Don’t be afraid to take the next step with justice ministries

Katana Lester, Staff Writer

College students can often find themselves struggling in faith out of fear to put in the effort to do God’s work. Whether it is because of the heavy workload that we seem to get caught up in or having our eyes on what we think will fulfill our heart’s desires, it can sadly be challenging to find time to work on our faith. However, even after repentance and doing the inner work to build a strong relationship with God as our loving Father, we tend to slip into our plans. In reality, we have to trust the foggy, narrow path that God walks us through.

Boiling it down to the raw question, what is it that makes us afraid to take the next step in our faith? Why is it challenging to get out of our comfort zone, sacrificing that invisible barrier of fear to use our knowledge and God’s light to spread out to others? Remember that the idea of “shining His light” is His mission for us, no matter which form it takes.

An organization that seeks to be the antithesis to this problem is the organization Kingdom Causes. This organization works hand-in-hand with Westmont College’s Urban Initiative program to help serve the Santa Barbara community. Their mission is to gather a group of people that uses resources efficiently to grow a prosperous society, combating its flaws of injustice, with the mindset that if God’s land prospers, His people will prosper as well. The three areas they navigate are homelessness and housing, human trafficking, and unemployment, uniquely working with these marginalized groups in Santa Barbara through a faith-based lens.

One of the groups that Kingdom Causes organizes is the Santa Barbara Catalytic Project, which aims to minimize the hostility against the homeless. They divide Santa Barbara into the downtown, waterfront, and Eastside, where they network through churches, businesses, schools, organizations, and city officials. 

On October 24th, Jeff Shaffer, the former head of the S.B.A.C.T. (Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation) and current Regional Catalyst at Kingdom Causes, spoke at Westmont’s chapel on the issue of taking the next step to our calling. In the early 2000s, he felt God needed a prophetic voice to lead the escalating number of people on the streets as well as those who were experiencing human trafficking not only globally, but in Santa Barbara as well. He is an activist mentor, specifically aiding “…Westmont as an institution to create more opportunities in the city and mentor with students.” 

Why choose our generation to fight for change? Shaffer believes that our age group has the fire in their hearts to fix social injustice in contrast to his, who he has previously worked with before Westmont’s partnership. Not only will the students be more accessible as they are more sensitive and passionate about human equality, but he “…wants to work with people who want to see change.” There is a fire within our hearts, which is why we are blessed to have someone like Shaffer with the ignition and the gift of teaching to erect that confidence for us to serve independently. 

It is easier to say that one wants this revival, but let’s circle back to the question: what is it that makes us afraid to take the next step in our faith? It may seem easy for one with decades of experience in combating injustice to speak to us about doing our part as children of God, but sometimes the insight of a peer can fabricate the encouragement that we are capable of doing it too. Sydney Azzarello, a senior double majoring in economics/business and sociology, is the Local Teams and Education Coordinator for Urban Initiative and is involved in Bread of Life. 

During the COVID outbreak, Azzarello worked at a homeless shelter rescue mission because she wanted to be involved in the ministry. However at this sensitive time, seeing those on the streets sick, she realized that these were God’s people too, thus becoming her calling to do everything she could with her business and sociology interests to help them. 

Slightly slightly differing in opinion than Shaffer, who believes not everyone has the calling to do justice work, Azzarello believes that “justice work is a calling for all Christians to be present to and to see what is going on with your neighbor, and loving them well,” while keeping in mind that seeking justice looks different for different individuals. For example, one person who stood out to her throughout her time at Bread of Life has known Westmont students since the beginning of the program 17 years ago. She sees that through getting to know him and her peers, he has gone through noticeable change. He is slowly becoming open to student services, as those on the streets often distrust the government and other institutions.

Additionally, last semester during Azzarello’s internship, she met with the “lived experience” group — comprised of those who previously experienced homelessness — once a month, speaking on advocacy for their shunned voices. We often separate ourselves from this community based on the stigma of the homeless being dangerous or only asking for money for the wrong reasons. However, it is vital to put in the effort to see them as an image of God, pouring his love on them. So, seeing those who have been through so much empowers Azzarello to see more than just the “…headlines of those in the margins of our community.”

As James 2:26 states, “Faith without works is dead.” There is a comprehensible distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. When we learn about Him, we can simply state facts about His character, but when we know God, we obey, trust and exemplify Him in our everyday life. It is good to talk about the goodness of God, but are we showing His honor through our service? We must begin to start living out the way He wants us to because it is our actions that speak volumes.

As Shaffer explains, service follows Jesus’ character. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus states, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Likewise, Bread of Life encourages students to share a meal, therefore seeing Him in one another. With this, students can build friendships with those on the street, possibly allowing them to develop a new perspective in life that, over time, maltreated them. Believers of Christ or not, these students shine the light that Jesus did in Nazareth over 2000 years ago. 

If this article does not spark a call, it is okay. Not every Christian is called to seek justice through directly assisting marginalized communities, but each of us carries the common ground of compassion. As young Christians, the least we can do is shine the rainbow of His light and love through others, such as the one Urban Initiative is pouring out. As the new generation of Westmont, we need to be the flames that revive our school’s tender nature. Instead of waiting on the sidelines till opportunities reach your way, be the one who begins that new opportunity. 

However, if something is ignited in your heart, the best advice, according to Shaffer, is to sit down with a Westmont student you know on campus who is already involved in Urban Initiative, so you are not starting alone. Similarly, Azzarello states to “Give it a try. If it doesn’t work out after a few tries, there will be something that will pique your interest.” Each group in Urban Initiative only requires two hours a week of one’s time. 

If you or anyone you feel drawn to is interested in learning more about what our college is doing to help the Santa Barbara community:

  1. Kingdom Causes: https://www.kingdomcauses.org 
  2. Santa Barbara Catalytic Project: https://www.kingdomcauses.org/santa-barbara-catalytic-project 
  3. Westmont’s Urban Initiative, that has more local outreach groups, focusing on different groups in need, not mentioned in this article: https://www.westmont.edu/student-life/student-ministries-outreach/urban-initiative 

“Once you begin to engage in this kind of work, you meet Jesus in the eye of that neighbor. That becomes energizing in a different way.”

– Jeff Shaffer

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