The idea of visiting Oakland, CA. really wasn’t on our radar, however after a brief shout out on a group forum via Facebook we found a welcoming host, Josh Harper excited to have us come to his New Hope community.
Oakland, isn’t that the city we always hear about in crime reports? Highest murder rates per capita, gangs, drugs, sex trafficking, homelessness, orphans, violence, immigrants, and extreme poverty. I mean, who just goes to Oakland? And yet, as we learned from our visit, there are a handful of highly educated, doctors, lawyers, nurses, social workers and teachers that have moved purposefully from their exterior, safe, comfortable lives into this dynamic and dangerous neighborhood. They have moved here intentionally to live in community with one another and with those they feel called to engage, inspire, and protect. These saints are the crux of our story about Oakland. These saints are the “Real Raiders.”
There is something intriguing that happens when we pull our big ol bus into a tight city block, it takes all of the neighbors efforts to make it happen. This means, that all of the normal ‘hello’s and get to know ya’s” have to take a back seat, because there is problem solving to do. And, so when we finally settled into our little nest of a driveway (let’s just say we had about 6 inches on each side to spare) we were already fast friends with our host family, the Bekaert’s. They are precious people who just returned from four years in Guatemala. Nic, a frenchman and social worker, and his wife Mo, a nurse, Layla and Gabriel. Prior to Guatemala, The Bekaert’s lived in the New Hope community for about 15 years and are considered “pillars” of their community. They are wise beyond their years, they are generous and they are kind.
Along with the Bekaert’s welcome, was the fella we had been corresponding with via the world wide web, Josh Harper. Josh is the ultimate host. He is an organized, highly social visionary and his wheels are always spinning. He’s the husband of Marjie and the father of Lucy ad Beatrice. He’s also the National Coordinator of Urban Projects for a group called InterVarsity. However, you would never know that he’s the “big dog” as his focus is often on listening and meeting others needs. If not for his willingness to hear, we probably would not have connected in the deep way that we did. There are kinfolk and then there are “Kinfolk.” The Harpers are “Kinfolk.”
Josh knew exactly how to plug us into his community. In the five solid days that we were with them, we shared a movement and song class with the pre-school that New Hope runs, and we offered a workshop for third-fifth graders on “Sound scape.” We also performed a house concert and shared our gifts of music on Sunday morning at Sacred Space. We enjoyed meals within the community, enjoyed encouraging and rich conversation and learned much about the history of New Hope’s vision to care for the “poor, orphans and aliens” by living and engage in an area where there are obvious consequences. Sometimes in life we feel stuck in the place where we are at. Here, in Oakland, with the New Hope Community, it felt quite the opposite. It felt vibrant and purposeful.
On our final full day together we shared an intimate moment where everything about why and what made sense. Sunday morning, we gathered to worship in unity. The morning started out with prayers. Specific prayers for this community, this neighborhood. It was tender to hear prayers for individual teachers from the local school, for specific people enslaved by poverty and hopelessness, for International Blvd. which borders the neighborhood and is where much of the sex trafficking in Oakland takes place. Their were prayers for specific neighbors, for local government, for peace to come over their neighborhood and for unity. It was deep, meaningful and reflective. During that prayer time, it all made sense, why 60 or so educated folks would move into this neighborhood, why they would risk safety and give us monetary gain. If not for their purposeful decision to engage, their prayers would have been second hand. Their is nothing wrong with praying for communities far off, but there is something profound about living out the message of reconciliation in and with those you pray for. To see the gospel manifested in a way where the sacrifice was apparent, humble and in it for the long haul. That inspires us! And, we look joyward to more times with these “Kinfolk.”