right before I decided to leave my job, I knew God was calling me for a long time to leave corporate America, but I just kept pressing forward, and kept pressing forward, trying to climb the preverbal ladder at the same time that I was doing Austin Angels. I went out for a management job, and I didn’t get it. I was just heartbroken. I remember when I didn’t get the job, I had a girlfriend say to me, “Oh, my gosh. This is so exciting that you didn’t get the job.”
I was like, “Well, that’s a stupid thing to say.”
Susan: “You’re not my friend.”
She said, “No. No. No. This is so exciting because this just means God has something different in store for you.” Honestly, the best gift that was given to me was not getting that management job because had I had gotten it, I’d probably wouldn’t have started Austin Angels.
Susan: Really, I think . . . I mean, I just know, it was all in God’s timing and God’s planning, but sometimes we think that gosh, we really want something, and then we don’t get it, and then we’re heartbroken, but the truth is, it’s the best thing that ever happened to us. So, I would say that.
Jen: That’s a great answer. Okay. So, besides your own, do you have another, either charitable organization or nonprofit or group that you really believe in, that you love what they do also?
Susan: Yeah. I know you just had Scott from Charity: Water.
Jen: I sure did.
Susan: Yeah. Yeah. His charity has always been one that I really admired. It’s so hard to build something from the ground up.
Susan: To become that monumental . . . I mean, when we talk about charities like United Way, Red Cross, or Big Brothers, Big Sisters, they operate off of a ginormous budget, and they’ve been around for 50 years. It is so hard to build something from the ground up to get it to that place, and so I really admired Scott’s leadership.
Jen: I do too.
Susan: I really adore him.
Jen: He is a living saint. I mean, a saint among us. No doubt about it.
Everybody listening, I’ll link over to Alan’s work. His work is here in Austin, also. You’ll just not believe your eyes.
Last question, and we ask everybody this in every series, and it can be serious, and it can be silly, and it can be big, or it can be small. You just pick. But, it’s Barbara Brown Taylor’s question, which is what is saving your life right now?
Susan: I would say that I just wake up every day and thank God that I have these people, and really this staff, man. We are serious about the work that we do.
Jen: I know you are.
Susan: Yep. So, that’s what’s saving me.
Jen: I love it. I love you. I love your team, and I love the work of Angels. I just think this is the beginning, honestly, of the story. There’s just so much ahead, and this star will continue to rise and burn brighter. It’s just going to be a delight, you and I, to sit 10 years from now—
Susan: I know it.
Jen: And just marvel at what’s happened in 10 years, and then 10 years after that. It is . . . I believe in you. I know that’s going to happen. I have faith in that, as Alan would say.
Jen: We have faith for it, sis.
Okay. Just tell everybody real quick, you mentioned it earlier, but just quickly where can people find you, find . . . Where do they go if they’re interested?
Susan: We’d love to connect.
Jen: We’ll have that all linked over on the Transcript page, you guys, on jenhatmaker.com. Hey, thanks for being on friend. Onward with your day, just changing the world. Go do it.
Susan: Love you.
Jen: Love you too.
Susan: Thank you. Okay. Bye.
JON HUCKINS: THE GLOBAL IMMERSION PROJECT
A couple of weeks ago, I, with six other women in my church, some of who had already been, went down to McAllen, which is a border town down here in Texas with a really large port of entry for immigrants and asylum seekers. We are just super committed just as a faith community, first of all, our church, but also just me as a believer and a leader to engage what is happening at the border, to learn as much as possible about the very complicated realities of our immigration system, and to invest however we can in suffering—and in some cases, what feels like human rights abuses and family separation, and just a loss in the lack of human dignity in human folks. Personally, I’m deeply invested in this work right now. I think that’s why I’m so pleased to welcome someone who’s offering hope and help to people at the border right now.
