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Dedicated Fans, Fractured Families, and Snowball Fights: How Sports Brings Us Together

 

by Jason Janz

Eight years ago, Juan Pena and I, our families, and a small team of people banded together to start a church and non-profit work in an urban neighborhood in Denver. Juan and I have become a tag team as we’ve worked together on urban education, poverty alleviation, and community development. We’ve become great friends and have seen each other in the best of times and worst of times.

Our wives would tell you that sometimes our biggest challenge is unplugging from the work. Our staff team has discovered that there’s an “on-call” nature to the work coupled with an endless amount of work to be done. Without creating intentional spaces for rest and relaxation, one can develop unhealthy patterns pretty quickly. One of the ways, we both relax or “chilax” as my sons call it, is through sports.

I am a 30-year Denver resident and a dedicated Bronco fan. Juan lived in a Boston and is a die-hard Patriots fan. Both of our teams are competitive and both sit inside the same conference. So, since we started working together, our teams have been in the playoffs twelve times and actually have played each other three times in the postseason (Denver won twice, Pats only once).

So, we good-naturedly poke at each other all season long. I have plenty of fodder as long as Belichick is at the helm. And Deflate-gate. What a gift! More fun than I could’ve asked for. Of course, Peyton has plenty of chinks in his armor and so it comes back my way.

About three weeks ago, things took an interesting turn. Our teams were both in the running and looking strong going into the playoffs. As you know by now, we faced each other in the AFC Championship. But something was different this year. As the game approached, word got out that Juan’s 5-year-old son, Ezzy, was entertaining the thought of cheering for the Broncos. The parents put on a full court press and bribed him with ice cream and candy to be a true blue Patriots fan. You can see their manipulation played out here –

So, many of us Denverites banded together to “save him from the dark side.” We created a GoFundMe site (https://www.gofundme.com/5ekpeezg) and people pitched in from all over. $150 was given to purchase Broncos gear for him. After we purchased these gifts, we invited Ezzy over to our house to present the gifts. This is how that went down.

Well, as you all know, the Patriots choked and the Broncos went on to be in the Super Bowl. However, out of the blue, Juan received a call from CBS news asking if they could use his YouTube video from the Super Bowl last year where he recorded his family watching the game. It’s one for the ages and has received over 100,000 views. CBS will be using it in the pregame show to talk about dedicated fans.

Well, Antonio Johnson, Juan’s co-worker and friend, couldn’t let it rest. He reached out to local news stations and told them about the video and our journey with Ezzy. Could we use this to make him even more of a Bronco fan? Plus, Ezzy needed encouragement before the big day.

So, Antonio planned an event to further embed Ezzy in the Broncos cheering section for life. The Denver Post picked up on the story and arranged for a photo shoot with Juan in Patriots gear and Ezzy in his new Bronco gear. Antonio decided to plan an ambush of the photo shoot (which the Post was in on) by bringing a cheering section to the house. About thirty of us, decked out in orange and blue, gathered to spring the surprise. Well, when Juan saw us coming, he quickly commandeered a counter-offensive.

 

After our melee, we gathered in the house and celebrated Ezzy and our joint humanity. Sports has a way of bringing people together and bringing joy, light, and celebration into our lives.

 

Nelson Mandela once said that “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Indeed, we have seen both here and around the world the important role that sports plays in this journey we call life. I’m thankful for Juan. I’m thankful for his friendship. I’m thankful that in the middle of serious work, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Oh yeah…GO BRONCOS!!!!!

 

 

My Arrest in Ferguson – by Jason Janz

A Story About My Stop On the Road In My Journey to Love My Neighbor

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Seven years ago, I left my homogenous, suburban life to plant a church in the inner city of Denver where I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life. A mentor of mine in the early years of this journey, an African-American man named Ted Travis, told me, “Jason, the church has all but completely lost the idea of what it means to love your neighbor.” I didn’t understand what he meant that day, but seven years later, I believe I have a better understanding. We live in a separated and segregated world. Minority and majority cultures, by and large, do not understand or interact with one another in deep and meaningful ways. Because of my calling, I was thrust into an environment where I could no longer be passive in this area. Ted told me, “You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand, and you can’t understand from a distance.” This meant I needed to get up close, listen, try to understand, challenge my assumptions, assess any hidden inner racism from which many of us suffer as a result of living in a divided society, and just love. I needed to form deep and meaningful relationships with people across the racial and socio-economic divide. I needed to be a neighbor.

Part of this seven year journey led me to Ferguson, Missouri. On Saturday, November 29th at 12:35pm, I was arrested in St. Louis. I was part of the Denver Freedom Ride organized by a pastor in our neighborhood, Anthony Grimes, and we went to Ferguson at the request of local religious leaders who desired support and encouragement. Our demonstrations were sourced in the long tradition of non-violence and were designed to speak out against the injustices experienced by minorities at the hands of law enforcement, not just in this case but in the countless cases over the years, both seen and unseen. This was one of the many reasons I joined the ride (For a full list of reasons, you can read my article here).

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image3The circumstances around my arrest are that a group of 300 of us gathered on Saturday around a retail center and made several peaceful demonstrations and protests in retail establishments. These were designed to gain attention and to spread the message that minorities have had it with injustice. Upon leaving, we moved up the sidewalk and stood on a grassy hill. The police came and lined up about fifteen feet from the curb, and it became a stand-off. The gap in our country couldn’t be visualized any better: A bunch of white people in blue uniforms and clubs standing against a diverse crowd of citizens demanding their rights. Power vs. the people. I stepped off the curb to get a snapshot of the spacious gap and was immediately reprimanded and told that if I did it again, I’d be arrested. I didn’t know you couldn’t even step into the street. The officers seemed pretty adamant about serving and protecting the asphalt. The reason they gave was that I might impede traffic. It was kind of ironic to me that since the street had been shut down by the cops, there was no such thing as “traffic” to block.

