A Lifeline of Hope

A Lifeline of Hope

Growing up in East Harlem, I lived in a tenement building that was the hang-out spot for heroin addicts. Hope was not an option back then—only survival.  During a recent trip to Manaus, Brazil, on a site visit to Shade and Fresh Water, an Advance project of the General Board of Global Ministries, I was reminded of my own story as a youth, and the lifeline of hope that was extended to me through creative arts programs, which Shade also offers.

Every day, upon exiting my apartment building, I pressed through the crowd of heroin addicts on my way to school, often also clearing the way for my mother, who escorted me.  During those formative years, I witnessed domestic violence, gun shootings or stabbings, excessive drug use, and more.  Rather than fight my surroundings, I acclimated to them, becoming part of the drug scene.

By the time I was eight years old, I became the “look out” for the neighborhood drug pusher, and he agreed to show my family and me respect when we entered and exited the building.  Rather than playing like normal children at the nearby playground, I would stand watch for undercover detectives or cops, as heroin addicts would make their way to the rooftop to use drugs.

When I visited Shade Fresh and Water (Advance #11580A), I was reminded of the unfriendly, untrustworthy, just-survive world of selfish addiction, pain, and violence of my youth.

Many of the children living in Manaus slums are exposed to drugs and abuse, as I was.  They may also become vulnerable to prostitution, teenage pregnancy, and more.  These children are no different than me, except that now I look to my past to identify with them. They, however, may be living this life daily.

A young Shade and Fresh Water participant takes a break after the morning activities at a play area behind the church. Photo: J. Santiago/UMCOR

Shade and Fresh Water gives children a rest from their everyday environment and opens them up to the world of possibility. The program’s name is based on a Brazilian saying which basically says, “When you are going through life struggles or issues, all you need are a little shade and a little fresh water.”

Through learning programs that offer sports and recreation, the arts, and Christian education, Shade participants, ages 6-14, learn how to respond to difficult life issues versus acclimating to their toxic environment as I once did.  The children learn how to apply practical life lessons, work as a team, collaborate on exercises or demonstrations, and express themselves through music, dance, or sports. Shade creates an enjoyable environment for children and teenagers and makes them feel loved and protected while involving them in the program.

While visiting Shade projects with UMCOR Health executive Patricia Magyar, who was assessing the project for future collaboration and support, I saw several children minister liturgical dances to their congregations.  This reminded me of the opportunities I received in summer camp or after-school programs that fostered positive, creative learning environments through dance and the arts. Back then, my involvement in dance became my way of escape, my lifeline of hope from the everyday drama at home or in the neighborhood. It also secured the early foundation of a future call to dance ministry.

Watching the girls dance in Manaus was a priceless opportunity to recognize just how far God has brought me from the days of my youth.  But I also recognized how important our choices are when serving one another. To know “you did good” because a person’s life has changed or has been impacted in some positive way, is powerful and humbling thing. I left Shade with the desire to return to teach dance, share the love of God, and share the piece of rope that once was extended to me.

While creative expression is just a part of the fresh water provided by Shade, the program is certainly building a foundation for the future of these at-risk children.  It was a privilege to witness it.

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The Journey Begins

Recently, I was speaking with a colleague,Mary Beth, at the office cafeteria about starting a blog.  She is a gifted and talented writer and I thought I could gain some incentive and tips from her on how to start blogging.She currently maintains four blogs, so she knows what she’s talking about. After a few moments talking with her, I was instantly encouraged.

As I left her and stepped onto the sandwich line, I overheard a conversation between two women discussing some event. One woman said “Oh, cool, the soles of my feet, I like that!” She was referencing a flyer in her hand. Well guess what? I liked it too. It resonated within me, so much so that it felt as if fireworks were going off all around me! I got super excited.

Hmmm… The soles of My feet. I thought of Jesus immediately, and began to ponder the title. I thought about dance, as Mary Beth had just suggested that I could write about the art of praise dance. I thought about the life of Jesus and perhaps recording my life journey and encounters. So, herein lies the basis of my first blog, my first step into a new journey of blogging, living and dancing. Hope you enjoy it.

Ministering in the dance at Manhattan Grace Tabernacle's Sunday service in the park.

The Soles of My Feet

Where we walk, how we walk, and how we stand in life is what marks the soles of our feet, and also determines our destiny. It’s an everyday life journey that determines who we are, what we are made of, and how we measure up.  Whether it’s in our jobs, our homes, with our family, our church or community, and our individual faith, it’s how we respond to life, to God. That in itself helps form who we are and who we are to become. It’s a plumb line that measures our character and tests our faith.  It (the soles of My feet) is a faith walk. It’s a look into the soul and is a measuring rod that examines the heart against the word of God.

Where my feet take me, from a Christian  perspective, is what this blog will be about.

So, naturally, when I got home after work, I looked up “the soles of My feet” and found the scripture in the book of Ezekiel. Chapter 43:6-7 reads, “Then I heard Him speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me.  And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever.”

God was showing the prophet Ezekiel a vision of the temple where He would dwell. The temple was regarded as the footstool of God.  In 1 Chronicles 28:2, the word footstool is a metaphor describing the Ark of the Covenant or the tabernacle as the earthly base of God’s activity and presence. It’s a place where He lays His feet.

If we examine the soles of our feet in respect to walking out a Christian faith, what will we find there?

  • Are we resting or wrestling with God?
  • Are we learning at His feet?
  • Did you hurt yourself stepping on a stone and now find yourself limping along life and living in the past?
  • Did someone drop a huge rock on your foot, and now that rock of offense has taken up territory in your heart?
  • Has your life’s path been a walk on the beach? No substance? No truth?
  • Do your feet need washing from walking your own desired path?

I think we all can use a  foot washing from time to time.  Perhaps, my aim in discovering “the soles of My feet” is the challenge to live out a lifestyle that models and resonates with the humility of following Christ. No more talking about it, but truly living it — a difficult journey indeed.  So, what are you following? Where are your
steps leading you?

“Let us go into His tabernacle; Let us worship at His footstool.” Psalm 132:7 

“God will make the place of His feet glorious.” (Is. 60:13)

So, my hope in this blog journey is that my walk and my words glorify the living God. And, that in the process, someone is blessed by what is in my heart to share, whether it’s my failures or successes.  Wherever He takes me and leads me, step by step, I will follow.

Let the dance begin.