Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Miracle Story

Kevin, Ben, and Rafaelito look out from the upstairs window of the miracle house.


He had the clothes he was wearing and
a black baseball cap.
Over a lunch of shredded beef, avocado and fresh tortillas, Julio – wearing his signature black baseball cap – was telling me his miracle story. Over a year ago, a fire swept through the home he shared with his extended family. Julio lost clothing, blankets, a bed, his birth certificate – almost everything. When three Americans visited a few days after the fire, Julio was sleeping in his car. Except most nights, Julio said he couldn’t sleep: “It was too cold.” He had the clothes he was wearing and a black baseball cap.

Those Americans decided to build a home for Julio’s family, and that spring, a team from Newberg-area churches worked with Julio’s family and members of a local church – Nueva Esperanza – to build a new home. That’s the first part of the miracle. Julio’s family got a house.

Julio couldn’t get a job. He didn’t have a birth certificate or any other form of identification. The pastor at Nueva Esperanza and several of the American workers took Julio to the city’s social services agency, where a social worker walked Julio through the process of getting new papers. But it would cost money, Julio argued. The Americans found a way to cover the cost. But he would have to get back to the office, Julio said, a distance of several miles. His car didn’t run. He couldn’t afford public transportation. The Americans insisted that Julio find a way. And he did. That’s the second part of the miracle. Julio got his papers.

Last fall, the Americans visited Julio’s family. The family had planted young trees in front of their new house. The family had been attending the church that helped them, Nueva Esperanza. Julio’s young cousins loved to go to Sunday school. But Julio didn’t have a job. One of the Americans talked to Julio, told him that he had skills, that he could be helping his family if he were working, that the Americans would be back in the spring and they expected Julio to have a job when they returned. That’s the third part of the miracle. Julio got a job.

It wasn’t a very good job. Julio was working with his uncle at an auto body shop. Work was slow, and on a good day of work, Julio only earned the equivalent of $5 or $6 a day. But he was learning new skills. And the money did make a difference for his family.

Then, in the spring, the Americans came back. They were doing a series of work projects at the church: a basketball court, a patio roof, metal sheeting for the roof. They asked Julio and his uncle to help. Julio showed up early on Monday morning, and by the time we’d stopped for lunch, he’d poured water, shoveled gravel, and moved dozens of wheelbarrow loads of concrete. A man from the church was helping us work. He admired Julio’s attitude and his effort. That was the fourth part of the miracle. Julio told me over lunch that the man, Ruben, supervised a clean-up team at one of the vegetable packing plants south of town. Ruben had offered Julio a chance to work that night. If all went well, Julio would have a job that paid more than twice as much as his other job. And the work was guaranteed for four months.

So how did the story end, Julio’s miracle story? Julio got the job in the packing plant. But that’s not the end of the story. At least, not yet.

Newberg Friends has been working in the city of San Luis Rio Colorado for more than three decades. For most of the last 20 years, we’ve partnered with North Valley, West Chehalem, and Nueva Esperanza. We’ve named our partnership Equipo, which means “team” in Spanish, because we really are a team. With each other. With the church in San Luis. With the government officials who help us get supplies across the border, who help us identify families in need. With the families. With Julio.

A boy who lost everything now has a home, a job, a church family, friends in a foreign country. And he’s joined our team, working with us to help other families in need. Maybe that’s the real miracle story.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012



Being creative requires
that we collect the ideas we find.
I’ve been reading about creativity, and I can guess at what you might be thinking.

They write books about that?

I used to think the same way. Either you have it. Or you don’t. What’s there to write about?

You might be surprised. Almost 38 years ago, for instance, I was born into this world as a not-creative type. But I’ve changed.

Illustration. In fifth grade, I took an admissions test for a special program that the district was offering for at-risk students. I aced the reading comprehension and numeric memory portions of the test. In fact, I earned a perfect score on the memory part – something that apparently made me kind of special. But on the section that examined creativity, I scored in the bottom quartile. My parents received a letter from the district. Out of 100 possible points, I had earned only three.

Students with low scores on this test often have trouble socializing, they’re less flexible than their peers, they struggle to break projects down into smaller tasks, to problem solve, to prioritize. They are easily overwhelmed by new situations and expectations. They struggle to express their emotions. They are considered a retention risk. At age 10, I had been identified as a potential high school dropout.

Because I wasn’t creative.

Creativity – it turns out – is important.

Fortunately, creativity can also be taught. I made it into that special program, and my teacher (whose last name reminded me of atomic number 27) helped me to do the work of creativity. I learned how to steal someone else’s idea, make a little change, and call that idea mine – a process my teacher called “piggybacking.” I learned how to use sensory prompts and word-association to quickly generate new possibilities – a process my teacher called “ideation.” I learned how to pace myself when coming up with possible solutions in order to keep from getting ahead of my ideas – a skill that my teacher said would lead to “fluency.” And I learned a lot about work.

Creativity – it turns out – is work.

Creativity, which I’ve learned to define as the process of making new connections between old ideas, seems to require the following kinds of work:

Collecting: Old ideas are everywhere. They’re in the things we do, the conversations we have, the systems and processes of our lives, our families, our communities. They’re in books and in programs and in people. Being creative requires that we collect the ideas we find. Even bad ideas.

Observing: People are constantly connecting old ideas; pay attention to what they put together, how they do it, and why.

Imagining or Experimenting: Being creative requires asking a question. What if … ? Why don’t we … ? Could I … ? Or taking a risk.

Whatever you call it, creating or connecting, what it comes down to is putting old things together in order to make new things.

So I’ve been reading about creativity. And thinking back on my childhood. And wondering … what if our community had to take that test? How would we do? And could we change?