I like to push the line. That’s where I learn – on the edge. But when push comes to shove, I usually walk the line. I’ve never been arrested. I respect law enforcement, and I appreciate the work they do. I collaborate with Denver police on a number of fronts, and we have had a great working relationship. I decided to just go along with the crowd.

The group moved up around the corner. The same line developed. I thought to myself that this would actually be a better picture because there was nothing in the way of a clear shot. I was on the sidewalk and saw a crosswalk where you could walk out to a mini-island. Standing there would give me the perfect picture. A police van was pulling up on my left, but he stopped for me so I could walk across the crosswalk. I nodded to him, walked across the street and stood on the sidewalk being careful not to step on the street. The same officer who had warned me before was about fifty feet away. He turned around and saw me perched on the median and immediately ordered my arrest. I asked him what I did that was wrong since I was on the sidewalk. He looked flustered and said, “You…you…you didn’t walk across the crosswalk!” I told him that wasn’t true, but he wasn’t listening.

Immediately, several officers came over to me and followed his directions. I was placed in handcuffs, and the paddy wagon was summoned. I couldn’t believe what was happening! I was being arrested by a St. Louis police officer for something I didn’t do. The story of what happened was no longer mine to tell. I had lost all power, and his narrative was going to win.

image6My mind raced. My son! My third son had joined me on the trip, but he’d have to be cared for by our group. Thankfully, we had a great group that he trusted and knew would watch over him. It occurred to me that I had the bus key that was transporting my son and about twelve of the other freedom riders. I looked at the female officer and asked her if she could just take the key out of my pocket and give it to our team. It was in my front pocket, and I was cuffed. I explained my 12-year-old son was in the crowd, and I wanted to make sure he was ok. She wouldn’t listen. I pleaded with her two more times, and finally she talked to a higher up who agreed. She dug the key out of my pocket and handed it to our videographer.

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I was loaded into the back of the police van. It was hot, sterile, and cramped. The sirens went off and this offender was headed to the slammer.

This was not my design. As an organized protest, it was part of our plan to speak loudly but to avoid arrest so as not to shrink our numbers. In the morning planning meeting, some people were talking about making a statement by getting arrested and I told my son that we would not be part of it. I had no intention of getting arrested or putting us in harms way.

So, now that those desires were smashed, I had to wrestle with a new reality. I was arrested. And I was upset. At that moment, a lot of things came crashing down. Seven years of learning a new culture, trying to bridge racial divides, being in endless conflict mediation meetings, and trying to lead people to do the same all came to a frustrating head. I banged my head on the white steel partition. And I cried. Hot tears poured out. I asked God “Why? Why did it have to be so hard? Why didn’t you call me to something I was better at? Arrested? Really? Is this your plan?”

My emotions started with embarrassment. I messed up. I hurt the movement. Stupid rookie! If you got arrested, it was planned and you did it as a group to make a larger statement. Then, I moved to anger. I was angry that I had been falsely accused. Angry that the country I love is so divided. Angry at the cost of what it had taken to be engaged in the fight. Angry that this would all be misunderstood. Angry that this would be used by the majority culture to discount what was being said. I then moved into responsibility mode. As a father, my son was out of my view. What was he feeling? What is it like to watch your dad get handcuffed and hauled off like a criminal? I just wanted to be with him. He’s a tender guy with a passionate heart. But I couldn’t be there with him. And I could do nothing about it. What does this mean as a pastor? How would my church feel about this? What about our non-profit work? We have built up a large ministry to ex-offenders. Now I am one.

I jostled about in the back of the van, handcuffed, as it jolted throughout the neighborhood. After I regained my composure, I felt my back pocket. What did they take? They hadn’t taken my phone or wallet. Hey, I can text! Who should I talk to? I immediately thought of Anthony, our group leader. He was a responsible guy and bore the weight of holding a band of activists together…which is a challenge! I just made his life more complex.

Anthony and I go back a bit. We had journeyed a road together in the start of our church, but it didn’t work out. The cultural and racial issues were too big for us to bridge at that point in our journey. It took a couple of years for us to heal from the hurt and to clear the past. This freedom ride was our first real experience working together again, and I was committed to do my best to support him. He was my neighbor.

Anthony is no stranger to law enforcement infringing on the rights of those he loves. I remembered how he told me about a no-knock raid on his father’s apartment that turned out to be the wrong address. It didn’t change the fact that his dad’s apartment was destroyed, and he was badly burned in the process as the flash grenade landed between his legs and exploded. Anthony had lived and felt the pain of law enforcement not doing their job correctly.

I wriggled my phone out and thought about what to text.

“For you”

That summed it up. I waited for a response.

The response came back.

“We getting u out. Love u”

I sighed a sigh of relief.

“I hope I didn’t hurt efforts.”

“No. I’m proud of you. A white man getting arrested is what we need. Be strong.” (If you don’t understand that, don’t ask me what it means. Think about it.)

image7I was taken out of the van when we arrived at the jail. Immediately, they placed me in a holding cell where I would sit for the next two hours waiting to be booked. I struck up a conversation with the officer who was taking down my information through a small window where you could pass things back and forth.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’ve never been in this situation before, but I thought somewhere someone was supposed to read me my rights and let me use a phone and all that stuff.”

