When one thinks of Carmel, California, images of surf beaches, movie stars, a playground for the elite arise, and to some extent it is. However, there is a whole underbelly of kinfolk who live and work in this region who are desperately trying to hold on to life. There are those who work 3 jobs to pay the bills, trying to uphold the standard of the upper middle class. And, there are those who wonder the shore line without a home, looking for work and a place to lay their heads at night.
The economic divide is vast and yet there is a rising up. The rhythms of the “hidden community” beat stronger and stronger. There are kinfolk in all walks of life, doing the hard work of community. They are committed to the trials that come when one is trying to bridge two worlds. They are committed to the ministry of reconciliation.
The Bajari family is part of that hidden community and they invited us into the fold, to experience the local struggles and joys, and to share their radical hospitality with us. Brian is involved in the global conversation as the executive director for Care Corp International, a NGO that specializes in trauma counseling for refugees around the world. His beautiful wife, Suzie is as a counselor for youth who have experienced extreme violence and trauma in the neighboring town of Salinas.
Originally the youth paster at one of the wealthiest churches in Carmel, Brian left the secure position to engage the greater community in a conversation about humanity and what it means to care for one another. He, along with a faithful team of volunteers, build bridges with the city councils in the surrounding areas by attending meetings, they listen and they advocate for the homeless. They communicate with the area churches about drops for the homeless, places that they can bring goods and meals. They also facilitate Gathering by the Bay, which meets every weekend at 9:30am, beachside Monterey, across from the McDonalds, and is open to the public.
Brian leads a simple time of prayer/meditation, sharing stories from the week and an encouraging word, he opens it up for a song and at the end, they share a meal. We were invited to participate last Sunday and our time with them was precious. When we arrived there were a handful of homeless gathering around a few picnic tables on the beach. Cars with boxes of supplies, socks, sweatshirts, pants, shoes, toothbrushes, etc were unloaded. Michael and Tia brought a home made meal and by 10am the beach was filling up. A bicycle race was just finishing up and families were making their way for a day at the beach. All the while, the Gathering by the Bay continued.
We stood in a large circle, with room enough for others to enter in, if they wanted to. Passers by would stop and have a listen or sing along, engaging at all different levels. It was humbling sharing sacred space with those who have but the shirt on their backs. The thing we were most impressed with was the authenticity of it all. Brian’s motto on caring for others, “It’s not about fixing or solving, its about being present.” And, that is what we felt when we were on the beach with them, presence. There was no agenda for outcome in the way we have seen others approach the poor or homeless. There was a trust and understanding between his crew and those that they were caring for and most importantly there was permission given to the homeless to care back. In a results driven missions economy, this open approach was refreshing.
We spent a ten days with the Bajari’s, jumping right into the rhythm of their lives, sharing meals, story, and friendship. Our first night in town they welcomed us by hosting a BBQ with their neighbor Dan at the helm. We parked/plugged in our rig, just down the hill from their home on a patch of land owned by the city. All of the neighbors were welcoming. Our twelve-year-old and their twelve-year-old hit it off immediately and were inseparable the whole visit, making swords and shields for an epic battle, video gaming, playing ping-pong, boogie boarding at the beach and exploring the woods and river where they caught craw dads. The two youngest delighted us with songs and their sweet smiles. Our high schooler’s took a little longer to warm up, but once they did, it was a blast to see such a rich connection. Craig did a few handy things around the property and I was able to have, Ellis their elderly neighbor, over for afternoon tea.
We also met Justin and Maddie who welcomed us by offering to teach us to surf, connecting us with local folkies, Anne and Pete Sibley, and putting together a fantastic bonfire on the beach for our final farewell.
Justin, who grew up in Carmel, was genuine, kind and down to earth with a passion for youth. He invited us to sit in with him at Carmel Presbyterian after we finished at the Gathering by the Bay. So, with four minutes to spare we hoped on stage and joined he and his congregation is a few songs. It was such a trip to go from one extreme to another that morning, from the homeless church on the beach to such great wealth in a bright, new building. In the end however, we’re all made of the same mud, we’re all one. What a joy to be with the Saints!
After the service, we got to chatting with British artist Simon Bull and his wife Joanna. They invited us to lunch where we engaged in fantastic discussions about the momentum in the body, about the hidden community and the faithfulness of the Lord.
We met some fantastic friends in Monterey and can’t wait to get back. Plus there is that beach thing!