Author: Jocelyn Watson, San Diego Missions Mobilizations Director
One week during the summer of 2012 I went on a Kaleo Urban Immersion trip to City Heights, San Diego with my church’s high school youth group as a graduated senior. This trip stirred up new vision in my spirit for my own community; and, although my plans for the future did not include returning to this neighborhood, I’d been greatly impacted by the reality of the global refugee crisis. My heart was open and exposed to the opportunity we have to live in light of Gospel truth by being a good neighbor to people from around the world who are being resettled “in our own backyard.”
In the fall, I began my first semester at Arizona State University and half-way through the year I applied- on a whim- to be a part of Kaleo’s summer staff for 2013 while exploring a variety of other summer internships. I was asked by Kaleo’s directors to return once again to City Heights, not knowing that God would use that summer to knit my heart to this small community in a way I’d never before experienced.
That first summer as an intern, I became a student in the figurative classroom of the City Heights community. Many of my first teachers were children and youth who taught me about love, patience, self-sacrifice and grace- as most children do. But from these young ones I also learned more about war, loss, continued struggle, prejudice, acceptance, my own ignorance, privilege, hatred and a litany of other things I’d never expected to learn from a child. My heart grew in both admiration for these resilient people who had learned to endure and compassion that compels us to love our neighbor as Jesus does. I learned that summer to listen and to seek understanding: to be a student of others’ stories.
Kaleo San Diego partners closely with an organization in City Heights called Bridge of Hope whose volunteers and community members have also been my teachers. The heart of Bridge of Hope is to strengthen those in transition: individuals previously experiencing homelessness, domestic violence victims, refugees, immigrants, veterans and those coming out of substance abuse or addiction. However, I’ve found that the hands of Bridge of Hope do not merely offer one-time gifts or donations. Instead, they extend with an invitation for any person who comes on the property into the loving arms of continued community and ongoing support. Love’s job does not end when an individual or family no longer needs “help.” In fact, many of the volunteers at Bridge of Hope were once on the receiving end of this organization’s generosity.
“Love the one in front of you,” is a mantra of this community and I’ve learned is that loving the one in front of you often leads to long-lasting relationship. It is both about a willingness to help your neighbor with an immediate need and a commitment to belong to another person.
If you haven’t already assumed, my relationship with this neighborhood of San Diego did not end in the summer of 2013. Rather, I interned with Kaleo San Diego for two more consecutive summers before graduating university in the spring of 2016, moving to City Heights and joining Kaleo staff long-term. The move was a dream come true and many years of praying come to fruition. Since 2013, I have not only continued to learn but have had the privilege of seeing many others learn from the people living in City Heights as well.
I’ve watched students on week long Urban Immersion trips realize that God has a vision for them in their own communities. It has been my honor to walk alongside of the summer staff as they form relationships that challenge them and their own ways of thinking. The picture above is of a Buddhist monk and friend to one of our interns this past summer. Every week for eight weeks, she led a small group of students to meet with him and to hear his story. To share my seat in the classroom of City Heights for the last few years has been a great honor.
My time in San Diego has been invaluable and I can never begin to explain it’s worth. I have been challenged, refined and encouraged by this city. I am it’s student and will continue to learn from its people for as long as I am allowed. However, it is neither a passion for the neighborhood of City Heights nor a desire to learn all I can learn from this community that will produce fruitful ministry. Ultimately, it is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we must remain unwavering, rooted and steadfast students. The Gospel that brings reconciliation, freedom, grace and truth. The Gospel that ascribes equality, value, dignity and purpose to all people because they are created in the image of God. The Gospel that has shown us both justice and mercy. The Gospel that is love and begets love. It is at the feet of Jesus, the author of love, that I learn to love God and my neighbor well.