“Yeah. Sometimes we do that, and sometimes we don’t. All depends on the situation. I’m not asking about what you did. Just curious as to who you are.”

“I’m a pastor in Denver who is here with members of my church helping people on the ground have a voice.”

“Oh.”

Now, I became curious. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“How come you are in the middle of racial tension with a national spotlight on you and 95% of the cops out there today were white males? You got any black cops?”

“You have black cops in Denver?”

“Uhhh…yeah! But we’re at least savvy enough to know that you don’t do what you guys did today. You don’t stack twenty white guys against 300 plus people, half of which are minorities and hope it’s gonna help things.”

image8“Yeah. I don’t know about that.”

We were interrupted as a woman who was being held was getting released. She was African-American, and the officer informed her that a man had paid her bond of $750 as well as some fines. The total was over $1000. The officer looked up from his desk and said to her, “You’re not doing favors for him, are you?” She shook her head no. I thought how degrading it must be to be spoken to like a whore by a law enforcement officer. She was released and I said a silent prayer for her.

At this time, I wanted to make a call to somebody I knew. In our training, we were told to write a jail support number on our arm with a Sharpie in case we were arrested. I did it begrudgingly, knowing I would never need it and feeling like it was rather extreme. In fact, most of the training seemed over the top to me.

“They’ll try to snatch you.”

“Don’t go off by yourself. They love it when people are isolated.”

“They will dream up charges to be able to arrest you.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I said to myself. I was raised in a culture where it was part of your civic duty to support law enforcement. They were the good guys. Always.

Now I was regretting not listening! I still had my phone and I tried calling the number. But who would’ve known that AT&T gets no reception in my jail cell. I asked if I could move to a place where I could get reception. “Nope.” I asked if I could use a jail phone. “Not until you are booked.” “How long is that gonna be?” “Never know.” Huh.

The wait got longer and longer. I took a pen and just for fun started to draw our non-profit logo on the wall. CrossPurpose is the name of the non-profit we formed to help people escape generational poverty through relationship, empowerment, education, and community. The name shows how the cross of Christ defines our ultimate purpose, and it also means that we go against the flow, the status quo. I felt it would appropriate to leave that kind of mark here – Jesus and the anti-status quo. While I was doodling, I overhead them start kicking around what my charges would be. “Failure To Comply” was mentioned. I thought, “Now that’s getting more and more likely to be true.”

Finally, the white female who arrested me came in after two hours and booked me. She took down all my vitals and then moved me from a holding cell into a real cell in the back of the police station. They took everything from my wedding ring to my shoelaces. On the way back to Cell 6, they told me I could grab a blanket. Thankfully, I did, as the cell was really cold.

The steel door slammed shut behind me. No instructions. No conversation. And they left. Little did I know that I would be back there longer than I had hoped. I looked around. My gray cell had three bunks with vinyl mattresses, one toilet, and a small sink where you pushed a button and some water dribbled out so you could wash your hands. But other than that, no amenities. No pillow. No call button. No clock. No privacy.

The one upside to this cell was that it had the famous phone you were promised. At last! But all that glitters isn’t gold. The phone is a 12” x 12” box that sticks out 2” from the wall. It is attached to the wall about 4 feet off the floor. I’m 6’2”. The receiver is in the box and you have to stick your head against the box to hear and to speak. I tried dialing with my left hand as my right ear was stuck up against the box as I bent over. Nothing happened. Then I saw a red button on the box. I pushed it. Ahhh! Dialtone! Gonna call my wife.

“Push 1 for English.”

“Push 4 for a collect call.”

“Dial your number followed by the pound sign.”

“Say your name after the beep.”

“Wait…Wait…Wait…Wait…Wait…” This went on for a minute.

“We tried calling your number. This phone does not accept collect calls because they are blocked. We left instructions on how to do so. Please do not try again for fifteen minutes.”

Grrr.

I waited fifteen minutes. Same deal. Same words. I was frustrated.

This time, I called again right away. Wasn’t gonna wait another fifteen minutes.

“This number has been blocked.”

I would’ve thrown the phone on the floor but it was a box attached to the wall. I realized that while prisoners have the right to make a phone call, it means nothing when the phone doesn’t work for you.

What to do now? I looked at my arm. The jail support number was on my inside bicep. 314-286-2249. I went through the dial routine. Got a busy signal. Tried again. Didn’t work. By this time, I was wondering if I could ever figure it out. My back was aching from stooping over with my head up against the wall.

Tried again.

“Hello Jason.”

Warmth filled me. A kind voice.

image9“My name is Jason Janz. I got arrested. I was told to call this number.”

“You did the right thing. We are here to help you. Tell me what happened.”

I spent a couple of minutes on the phone. Hattie was her name. She had a calming effect on me as she explained the process. She told me she’d call my wife and talk to her, as well as reach my team and tell them where I was being held.

I informed her that the booking officer thought bond would be set at $300-$500 cash. How that was going to happen, I had no idea. However, she informed me that the bail was only going to be $100. She told me that a group of people around the country were giving money to help bond people out of jail who were involved in the non-violence movements. Yet, bond wasn’t just a financial issue, it was an access issue. One had to get the money in cash delivered to the right place.

Hattie was a loving neighbor. She assured me they would pay the bond, send a driver to pick me up, and have an iPhone charger ready so I could call my wife. Wow. What a great group of people. I became grateful to the unseen army volunteering their money and time to see justice come to our citizens.