Like I said earlier, Jon is the co-founder of The Global Immersion Project, which works to equip people with tools to become everyday peacemakers. We talk about what that means at home. We’re going to talk about how we can remember that every person, whether we think they are “good” or “bad,” bears the image of God, and how we can offer help to those who really need it most right now. I would love for you to help me welcome to the show, Jon Huckins.
I am so happy to have you on, Jon. Thank you so much in advance for taking the time to be here. I’ve told our listeners a little bit about you, but I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit more about The Global Immersion Project, and how it came to be? Could you tell us that story, and just in general, the work you do.
Jon: You bet. Yeah. Thanks for having me, again. It’s a gift to be with you all.
Yeah. Global Immersion started in 2011, and it came out of some really unique experiences in our global village when me, as a dominant-culture white guy, began to submit to and learned from people who looked and thought, and believed differently than I did, specifically in places of global conflict.
So, it was in 2011 that my colleague, Jer, and I actually studied in Israel and Palestine, specifically study the conflict there, and how we gained tools to take peace seriously. It was through our seminary at Fuller, and we were learning from some of the most academically astute scholars in peacemaking. But far more compelling than that was learning from these Jewish, and Christian, and Muslim peacemakers on the ground in Israel and Palestine who were daily giving their lives for the costly, subversive work of peace.
As we’re learning from them, we begin to ask a set of questions like, “Here at that time, I was a pastor of a traditional church, and at seminary. How is it that I’ve gone through this much of my life in the Christian world and have no theology for peace? Let alone any kind of practice for it.”
Jon: “Let alone any kind of understanding of the implications for not understanding peace, and how that impacts our global village.”
Jen: That’s good.
Jon: We’re beginning to learn from these folks who are on the front lines of conflict, and I’m finding that I not only have been complicit in that oppression that they experience every day, but I’ve been apathetic towards it, and I’ve been completely blind to it.
So, in that paradigm, we began to bring over some delegations our church to learn from our pals in the Middle East. And Jews, Christians, and Muslims have said, “Hey, will you teach us what it looks like to take peace seriously? Because, we say we follow the Prince of Peace, but we have no idea what that means.”
It impacted the way we saw our neighbor, or the way we saw our enemy, the way we understood our practice on our own streets, the way we understand our connection here in the empire to places of conflict out in the Middle East. That is really what birthed The Global Immersion Project, to say, “Hey, we have to create a mechanism, specifically within the U.S. American church, to actually train in the work of peace.”
Jen: That’s good.
Jon: “What is that theology for peace? What’s the practice of it? How do we destigmatize it from this 30,000-foot fairytale?”
This is essential to what it means to follow Jesus, and it’s our opportunity to now roll up our sleeves and move toward conflict with tools to heal rather than to win or to destroy.
Jen: I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about that. Can you expand a little bit on . . . Just bring it down 10,000-feet in. Let’s just say.
Jen: Here are some of the key practices that you have learned and are teaching. Here are some of the approaches and postures that you mean, because you’re right. The idea, the word of peacemaking, peace in general, it’s nebulous to most of us. We don’t live in places of conflict. We’re weirdly detached from places where peace is absent.
I’d love to hear you just dial that in a little bit more, and teach us a little bit what you teach others.
Jon: You bet. Yeah. We define peace as “the holistic repair of relationship.” This really comes from understanding the Biblical stories, our central sacred text. The mission of God, ultimately, is restoration, and that peacemaking is a vocation of God’s people. Very simply. How do we pursue that peace? How do we pursue this holistic repair of relationship? Well, from our perspective we have to begin to build tools that allow us to do that. This could be right around . . .
We’re in the holiday season right now. We’re coming up on Christmas. What does it mean to actually enter into this holiday table, where inevitably there’s discomfort, there’s some conflict and to not see conflict as a problem, but to see conflict as an opportunity? What if conflict is the most dynamic laboratory for genuine relationship? We just need tools to engage it well.
So, typically, peace has been seen as this unattainable reality at 30,000 feet, or when we experience conflict, we enter into fight or flight. Right? We see it, then we don’t know how to engage it, so we either get angry and enter it poorly, or we just run away from it because we’re paralyzed.
