Advent: What are you WAITING for?!

A Reflection by Thomas Cook, Hope House Resident

The season of Advent is upon us. It is a time of waiting…and of HOPE. WHAT are you waiting for? What are you WAITING for?!

Living in the Back of the Yards, WHAT our community and neighborhood waits for are many things…

-better schools, education, and options for youth

-jobs and work opportunities for adults

-an end to the gang violence

-better care of our streets and public areas (so many potholes! And when it rains hard, the streets flood more than seems normal; this doesn’t seem to happen in most neighborhoods on the North Side…)

The list could go on and on. The Back of the Yards is clearly an underserved part of Chicago. The same opportunities and options that our brothers and sisters on the North Side have are simply not available (or as easily accessible) to those who live in the Back of the Yards. To sum it up in one word—the Back of the Yards waits for JUSTICE.

During Advent, Christians commemorate ancient Israel’s awaiting for a JUST one, a ‘Messiah’, who would bring justice and righteousness to all God’s people. Early Christians believed Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of this hope. Some people were so moved by Jesus and his message that they abandoned their current way of life to follow him full time (Mt 4:18,22; 9:9; Mk 3:14-17; Lk 8:1-3; 19:1-10; Jn 1:45-49). Men and women followed Jesus and (like Jesus) proclaimed ‘the kingdom of God has come’ through their words, actions, and lifestyles. The Kingdom of God is a message of HOPE! The Kingdom of God is the way the world would be if God were ruler. The Kingdom of God is a JUST distribution of resources so that all have what they need.

Our HOPE House in the Back of the Yards neighborhood is a proclamation that the Kingdom of God has come! We are here to humbly proclaim God’s JUSTICE and PEACE simply by our presence and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this neighborhood. So…what are you WAITING for?! Come join us!!! Move in with us at the HOPE House and proclaim the Kingdom of God! We have rooms available J We would love to have you join our community and help work for justice in the Back of the Yards and in our world. As you think about WHAT you are waiting for this Advent, please also ask: what am I WAITING for?!

May this Advent lead us all to a better understanding of what it means to wait for Jesus to come into the world and into our personal lives. May we also be more conscious of the sense of urgency and response the Kingdom of God AWAITS from us…

Advent 2015: WHAT are you waiting for? What are you WAITING for?!!


Living In the Back of the Yards

A reflection by Hope House Resident, Kevin Felisme

Although I have only been living in the Back of the Yards for about five months now, it has been a very rich experience. I have had the opportunity to meet a few of the families and youth who live on our block, I have been able to play basketball with youth in the neighborhood, and I have been able to simply live in a community filled with beautiful and wonderful people. There is no question that the gangs and the violence can feel overwhelming at times but I am convinced that this is not the ONLY aspect of the Back of the Yards. There are wonderful people who are doing amazing things and raising families in the Back of the Yards and it is imperative that we do not forget that even in the midst of challenging times.
That being said, it is important that we do not ignore the significant problems that we face. We need to create options for youth that are more appealing then gang life. We need to address the root causes of why the community suffers and be able to engage in these discussions in the mainstream. We can no longer fail to recognize the many issues that are being discussed all over the world that also affect us right here at home.
Racism, greed, hate, violence, lack of compassion and empathy are perhaps the greatest challenges that we face. We must come together as human beings that simply want to do whatever it takes. Humble yourselves! No one person has all the answers. The more time I spend in the Back of the Yards, the more convinced I am that some of the greatest leaders whom I admire and study like Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Fred Hampton did not have all the answers themselves. That is why we must come together so we can determine what our future as a neighborhood, city, country, and world will look like for our children. There is not enough time to continue to argue and simply look through the political or ideological lens that makes you comfortable and fits the narrative you have created for your reality. We have no choice but to first have serious conversations that will make many folks uncomfortable and secondly come together as human beings to solve these tremendous problems. This can and should be done in a loving and empathetic way so as to not ostracize those who either don’t care or disagree.
So how do we begin to solve these problems and engage in conversations? That’s a great question that I unfortunately do not have the answer to. I am searching and have been searching on how to solve these problems for the last four years of my life. When I become super frustrated and realize not much has changed I am reminded of a quote by the 13th century Persian Poet Rumi that forces me to become more introspective and examine what tangible things I can do to make myself a better person. “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Over the last few months I have taken this quote very seriously and continually worked on myself. I have begun reading more, working on my spiritual life, being physically active, working on my shortcomings, and being more compassionate and loving towards everyone I encounter because I have come to the conclusion that love and compassion are the two words that best describe God. This has forced me to humble myself to the mysterious powers of God and allow the essence of love and compassion to become one with my mind, body, and soul.
I still believe I will make a significant contribution to society, but my time in the Back of the Yards has humbled me to realize that I have no idea what that will actually truly look like and that’s okay because it’s not about me.