It was 3:30pm. Sounded like I’d be out in an hour.

I laid down on my bunk. It was cold. At the end of the hallway, the SEC game was on. Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss. I’m an Alabama fan, so that game was slightly interesting to me. I had to put my face up against the bars in order to see the screen from my prostrate position. If I positioned my head just right, I could see most of it. The game kept my mind off of the minutes and eventually the hours that slowly ticked by. I saw a commercial for the show that was coming on after the game, “The Flight Before Christmas” cartoon. I prayed I would get out before that show came on. But it still wasn’t half-time, so I was pretty sure I was in good shape.

I heard a door open. Down the hall walked an officer. I sat up. He stuck a drunk man into the cell across from me and moved out quickly. The man curled up in a blanket and went to sleep.

I tried calling my wife again. By the time I was released, I tried to call her at least ten times. It seemed you could set something up so your cell phone could receive collect calls. And I was sure she was working on it. But, time after time, the same message played in my ear. I was so frustrated by it that when they asked me to say my name for the collect call, I would give her messages just so she would hear something else. “I love you.” “I want out of here.”

Third quarter came. Still nobody was there.

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Jail cell similar to the one I occupied. Minus the desk.

I started to pray. “God, what are you doing with me through this? What am I supposed to experience and learn? What are you trying to tell me?” I listened. He started to speak.

I called Hattie again. Hattie was starting to become my friend. We laughed, chatted about the amount of arrests that day and about our part in the work. She then informed me that there had been a delay because the place I was at couldn’t take the bond money and they had to run it over to another location before I could be released. She assured me it wouldn’t be long. I told her not to worry. I knew they had a lot on their minds. When I hung up, Hattie said, “Thanks for helping the movement.”

As I hung up, I thought, “What happens to men and women who don’t have a number to call? What happens to people without the accessible cash to bond out even for bogus charges? How would you ever let someone know where you were if you couldn’t reach anyone?”

It was now 5pm. I hadn’t eaten since 10am. I wondered when the dinner bell would ring and I’d get my first taste of jail food. I work with a non-profit where we help 800 men and women a year getting out of prison. When you bring up the food, they groan. We feed them a warm meal in a family atmosphere every Thursday night as part of our re-entry program. At least I would have some small common ground with the men I’ve grown to love.

The door at the end of the hallway opened. They came and opened the cell for the drunk guy. “You sobered up?” “Yep.” And he was out. The officers didn’t look at me. Dinner must be at 6.

Fourth quarter started. No bond money yet. No food. No sign of life. I was starting to feel very hungry. I love food. And I don’t do well when I go a long time without it.

While my small hunger pangs started, my mind flashed to those throughout the decades who suffered for long periods of time in poor conditions for the cause of justice. I can’t imagine. The whole experience started to answer the “why” for me. It’s one thing to study injustice. To watch a documentary about it. But it’s a completely different thing to experience it personally. I had entered a parallel universe and I would never be the same.

It looked like Ole Miss had the game under control, and I started to lose interest. Just as I was dozing off to sleep, a voice came across the television that roused me. This is what I remember.

“Hello St. Louis. My name is Michael Brown, Sr.”

I threw off my blanket, pressed my face against the bars, and squinted at the television.

“I want to encourage all of you to continue to speak up against racial profiling.”

He had my attention. I felt he was speaking right to me. I remembered his anguished, weeping face from the picture at his son’s graveside.

“Let’s remember the city we love and demonstrate non-violently. Keep speaking out and love everyone regardless of race.”

image11I can’t remember a time when words from a television seemed like they were speaking right to me. I rolled over and stared up at the cell ceiling. Wow! That was right on time, right to my heart. I wanted to shout back, “I got you, man! We will never forget. And we will stand up for the thousands of black men who perish unjustly.”

For the first time, the shame of it all started to lift. I prayed again. This time, it was pretty clear. God was saying, “I ordered this. I picked you. I wanted you to feel what it was like for many I’ve called to be your neighbor. Because you need to know how to love them. And they need to know how far you will go to love them. There is no need to feel shame. I am with you.” It was the first time I felt the honor of suffering in the cause of righteousness. Honored to be part of a line of people who took one on the chin for what was right.

image12And then it happened. The door opened. I was told that bond had been paid and I was being released. Somebody I didn’t know paid for my freedom. I felt my Gospel preaching would forever have fresh eyes as I proclaimed the one who died for the greatest freedom a person can ever experience – ultimate redemption.

They ushered me in for a mug shot and fingerprints. I was given what looked like a receipt listing my charge – Obstructing Public Places. Interesting. If someone can explain to me how standing on a sidewalk on a closed street is obstructing some place, please let me know. It’s ridiculous.

I’m sure people will come at me and say, “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” In other words, “If you quit hanging out with hoodlums, you wouldn’t be in jail.” I can understand that conditioned thinking. But the more I think about it, I believe I was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

My court date was assigned for January 27th at 7pm. I signed some paperwork saying that my information was accurate, and I was ushered out the back door with a clear bag holding my belongings. They told me someone was here to pick me up. However, I’d have to walk out the back of the police station and walk all the way around to the front to connect with them.

I looked at the clock on the officer’s computer. It was now 8pm. The whole ordeal had lasted seven-and-a-half hours. No food. No drink. No contact.

