By:  Octavia Brown
“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” This phrase/saying is one that stuck with me the entire trip. Even in the midst of darkness, I saw the light and I believe that a lot of the people we encountered saw it too. In the brink of hopelessness and despair through the eyes of the people there, we provided a small sense of hope and big heart pouring out our love.
The agenda was packed. We did everything from making and serving meals to the homeless men women and children at the Union Rescue Mission or on the streets right in the heart of Skid Row, to dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica beach. One theme I saw percolating throughout this city of Boyle Heights in East LA was the pervasive sense of community despite being in the middle of gang territory. On Mother’s Day, we went to the church (Dolores Mission) across the street from the Dolores Mission School and attended Mass where all of the mother’s received flowers from their children. After mass, we had a chance to talk with some of the local people over a nice meal cooked by the women of the church. I remember thinking if this is what day one was like, we must be in for a treat the rest of the week.
We toured the neighborhood, learned about its history and worked with the children from Dolores Mission School, where we were staying. We’d step outside and there were always street vendors around, selling elote (corn), dulce mexicano, and fruta to name a few. There was always some sort of game being played whether it was basketball, baseball or kids playing soccer just for fun.One thing that always stood out to me was the overall sense of community in this particular area. The community we were apart of for a week was truly one of a kind. I met some incredible people on this trip and heard some very touching stories. You truly never know who you’ll meet and how much of an impact they can have on your life.
There was one man I met who completely amazed me. He was a 62 year old man and had stumbled upon Homeboy Industries. I caught him on his second day being there and heard about why he was there and what his plans were after he left. This man melted my heart. He had gone through so much in his life and did not know he would be given a second chance, but somewhere in his heart, he still believed and knew God had a plan for him. I was impressed by his demeanor and overall sense of calmness. He had a dream. A goal. A life. A life that will never be the same for him again because he stepped out on faith. He, despite his past, deserved a second chance. He was so excited to construct and get help with his resume, polish his interviewing skills and gain some confidence to get back out in the world and get a job. I simply told him, he can do it and that I was praying for him because he deserved it. His face lit up with so much joy, he could hardly stop thanking me. That’s it: encouragement, prayer and positivity. Three principles that I strongly believe in and love to spread to others. The whole atmosphere of Homeboy Industries was so community oriented despite the fact many of the “Homies” had been in rival gangs. This was incredible to see.
I was in a Bible study last Monday and one verse in particular from the book of Matthew 7:2 stuck out to me,”For what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye measure, it shall be measured unto you again.” In essence, this means treat others the way you would want to be treated. In whatever way you sow, you will reap. I thought this tied perfectly into our service/ immersion trip. I was in no position to judge these individuals. My purpose was to go there, love them and give my time and talent to them in hopes that they see a glimpse of hope. This was impecable timing considering my experience on this trip
One of the biggest lessons I learned through my time in East LA was that no matter what people have gone through, or have done in their lives (good and bad), God still loves His children. They are ALL human beings, too! They deserve respect (even though some don’t give it in return) and they deserve to be listened too, just as much as we demand to be heard.
Overall, I had an amazing time on this SOUL trip and would love to visit again in the future. There was such a strong presence of faith, community and love throughout the entire trip and that was something I will forever hold in my heart. I saw beauty in many aspects of the word: the people, the environment, the culture, the places, the art. The city of East LA has so much beauty, even though it is one with a deep history of violence and gang activity. The people. The people we met, even those we did not get a chance to meet, make even a divided and troubled place, beautiful. This trip changed my life and gave me a new perspective on how I see the world. I have learned above all; in everything there is beauty, one must open their eyes and heart in order to see it.