Jon: We’re saying, “No. Peace is actually not passive. We need to be proactively moving toward conflict.” So, around our holiday tables, what does that mean? Well, it means that we actually enter into that space prepared to listen longer than feels comfortable. When Uncle Joe is beginning to spout his political Partisan political lines, how do we listen longer? How do we enter into those spaces seeking to understand rather than to be understood? Because, most of us come into those spaces with agendas. So, whether it’s in a personal space like that or it’s looking at issues on our streets. How do we get curious about the realities of our neighbors? The systems that have been created to allow some to flourish and some not to.
Jon: How are we, as peacemakers, saying . . . We actually are sometimes called to dismantle broken systems that are breaking people. It’s not a passive action.
Jen: That’s right.
Jon: It’s actually proactively destabilizing this pseudo-peace where some of us are comfortable and good, and others are getting run over every day.
Jen: That’s good. That’s good. It’s hard, what you’re saying.
Jon: Super hard.
Jen: Yeah. It goes against the grain. I notice a lot, and sometimes even more so, inside the faith community that tension is a great deterrent. It has this outsized effect on what we’re willing to say or not say.
Jen: Because we are so conflict averse.
Jen: It’s funny because I at least attempt to be a peacemaker in my world too, which as you just so aptly mentioned, a lot of the times it means dismantling unjust systems or calling them into question, or sounding the alarm when they only work for the flourishing of the few. That is frequently met with just opposition, as in, you are causing conflict. That’s the critique.
Jen: By saying these things you are causing division, you are causing conflict, and I realize how deep these waters run for us, how hard this work is.
Jen: And, even just to name it for what it is, that this is not creating tension when you call, when you just name it.
Jon: That’s right.
Jen: One of the things that you say, your idea of becoming an “everyday peacemaker,” which I appreciate you saying that because sometimes just maybe the notion of peacemaking feels so big, it feels so broad. It feels like the systems our so over our heads. But really, the idea of being an everyday peacemaker is for all of us, something every person can engage.
Can you talk about becoming an everyday peacemaker? What you mean by that?
Jon: Yeah. I mean, really it’s an invitation not to a programmatic add-on or a political tree, but into a way of life. It’s embracing a way of life that looks more like a cross than a sword. It’s embracing the reality that we follow an others-oriented, enemy-loving God. So, how does that inform every single interaction we have around our tables, on our streets, and in our global village?
For us, to be every day peacemakers and to see this as a way of life, we have to understand that there’s so work that has to be done in us, first and foremost.
Jen: That’s good.
Jon: Thomas Merton would say that, “Until we disarm the violence within ourselves, we can’t participate in disarming the violence of our world.”
Jen: That’s good.
Jon: So many of us carry so much pain and so much trauma, and so many react like we have these triggers, and we can actually just be perpetuating conflict and division, rather than actually contributing towards the holistic repaired relationship, towards peace. An everyday peacemaker’s someone who’s doing that confessional work, and also proactively moving towards the brokenness, the injustice, the conflict right around them.
I can’t prescribe what that’s going to look like for someone. It’s based on their context. It’s based on your life in Austin, and mine on the streets in San Diego, my friends in Tijuana. I mean, again, this isn’t a formula, it’s an invitation to a way of life, and we ultimately, see that over and over in the life and teachings, and death and resurrection of Jesus. I mean, to see that the Messianic King came not on the back of the white horse of the Roman Empire, but in a posture of a child, and ultimately the death and resurrection of reality—it shapes our life, not just an idea.
Jen: Let me put this specific and personal tension point in front of you, and I would just love to hear your thoughts on it. How do we remember that everybody out there, everyone we know, everyone we come in contact with is an image bearer of God?
Specifically, when people are hurting each other, when people in power are exploiting the vulnerable . . . This is where the rub is for me. How do we check our rage, honestly, and choose to react to someone who remembers that everybody in this scenario is somehow a child of God? What does peacemaking look like there with injustice, with exploitation, with power differentials? That, to me, is where really the rubber meets the road, where this work is the hardest and most complicated.