I walked around to the front of the station. As I turned the corner, I saw Dr. Jeff Cook, the Academic Director in our fellowship program. And Paton. My 12-year-old son was standing there with his backpack on. They were standing in the foyer, but they were looking in towards the station and didn’t see me coming around to the front door. When I opened the door, Paton turned and saw me, and I lost it! I held him for a good minute and told him I loved him and that I had hoped he wasn’t scared. He cried. All was good.

He helped me re-lace my shoes and then we jumped in the van. We went to Panera bread and I ordered $22 worth of food. Great meal! I called my wife. She was her gracious and kind self. “Babe, some pretty good people have spent time behind bars for good causes.” I’m not sure she knew what she was getting into when we got married, but she’s the perfect match for me.

As I ate my sandwich, I sat there and pondered. My situation was a microcosm of what was being talked about on the streets. If what I just experienced was what the minorities of St. Louis face at the hands of law enforcement, this whole thing makes sense!

image13We headed back downtown as there was a demonstration happening in front of the police station. When we disembarked, the Denver Freedom Ride group came running over. Hugs. Shouts. Tears. I’ll never forget that moment. Jordan hugged me. Anthony embraced me. “Jason, I’m proud of you and I love you. We’ve come full circle.” Antoinette hugged me and said, “You now feel what I feel all the time.” Curtis, one of our Fellows, said, “This is why I came to Denver. This is why I call you my pastor!” Sarafina, Lacey, Katie, Vince, Regina, Grant, Speech, Niles, Elizabeth, BC and Evan -the whole Freedom Rider family became my family.

Perhaps one of the more moving pictures I saw of the group that was taken while I was locked up was one snapped by BC Serna, our videographer. From what I heard, Paton was teary-eyed as he saw me getting loaded into the van. The group surrounded him, spoke to him, and embraced him. This picture will always mean the world to me. The looks on the faces. The embrace by my newfound friend, Speech. From there, they visited the site of Michael Brown’s death, and from what I heard, my little guy made an impact! While eating in Panera, Dr. Cook handed his phone to me and played a video he shot of Paton at the site. He said, “You should have seen the crowd of young African-American men who welcomed and affirmed and cheered him when someone said he was the son of the man who got arrested today! They saw him almost as a hero, engaging issues of injustice with his dad at such a young age. It was amazing. People in the crowd were taking his picture.” So proud of him. And I’m so glad that he had some new neighbors loving on him.

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Then, it was all business again. We were to go join a demonstration in front of the police department. As we walked down the sidewalk, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to jump into the fray again. I looked across the street and saw eight guys in camo fatigues with bright yellow sticks that were three to four feet long. If one of those guys was like the guy who ordered my arrest, I would be in physical pain. Fear overcame me. Antoinette pulled me towards the protest. I pulled away. For the first time in my life, I felt a genuine fear of law enforcement.

image15Thankfully, we left before long. We associated ourselves with the peaceful, non-violent protestors in Ferguson, but there are also revolutionary communist and extremist factions that just try to stir up trouble. They are a small group compared to the rest, but they get a lot of attention because they are so violent. We didn’t want to associate ourselves with that group nor be near their potentially explosive actions, so we left. Frankly, I was glad for the emotional reprieve. I went to bed exhausted, surrounded by a band of new and old friends. We had quite the day.

On Sunday morning, we participated in a non-violence training at a corner coffee shop. The leader gave us the speech again about not getting arrested and how they can dream up charges against you. “I was booked for third degree assault and I was praying,” he said. This time I was listening. I think I’m finally getting it.

For the training, I was partnered with a woman who I hadn’t met during any of our actions. I asked her where she was from and she told me she came in from North Carolina. She was the chair of the Religious Studies department at Warren Wilson College and was also the Director of Peace and Justice Studies. She said,

“Are you the man who was arrested yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“I saw the whole thing. You walked right across the crosswalk. You didn’t break the law. I saw it.”

I can’t explain the relief of having someone just believe you when you tell them your side of the story! I have heard my friends of color share hundreds of stories about how they feel like they have to regularly prove themselves. Because of their race, people don’t believe them.

After our training, our group went to a church pastored by Dr. Traci Blackmon, a fiery preacher who was speaking from her heart. She’s labored for years on justice issues in this town. She talked about the hate mail she had received over speaking out about injustice and the frustration of nobody listening. She said, “People always ask me why we are yelling. I tell them it’s because when we talk nice, nobody listens!” I laughed as I could identify with her words.

image16She gave an altar call for prayer. One of my goals for this trip was to be ministered to by people who have been engaged in the fight longer than I. So, I went forward. She asked me what I needed and I told her that I just needed prayer. I explained to her what had happened. She hugged me for a minute, pulled me away, looked me in the eye and said “Thank you.”

The service ended and a young woman approached me and said, “Are you the man who was arrested yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“I saw the whole thing. I was there. You walked across the crosswalk. And I took a video of your whole arrest.”

image17What a joy to connect with my extended family in the body of Christ. Neighbors from across state lines were loving me in a moment of need.

As the Ferguson case continues to press itself on the national conscience, I want to encourage people with the words of Jesus echoed by my mentor, Ted Travis: Love Your Neighbor. Love your black neighbor. Love your white neighbor. Love your conservative neighbor. Love your liberal neighbor. Love your neighbor crying out for justice. Love your police officer who’s trying to do his job. And if God lays someone on your heart to reach out, loving usually starts by listening. It’s how someone begins to hear you say, “I love you.” If you desire to love your minority brothers and sisters, begin to engage in justice issues. It goes a long way when they see you sacrificing for a quality education system, lobbying against mass incarceration, standing up against racial profiling, and a host of other issues.

