*The following was written by Erika Musser, a Class of 2018 CLDI Intern. We are blessed to host such amazing, passionate, and sincere disciples of Jesus such as Erika through our internship program. For her job placement, she worked at Family Promise and will become a full-time employee of Family Promise starting in August, 2018. We are thankful for Erika and her husband’s decision to continue to reside in the South Side to love God and love neighbor.
Only a year ago a simple walk to work through the South Side would’ve made me nervous. The thought of moving into a poor neighborhood to be a light was not on the forefront of our minds, but it had been before. As my internship is coming to a close, God has been reminding me of how he has used Brazil to teach me about poverty, empowerment, and His agenda. I recently came across an email update I sent out only three years ago in 2015 during my summer in Brazil. I tried to explain the impact it made on me to see the effects of a corrupt system of wealth. I wrote:
I was invited to spend time in the homes of families in the city who lived in the considerable equivalent of a Beverly Hills mansion, and then to the opposite side of the spectrum in the homes of families who lived on the side of a dirt road that was held together with brick, bamboo, wood boards, and mud. It was quite the contrast to try and comprehend and resulted in many of my hours being spent trying to make any sense of it all. It was also heartbreaking (and still is) to know that I didn’t need to buy a plane ticket and fly all the way to Southern Brazil to see such a broken contrast of Wealth.
I am forever grateful for the experiences from that summer in Brazil. It made me uncomfortable to realize that I didn’t need to fly all the way to Brazil, or anywhere, to witness a corrupt system. I vividly remember writing this with the South Side of Billings in mind. Only a couple minutes away from the neglected South Side are mansions that were built by the founding families of Billings. I’m not trying to say that wealth itself is corrupt, but the system that traps the poor in a cycle of poverty is corrupt.
Shortly after I came back home and started the new semester at school I remember telling Kris that I felt like I needed to do something with the homeless population in Billings and to spend more time in poorer areas of the city. But after I got back into the full swing of classes, cross country, work, and friends, we lost the sense of urgency.
God has been faithful in reigniting that fire to live and serve in a poor community, but this time, it was after He had taught me more and made me better equipped to make sense of the mess (this is not to say that I don’t have a lot to learn yet). I got to go to Brazil again last summer, but this time with my church. And in this last trip down I was exposed to even more extreme examples of poverty. In one of my first blog posts this year I described the slums that we spent time in:
When we arrived at the favela, we were surrounded by shacks stacked on top of each other, providing homes for thousands of Brazilians. Kids ran around on the streets, over sewage and waste, happily playing. Dogs ran around, unowned, searching for food. The community was ruled by drug lords and police forces steered clear.
At that point in the summer I was trying to figure out what to do with the next year and an internship with CLDI was one of the options. On the second trip to Brazil, God reminded me of the things He had taught me in the same beautiful country two years before, and so interning with CLDI became the very clear next step.
Now, at the end of the internship, I’m flipping through all my notes, blogs, and assignments to realize that if I were to try and even “sum up” what I’ve learned, I would need to write a book. But one main point that sticks out to me is that the South Side is not the point. Jesus is. Jesus came to bring light, love, and restoration to a broken world. During his life he spent time with the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. He brought hope and commanded justice. His life was the perfect example of how to lovingly be concerned for justice, no matter what the culture around us thinks is right. Jesus was bold for His Father and lived in complete obedience to Him. He wasn’t anxious about the things of earth, but lived with eternity in mind.
Last Sunday at church some of our Brazilian missionary friends were in town. They spoke about how in the slums they serve, the only answer to ending suffering is Jesus. The husband and wife team shared their testimonies of growing up in the slums with criminal parents. They said that Jesus literally broke chains and set them free. When the teenagers they work with genuinely follow Jesus, their chains are broken and they become empowered to break out of poverty and then come back to serve in the communities they once suffered in. When the Gospel does not grip a heart, the teenager usually grows up to continue in all of the corruption. Their stories reminded me of the South Side in that the same Jesus is the only true answer. Though it is usually messy and difficult, the South Side can slowly but surely be restored and see lives changed in Jesus’ name.
This past year has been transformative for both Kris and me. Our original plan was to take a chill year, stay in our old jobs and then move to whichever city had the best options for grad school, as soon as possible. That all would’ve been good, but we’ve been in awe these past few months as we’ve seen how God has changed our plans and our hearts. He’s used the South Side, Nepal, our church, our jobs, countless books, and the people around to increase our passions to live among and serve the marginalized and oppressed. We’ve ever so slowly been learning how to turn our elusive dreams into patient, tangible action. So right now, that means staying right where we’re at.