Jon: Mm-hmm. I think that’s some of the nuance, Jen, that is a struggle for many Christians in the United States, is we struggle to understand the difference between systems and individuals. That we actually, have a responsibility to get angry at broken systems, and there’s broken systems that are breaking people, but it doesn’t mean that the people that are stuck within those systems are inherently evil. We have to be able to parse those out.
I’m good friends with the Border patrol Chief here in San Diego, who does some stuff that drives me insane. In fact, there’s realities that are happening right now on our border that he contributes to that are so frustrating. At the same time, this is an image bearer, this is someone I’m in a relationship. Do I demonize and dehumanize him, or do I actually do the work to participate in fixing broken systems?
We, again, this goes back to disarming that violence within ourselves, and seeing that we are all on a journey. We have to have the kind of grace that others have had on us when we were five steps behind where we are right now.
Jen: That’s good.
Jon: We have to ask the question in this moment because this is where we tend to stigmatize and demonize people who look, or think, or believe, or act differently than we do. Well, who have I been taught to see, and who have I been taught not to see, based on, my upbringing, or my politics, or my theology? Who are those people that remain in our blind spots? It could be the very person in power. It could be the person on the margins that we have chosen not to see because it’s not comfortable.
In all this, the last thing I’ll say is, is we have to get proximate. I was sitting with a Sheik. He’s a teacher, a Muslim teacher in Jerusalem. He teaches at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third most holy sight in all of Islam. And I was there bringing a delegation of Christian pastors to learn from him. We were sitting with him and I’m like, “Hey Sheik. Help us deal with this reality we have in the States called ‘Islamophobia.’” We’re terrified of Muslims.
His response to us was so gracious, but so brilliant. He said, ‘You have to stop learning about us, and start learning from us.”
Jen: Oh, wow. Gosh.
Jon: He was inviting us to get proximate. Like, “Get around the table. Don’t just hear about us from the sidelines. Get in the game, and sit and share tables with us.” If it’s those in power that drive you insane, how do we get close? How do we seek to understand? How to we critique the systems, and love the people as we need to be loved ourselves?
Jen: Truly, truly holy and sacred, and challenging work. I mean, this is narrow path stuff here.
I want to turn our attention to something that you mentioned because this is . . . Gosh, I’m with you right now on this, and I’m excited to learn from you. I want to talk about the crisis at the border a little bit.
Can you just give us, first of all, some background here. Why are people seeking asylum right now in the United States, from what you’ve heard? Of course, you are very proximate. What are you hearing from these mothers, and fathers, and young adults?
Jon: You bet. First thing I’ll say is it’s not uncommon to have a significant number of asylum seekers or “caravans” coming to our southern border.
Jon: I will say it’s unique in its size, in this current one. Some people are just tuning in for the first time to this reality, but it’s one that has been happening for years.
I was sitting with a woman name Ingrid, who, she had three kiddos and I was with her in a shelter in Tijuana, a Salvation Army shelter for women and children. She was generous enough to share her story with a few of us, and she had fled from El Salvador three months prior with her three kids after her husband was killed by cartels. She literally had to grab those three kids and run out of town because the cartel then put a $50,000 bounty on the head of each one of her children.
Jon: And said, “If you don’t pay us these $50,000 we will kill your kids one by one.”
Jon: This is the reality. Then she travels, as you said, 3,000 miles north, which by the way, women traveling on this journey, 80% of them are sexually assaulted in some form.
Jon: It’s not a journey that anyone would want to go on, but in the conditions she was in, she had no choice for the flourishing of her kids. Then we sit with her in this shelter in Tijuana, and her and her kids are . . . You can only imagine the trauma, you know?
Jon: That they’re engaging-
Jon: Their pleading their case. They’re trying to get a credible fear hearing, which is what asylum seekers do, which is a legal action at our border to escape violence.