This experience has changed me. Scripture and Ferguson have imprinted a deeper burden on my heart for justice. I cannot escape. This isn’t a personal preference thing. It’s not a Jason thing. It’s not even a Black thing. It is a God thing.

Psalm 35:10 says, “My whole being will exclaim, Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And to the officer who ordered my arrest – I forgive you. I don’t know what you were going through that day. It doesn’t matter. God did what he wanted to do and I’m ok with that. You are part of a system, as we all are, that has divided us far too long but, ultimately, you are my neighbor too.


Jason website photoJason Janz is an elder at Providence Bible Church in Denver, CO where he lives with his wife and four boys in Northeast Denver.

Jason can be reached at jasonjanz@gmail.com.

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Why I’m Going to Ferguson

I’m currently on a bus heading east on I-70 towards St. Louis. We left at 5am with a band of 20 people. The first person who heard I was going said, “Why?” I’m sure he won’t be the last. I’ve pondered it myself. So, I believe that it’d be good to open up with all of my thoughts on this as it’s more involved than it may appear. Here are my reasons for going.

To Encourage Those Who Asked Us To Come

Multiple church leaders have invited us to Ferguson. Our leader Anthony says, “We have been summoned.” The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest reconciliation group in America invited our group to come as well. They’ve asked for support. Anthony believes that we mainly provide refreshment to weary hearts and hands.

To Encourage The Church

The Spirit of God resides in his Church. This connects all of us. In the New Testament when a famine hit, the broader church responded and gave financial resources to the struggling churches in Judea. As a pastor, I can only imagine what it’s like to pastor a congregation right now in St. Louis. Pastors have asked for our help and so we are going. I’m not sure what we can do but God usually tells us.

I also want to encourage the church that I’ve been called to shepherd. We are a multi-cultural church with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. We share a common heart for helping the marginalized and the oppressed. While we all don’t see eye-to-eye on Ferguson, we are learning to walk together where we see true unity amidst diversity.

When I asked permission to go from the other pastors whom I serve alongside, they encouraged me and said, “Jason, we are not saying it’s ok. We are sending you!” My black, brown, and white brothers on the pastoral team desire to be part of what God is doing in the wider church and for that I’m thankful.

To Minister to Hurting People

People ask me what I’m going to do. By and large, I don’t know. I will follow local leadership and see where God leads. Whatever that looks like, I will walk through the streets asking God to show me someone who needs care. It may be a fellow protestor who needs encouragement. It may be an individual who has experienced loss. It may be a minority brother or sister who is struggling with anger towards the majority culture. Whatever or whomever, I want to be a minister of Christ.

To Have People Minister to Me

Lord knows I have problems and issues. Seven years ago, I lived in an all-white world. Today, that seems like another universe. In the process of moving into a multi-cultural environment, I have experienced confusion, rejection, anxiety, insults, loss of support, etc. The challenges in child-rearing, the burdens of ministering with the marginalized, the challenges of insufficient resources, the non-stop work of relational reconciliation, and a number of other difficult issues sometimes leave a heart barren. These experiences surface the pride in my own heart, my propensities towards seeking comfort over obedience, and a passion that is not always properly directed. I need some godly people to minister to my heart and to help me as I seek to be a better minister, neighbor, and community advocate in the long struggle to see the Gospel displayed in all of its splendor.

To Spend Time With My Family

While I leave my wife and three boys, I am making the journey with Paton. He’s my 12-yr-old son named after a missionary around the turn of the century who ministered to in the Pacific Islands. Perhaps my most important job is to train my children to love God and love their neighbor. Through this experience, I will be able not just tell, but show what the heart of God looks like in a hurting world.

I’m also traveling with my unofficially adopted daughter, Antoinette. She came into my life two-and-a-half years ago and asked me and another man in our church Community Group to be her father. She is African-American and has shown me through her life and story what it’s like to walk as a black woman in America today. We’ve already walked a road together in filing a racial profiling complaint with the sheriff’s department after she was stopped for speeding. She faced a humiliating and improper interrogation about smoking crack cocaine. It means a lot to both of us to be on this bus together.

I also am making the trip with the Academic Director of our Fellowship program, Dr. Jeff Cook, and three of our Fellows. Our mission it to spark a movement of urban church leaders that will impact the cities of the world for Christ. Time with them outside the classroom has the potential to be far more impacting than anything I could ever say.

To Work on Reconciliation…In My Own Neighborhood

At our core as Christians, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. In the early days of Providence, a young man named Anthony was part of our church. Anthony is an African-American young man with a heart for God and a passion for his city. After working together for a little over a year, things became tense, the relationship frayed and Anthony left our church. We were both hurt in this process (part of our story is chronicled in the book, Ambivalent Miracles, by Nancy Wadsworth). About three years ago, we saw each other at a conference and sought forgiveness and healing from one another. It was great to clear the past, but that’s not enough in reconciliation. You have to build something new. So, when Anthony was leading a trip to Ferguson, he called and asked for help. The group needed transportation. I told him I was considering going and he said, “If you come, you could help me run point with half the group.” I knew right then that this is what I should do. I consider it a process of healing and redemption to build a new experience together.

