Have you ever heard of a "chiasmus"? Me either until recently. Read as key-AS-mus, it’s a neat structure to look for in literature and whatnot.
“The elements of simple chiasmus are often labelled in the form A B B A, where the letters correspond to grammar, words, or meaning. For example John F. Kennedy said ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’
“The ancient Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments are rich in chiasmus. Many of these have become lost in translation, but hundreds of others remain. The following example [is] indented to show the parallel structure of the text.
A "But many that are first
B shall be last;
B1 and the last
A1 shall be first." Jesus (Bible: Matthew 19:30.)”
It’s a circle-y way to reveal truth through a proverb or story.
While talking about this with John, my friend and former YWAM Modestan, we discovered that the story of our community and work here in Modesto is a chiasmus! We said “Oooooh!” a lot as we were working this out. Our chiasmus is an A-B-C-D-C-B-A form.
A - In 2001, Amie and I moved to Modesto to begin developing ministry as YWAMers with New Hope Church and our friends Josiah and Ang in a neighborhood near the church building. They had already begun to share bread and friendship in the notorious Prescott Estates apartments in north Modesto. The month we moved here, the city shut down the very neighborhood we had come to serve and everyone was evicted. I began looking for ways we could help those who had become homeless from this event. Due to other unforeseen circumstances, Josiah left vocational ministry to find other employment.
B - A year or so later, my good friend (and YWAMer) Aaron felt a call to come and join our little team that was looking to be a support and a voice for the homeless community in Modesto.
C - A year or so after that, the Sustar family from Ohio also felt a call to join with us to create something new together. We dreamed a lot and tried a lot! When the Sustars joined us, that’s when our regional Youth With A Mission leadership decided that we had become an official YWAM location. In 2006, we officially incorporated as YWAM Modesto.
D - John and Rhiannon Rosenbaum had both (before they were married) volunteered with our outreach to the poor and homeless. They each decided to do a Discipleship Training School and after they were married they joined our staff. It was in this time that God gave us a clear word that he wanted to make us a “creative, compassionate community” that would reflect who he is to the city around us. This is when we reframed what our team was about. We no longer sought only to be a help to the poor and homeless, but our dream was to be a light to whoever we came to be with. So, to this day, we seek to build friendships with the poor, the church, the young and with Jesus and look for creative ways to get all of these friends together.
D1 - It soon became evident that both John and Rhiannon’s passion was for school and learning. They left us to pursue these.
C1 - In our years together, we began taking trips to Thailand. Our friend Rich had shared at New Hope about the then almost unheard of issue of human trafficking. It has since become quite the hot topic in ministry circles. When we heard what was happening, our hearts responded, and we had to go. The Sustars started to make trips to Thailand more and more. They fell in love with the Burmese hill tribes escaping over the Thai/Burmese border. After a few of these trips it became clear that the Sustars would be moving on.
B1 - Aaron and I drove to Los Angeles almost three years ago to get advice from a lawyer about his visa. He told us that Aaron would have to go home to Canada for at least a year. This has been the longest year on record, having lasted for almost three! We’re still trying to figure the visa issue out.
A1 - New Hope Church has moved to another neighborhood. We’ve had several people make attempts to join with us that just never seemed to get off the ground. The Sustars came back to Modesto for a minute but needed to leave again to help family in a time of illness (with the Burmese still capturing their hearts). Aaron has been able to travel, visit here some, write and be a wandering friend to the poor in spirit all around the world. The Rosenbaums are out of state and plugging away at school, studying philosophy and art. And we Whitlers are still here. We are all still friends, wherever we are, which is what we wanted all this to be about anyway.
Finally, due to some other unforeseen circumstances, Josiah is now back in leadership at New Hope and we are partnering together to work in our congregation’s neighborhood and on South 9th Street. It took 12 years, but we are working with Josiah and New Hope to reach a neighborhood and the 9th Street community with friendship and God’s love with a whole gaggle of other friends we’ve made along the way.
Of course, this is a super-simplification of the story. There has been much heartache, confrontation, silliness, belly laughs, songs, stories, travel, danger, fear, joy, frustration, Mexican food, prayer, grace, anger, misunderstanding and love. We have lost our way. We have seen things wrongly. We have surprised ourselves. We know a lot about bread.
And maybe that’s what it really all comes back to...bread. Day old bread and friendship started all of this. Bread in the park, bread on the street, bread in boxes, bread to share. We used to give bread to a man named Bob in a motel on 9th Street. That same man, now free and being healed, hands me a little cube of bread every Sunday that frees and heals me. We break it together because Jesus broke bread. We give it, we receive it, we share it, we eat it. Our little creative, compassionate community has always shared bread. The Creative, Compassionate Community, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shares with us so we can share with others. And there’s always been plenty to go around.
Thanks for being a part of our story.