Why are people, you ask, fleeing?
There’s those . . . Those are the stories happening over, and over, and over.
Jon: I sat with a three-year-old boy, Carlos, down . . . I was waiting with my kids. We have four kids, and we went down and hung out with the families as they were waiting for their number to be called last week. A three-year-old boy was just driving his home by just holding his finger up and pretending it was a gun. And nine-year-old Francisco is talking about hiding under his desk at school because of the violence.
There’s those realities, but we also have to understand, as students of conflict, that this is a systemic reality, and it’s been happening since the U.S. intervention in that region in the 80s that pushed refugees to our border and into our streets, into L.A. specifically, into impoverished neighborhoods, which led to gangs, and then we deported those gangs back to Central America. Those gangs exist now, and they’re the ones creating the violence that’s then leading to, again, to a reversed migration back to our border. So, this isn’t just a one-off. This is a system’s issue, but there are individuals that we’re called to care for in the midst of it. It’s at both ends.
Jen: I was down in McAllen last week, which is a big point of entry in Texas. And all of the workers that we spoke to, also—those who worked in immigration, those who were public defenders in the justice system somewhere along the line, aid workers—they all said the same thing, that there’s a great deal of this just simply either sensationalized or it’s just new to people. But they said, “The truth is this is what we . . . We handle immigrant and asylum seekers all the time, and caravans aren’t new. That’s not a first time thing either.” There is some important intellectual work here to learn, to study, to go beyond just sensationalized headlines and say, “What’s actually the history here? What is worth pressing an alarm over, and what is really just being used?”
I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you’ve learned, in terms of the family separation? Because, I think we can … We all have a lot of complicated and confusing ideas about immigration, about refugees, about asylum seekers, but the separations of the families feels like this has hit real, just a real painful nerve for most people watching. Can you talk about that a little bit? What you have learned? What do you think we can do?
Jon: Mm-hmm. Yeah. We have to understand, in my mind, that this is a binational reality and partnership that has to exist. We have to see ourselves in these families. We can’t just fall into the either the political binary or keep such a distance that we don’t understand that these people are no different than us. We have to see the humanity, the dignity, the image of God in these folks.
I mean, right here our border where we’re working right now, one of our peacemaking training missions is right here on the border to help people understand the human reality of immigration.
Jon: And give them a tool to engage as peacemakers.
In San Diego, what it looks like, you have these asylum seekers who are getting into the States, waiting for their hearings to see if they can actually receive asylum. Well, they’re detained by ICE, and then they’re either sent to their families or released onto the streets. Right now, we literally have . . . I got a text last night that 134 people had been dropped at the local Greyhound station and don’t have any resources to find shelter or find family. Sometimes these are families that have been separated. The kids are in a different detention center, or their parents are in a different detention center. Not only are they vulnerable to the reality of life on the streets, but you’re separated from your kids, and you’re enduring this trauma of disconnect that is impossible . . . There’s more, and more surveys that are coming out to describe the PTSD of these kids.
Jen: That’s right.
Jon: Even if they’re separated for a short amount of time—
Jon: . . . it does permanent damage. This is not just a political issue, this is a human one.
Jen: That’s right.
Jon: For those of us that are kingdom people, see our primary allegiance to the Kingdom of God, and subservient to that as our allegiance to the United States of America, how are we seeing these through a Kingdom lens, and then engaging and leveraging our influence as U.S. citizens? We actually, as those people in privilege, like myself, we sometimes need to lay down our privilege. Other times we need to leverage it.
Jen: Hmm. Good.
Jon: And right now, on behalf of these families, it’s our moment to leverage it to change the systems to bring awareness. We can’t see them as one-off projects for us to fix, but as gifts to receive, and enter into long-term commitment to their flourishing.
Jen: Yeah. I really appreciate you saying that. I don’t think we should underestimate what it means for us to use our privilege as leverage against unjust systems and policy.