To Grow in Humility and Understanding

Living in the segregated majority culture for thirty-three years of my life has caused me to be just a wee bit behind on this whole thing. The last seven years has been a crash course Bachelor’s degree in understanding how half our country lives and thinks. The poor and the marginalized have changed my life, revived my faith, and re-awakened my purpose. An African-American pastor was bemoaning to me how a popular white preacher was writing on the issue of race and stated that one of the primary contributions of the African-American church to the larger church was lively worship. While that may be true, it seemed so trite in light of their larger contribution. Within their experience one will find the vibrancy of a faith that has endured excruciating suffering, built a faith centered around spiritual intimacy with Christ absent the distracting material comfort of many white faith traditions, experienced the power of a community of solidarity, survived through empowering the giftedness of their members, and used their collective voice to change systemic injustice. I have found that conversations with African-American pastors who lead churches with predominantly low-income congregations have shown me a different side to Scripture and humanity than I was taught in seminary.

To Reject the Passivity of White Pastors When It Comes To Civil Rights

Just over fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was asked by eight white clergy to delay demonstrations in Birmingham, AL. On the day he was asked, he was put in prison and wrote the now famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

The interesting part of this case is that the eight clergy were actually moderate to liberal religious leaders who were advocates for civil rights. However, they weren’t ready to act when King was. They wanted to wait until just the right time. In other words, “not now.” King wrote, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where we can be seen and dealt with.”

So to my white pastor friends, I know you face great pressure on this issue. You have the real possibility of losing congregational members and financial support if you come across like you support the African-American community especially when “the officer has been proven to be innocent.” I am an elder at an urban church where we operate a non-profit to help people exit generational poverty. We survive on the provision of God through the hands of outside donors several of which would not see eye-to-eye with me on this issue. But at some point, we have to decide if we are mere hirelings or if we are preachers of truth and justice and equality no matter the cost.

White pastors have asked me what to do. Let me give my opinion as to what isn’t helpful. Putting on Facebook or saying to your church “Let’s pray for Ferguson” puts you in the same boat as the Birmingham clergy. Take a risk. Preach on race. It’s in the Bible. Preach on justice. It’s in there too. When the Bible talks about justice, I used to think it meant to “be fair.” It’s deeper than that. And it’s a great study. Our congregations would all benefit from a deep challenge towards racial reconciliation and justice in our cities and churches.

History has proven King to be correct regarding the timing of the demonstrations and the need for the movement to progress. As a white person, I’ve come to realize that I have an inherent default position that wants every thing to be just right before I act. The perfect scenario. The right amount of backing. And time. Just a little more time. Can I just say that our minority brothers and sisters have not had that luxury? I may be judged by history to be making a mistake. I’m ok with that. I’d rather be caught leaning into the issue than to be part of those who leaned away and missed the miracle.

To Stand For Justice

While opinions vary on the case in Ferguson, it’s hard to deny that minority communities feel oppressed by law enforcement. The relationship is broken and it’s hurtful to our country as a whole. I am standing alongside my African-American brothers and sisters as they cry out for justice. King said, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” And I might add that he may call us to suffer.

To Bring Glory to God

Ultimately, Romans 11 says that “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever, Amen.” So, that pertains to this as well. What does that look like? I’m not totally sure but I believe I believe I have an idea the Lord gave me. As we gathered after lunch today, Anthony asked us what we thought the mission of the trip was for each of us. I summarized it by saying, “Speak. Listen. Love. And the banner over all these three is reconciliation.” If that happens, I believe God will be exalted for the great work that He does through His people.

It’s Messy…And There Seem To Be No Easy Answers

by Jason Janz

After working in the city for past six years, people will often ask me a question about the homeless wondering if they should help someone flying a sign on the sidewalk. They don’t know if they are helping or hurting

homeless-sign-500-20

if they give the guy money. This question doesn’t just stop at the sidewalk. It is at the root of a lot of the issues we run into in the city (and increasingly in the suburbs as poverty suburbanizes). It happens almost daily in this work – a perplexing question comes up and there seem to be no easy solutions. We all want the right answer! A lot of times there is a tug-of-war between our empathy and our logic, our heart and our head.

For example, here are examples of things that came up this week.

  • We found out that one of the recipients of our college scholarships is homeless. He’s 55 with diabetes and the weather is freezing. We put him up in a hotel for two weeks and then moved him to a shelter. But he walked out of it upon arrival. He said he’d rather ride the bus until 2:30am, walk around until 4:30am, and then get back on the bus when they re-started until it got warmer. “That’s better than sleeping on a concrete floor.” He muttered that he was thinking about giving up on everything. How long do we pursue him and how do we help?
  • We work with a single mom of one of our Boy Scouts who used money from the sales of our fundraiser to repair her car to the tune of over $500. She has paid back $200. How much should we hold her accountable for?
  • We are friends with a mother in our refugee ministry. She is living in a terrible place but the resettlement agency tells us not to encourage them to move apartments. Do we violate the “rules” for the betterment of this woman?
  • We suspect that some ex-offenders are using our free bus tickets and selling them for alcohol. Our office manager caught some guys selling them at the bus stop before. How does he know who is legit and who is just “shucking and jiving”?
  • We find out, third-hand and perhaps hearsay, that a former foster child was perhaps neglected and it resulted in her disease symptoms increasing. Do we report this as potential child neglect or was it just a normal parental mistake or is it just a ticked off relative giving a bad report?
  • A recently re-settled refugee child has been in his new home for two weeks. The agency is demanding that he see a trauma therapist immediately. However, the adoptive mom doesn’t believe that is best right now due to his need to adapt to a new home, a new country, a new school, new food, etc. Even though she believes in trauma therapy, how long does she put them off (and tick them off) for what she believes is best for the child?
  • A single mom with four kids totaled her car. She has to borrow a 15-passenger van to get around but it’s sucking too much gas and costing her too much. Her employer is phasing out her position next week. She needs a job, a car, and some hope. We have 20 families in this program. Many have needs. Who do you help and how much?
  • The school district has just fired the fifth principal in six years at the local elementary school. At what point do you start a riot on behalf of low-income kids getting screwed out of a good education?