We sat across from a public defender last week, and she reminded us that it was public outcry that resulted in the executive order that stopped forced family separation. Although, as you mentioned, it is positively still happening, but she said there would have been no policy change had the collective voice from United States citizens just rose up and said, “No way. This is inhumane, and we won’t have it.” I was reminded that our voices do matter, to your point. They are not inconsequential. And it is our responsibility, at this point, to keep our foot on the gas here, and not look away.
If I have a listener right now, and they’re hearing you talk about this, specifically in terms of your organization, what is something they can do?
Jon: Yeah. Yeah. Great question.
Something they can do, right now, is we’ve actually built a border lands fund, and that is contributing specifically to these partners south of the border to create dignifying, long-term shelters for these families to get on their feet and discern whether they can actually make this credible fear case, or if they need to stay put in Tijuana, or if they can find infrastructure back home. We’re working hard right now to offer the short term needs.
We just bought an industrial stove for a shelter yesterday, but we’re trying not to do it from a paternalistic perspective. How do we do this in partnership and a posture of solidarity rather than charity?
Jen: That’s good.
Jon: People can participate with that. We’ve spent years building these relationships, and we invite them to participate with us in supporting the locals.
Also, for us, we would invite you to come and experience the borders yourself, and we host these what we call immersion trips, immigrants journey immersion trips, to come down to the border to see and experience the reality, and be giving tools of how to engage, not only this, but the conflict that’s real to you and your streets.
Jen: That’s great.
Jon: This isn’t just about showing up in the moment, it’s about participating in a movement. We’re the kind of people who show up in these moments every single time they happen.
Jen: That’s great.
Jon: They’re not going to stop happening.
Jen: That’s so great. Where can people find you if they want to hear more, if they want to learn more? They may be ready to jump right in already. Where would they go?
Jon: Yeah. I’m on social media, myself, Jon Huckins, on all the platforms. The Global Immersion Project is our organization, website and all the social media.
One really tangible way is to actually text the word “peace” to the number 66866, and that’ll actually send you a 30-day practice based orientation for what does everyday peacemaking look like? It’s a great on ramp.
Jen: I love that.
Jon: We also had a book called Mending the Divides. It outlines the theology in peace that came out last year that would be worth picking up.
Jen: That’s fabulous. I’m going to have all that over on my website, you guys. It’ll be at jenhatmaker.com under the Podcast tab. We’ll have all of this spelled out, links to everything. That’s your one-stop shop here.
I really am grateful for you and for your team and for your work. I appreciate your posture so very much. I am nodding my head with every word you’re saying right now, and I appreciate you leading the way right now, especially on the border. Thank you for your work.
I wonder if I could just ask you . . . these are questions that we’re asking everybody in this whole series. Here’s the first one on this giving series. What is the most memorable gift someone ever gave you?
Jon: Oh, baby.
Jen: I know, right?
Jon: I’m going to go a little philosophical on this one, and say perspective. It was my friend Milad, who’s a Palestinian Christian who on my first trip to the Middle East was on this holy land tour where I was going to look at the holy stones, and hadn’t realized that they’re a lot of holy people that I wasn’t having an eye for. One evening on the rooftop of a hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem we’re talking about everyday life, and he looks at me and says, “Jon, why do your people think I’m a terrorist?”
Jen: Wow. Gosh.
Jon: “I’m a Christian just like you are. I follow Jesus. But you look at all these holy sights every day, and pray for your meals every morning when your sisters and brothers are experiences daily occupation and oppression.”
Jon: Basically, he was just waking me up to my blindness, to my privilege, to my contribution to conflict, rather than my contribution to peace. It just wrecked me. It was my conversion moment to follow Jesus.
Jen: When was that?
Jen: Yeah. That is powerful.
How about this. Besides your own, do you have another organization that you love, that you follow, that you learn from, that you believe in?
Jon: You bet. Actually, the House of Hope, which is a nonprofit in the West Bank, in Bethany, that’s led by, come to find out, Milad and his wife. After that conversation, we followed him and said, “Hey, tell us about your life,” because he worked at our hotel, and he said, “Well, the reason I work at a hotel is I fund this nonprofit in the west bank that works with kids. We’re experiencing trauma of violence because they live in daily occupation.” Their work is amazing. We support them.
Casa Del Migrante, House of the Migrant, in Tijuana is beautiful and right now we spend a lot of time with them. We share lots of meals with migrants in their infrastructure and holistic care of that community is awesome, so we support them as well.
Jen: That’s great. We’ll link to them too, everybody.
Jen: You can see the work that they’re doing. Fabulous. Okay. Finally, this one. This is our favorite question from Barbara Brown Taylor, and we ask every guest every series—
Jon: She’s so good.
Jen: This question. Isn’t she so great?
Jon: Oh, my gosh.
Jen: Oh, love her. This can be a serious, or silly, or as big, or as small as you want. It’s up to you, which is this. What’s saving your life right now?
Jon: Saving my life right now is YMCA childcare. No doubt. That was the easiest one of the three.
Jen: That’s outstanding.
Jon: We have four little kids who are under eight.
Jen: Oh, bro.
Jon: My wife and I can go to the YMCA, and they have two hours of free childcare. We can look each other in the eyes, and at least if we can’t muster out words we can sit in silence in have coffee, and empathize with the state of our lives. Thank God for YMCA childcare.
Jen: You are in the weeds. I remember. We have a bunch of kids too, and when they were all little and those ages. I have never in my life been more committed to a workout routine than the YMCA.
Jon: That’s it.
Jen: During those years because I’m like, Well, you know what? Maybe I’ll just sit here and drink a smoothie. I don’t know.
Jen: I’m just going to sit here, and no one’s going to ask me a question.
Jon: Love it.
Jen: Thanks for being on the show today, Jon. I really appreciate what you’re doing, and I’m excited to rally my community around your work, and around not just your work at the border, but what you’re teaching us right now. What it means to be a peacemaker. Gosh, the world’s starving for them, just starving for peacemakers right now. Great to meet you, and great to have you, and thanks for your time today.
Jon: Thanks, Jen, and together look forward to the road ahead.
Jon: All right. Bye-bye.
Jen: Well, two of the best you guys. I’m so happy to meet them. I’m so happy to elevate their work. I’m so happy to have them on the show. Thank you for nominating two such fabulous people, Susan Ramirez with National Angels, and of course you just heard from Jon Huckins with Global Immersion Project. I mean, phenomenal, phenomenal work.
I mentioned it before, but as always, please make use of our Transcript page. Amanda does a ton of work on that page. It’s over at jenhatmaker.com under Podcast, and the whole transcription is over there, if you would like to read the interviews. Plus, every single thing we mentioned we link to. Their social media sites, their website, books they wrote or mentioned, everything, everything, everything that you hear on this show you can find at one spot over atjenhatmaker.com.
Thank you for being such good listeners during the giving series, for engaging it so well, for sharing it with so many people. This series has been good for my heart and soul, just a really good reminder that folks are good, and people care. They are doing hard, and good, and important work out there. It was just hopeful for me. I needed the hope. I would like to thank all my guests on the giving series, and I’m very excited as we roll into the new year.
Oh, my goodness, you guys, we have such a line up for you, such an amazing series coming up. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be hopeful. It’s going to be full of energy and motivation. It’s just exactly what you want in January. I can’t wait to bring it to you, and thrilled in advanced for all we’re going to hear and learn about in the next series. As always, you guys, thanks for being great listeners. Thank you for a wonderful 2018. We could just not have asked for more.
On behalf of our team, Amanda, my assistant and partner. My producer, Laura, and her entire crew over at Four Eyes Media. We are so thankful for you, and thrilled to serve you, and can not wait to turn the corner into a new year, to bring you new guests and new ideas, and great content, and it’s our joy to do it. So, guys, have a great one.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!