I thought I would get to the point where I would know the right answers to all of these issues. While experience helps us make wiser decisions, I don’t believe we will ever reach a point where we “have it all figured out.” And I think that’s a good thing. Sticky issues help us to engage our values, our brothers and sisters, our minds and our hearts to try and do what’s best for our fellow man.

*Here are some good aids that have helped me process these issues.

Our good friend at the Issachar House, Scott Lundeen, produced this video.

http://www.urbanentry.org/index.php/videos/ue1-anything-helps

 

When Helping Hurts

http://www.amazon.com/When-Helping-Hurts-Alleviate-Yourself/dp/0802457061

What Would I Change If I Could?

jordanLast night was a rough night. I was at home and a friend called and asked if she could come over. I was excited to see her and ran outside when her mom’s car pulled up. But something went down that still upsets me. Her and six other girls piled out and the biggest one – she looked like a 10th grader – started punching me. I fell to the ground and she started kicking me. The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I’m glad that everything checked out ok. They gave me a cold pack to help keep the swelling down on the back of my head. They called my grandma to come get me.

I have lived with my grandma ever since I was removed from my mom’s home. Among other bad behaviors, she would whip me with an extension cord. That was three years ago when I was in the 5th grade. I know my grandma loves me but we have been hitting some rough spots lately. I’m at my third school in four years and I keep getting in trouble. And I’m not sure why. Grandma tells me to straighten up, but I don’t. Grandma has her own issues to work through. She is disabled with a lung disease and stays at home most of the time with her oxygen tank. I smoke weed just to dull the pain that is my life.

Well, grandma couldn’t come get me from the ER and so we tried the Medicare taxi but it wasn’t answering. The social worker at the hospital called my grandma and luckily a friend of our family who works in the neighborhood as a pastor was visiting at that time and volunteered to come pick me up.

As he pulled up to the ER with his son by his side, I just looked away. I remembered him because when all three of us were taken from the home, my auntie asked if they would take my younger sister for a period of time. I saw them off and on over the course of that year but I have seen less of them since my siblings were placed back with my mom (I never went back).

We got in his car. His son sat in the back seat. It was quiet as we pulled out onto the street. After some small talk, the deep questions started coming.

“The light has gone out of your eyes and the smile is off your face. What has changed?” he said.

“I don’t know.”

“If you could change two things about your life, what would you change?”

“I don’t know.” I thought to myself – What kind of question is that? I can’t change ANYTHING about my life!

“Are you hurt?”

“Yes.” I started crying but I looked away so he couldn’t see.

“Are you angry?”

“Yes.”

“At who?”

“At myself.“

I just stared ahead at the window wishing I could understand my world. I hoped this conversation would end, but at least someone was noticing. We piled out of the car and headed inside. I gave grandma my paperwork for the police report and went to my bedroom to put on my headphones.

What would I change? That question won’t leave me. My teachers say I need an education. That’s probably true. My grandma says I need Jesus. That’s probably true. Some people say I just need to “make better decisions.” That’s probably true. But none of that makes sense to my world right now. What would I change? I think I know. I need a friend. Someone true. Legit. I need someone to care. I need someone that won’t trap me on the front yard and betray me. I need someone who won’t abandon me when I kick and scream against the demons. I need someone who won’t shift me on down the line to the next non-profit mentoring program. I need someone to care…for a long time. And I don’t know where to go with that.

(This was written by me, the pastor, after these events transpired last night. While the story is true, the photo is not of her.)

Lilli’s Story by Jason Janz

lilli

Lilli was born into a loving family in Mexico. Her dad was a bank guard and her mom stayed at home and took care of her and her younger sister.  One day, everything changed as her dad was approached by the cartel and given a choice – either work for us and we pay you or turn us down and we kill you and your family.  He knew he couldn’t stay and forever be in prison to the drug lords.  So, he packed up his family and chose to do what he felt would be in their best interests – flee to America.

The journey was tough with two kids under the age of two. At the California border, their Coyote directed them through a swamp. As they got near the border, their dreams seemed to be shattered as they were surrounded by police. The spotlights shined on their family and the pregnant woman who was tagging along. It turns out that Lilli’s little sister was splashing in the water and caught the attention of the agents. As the agents surveyed the situation, one of the officers said, “Let’s let ‘em go. If we don’t, those kids aren’t gonna make it.”  They breathed a sigh of relief, trudged through the rest of the swamp, and made it into America.

Through a variety of circumstances, they arrived in Denver and found an apartment that is two blocks from where I live.  Over the next sixteen years, Lilli went through the Denver Public School system. In God’s providence, she just happened to be in school at Cole Middle School when the mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper, spoke at a pep rally to the students before they took their achievement tests.  He made a promise right then and there. He told every kid in the room that if they finished high school he would make sure they went to college.  Turns out, a reporter was in the room and made it a front-page story the next day even though the mayor wasn’t prepared for it to go public.  But now he was on the hook!

But this would not be a golden ticket for Lilli.  She was undocumented and while the mayor was committed to raising funds for all the kids in the room, they all got the same amount.  No problem, right?  Wrong. Undocumented residents have to pay out-of-state tuition.  So, at Metro State University in 2011-12, a Colorado resident paid $3809 for tuition and an out-of-state resident paid $14,665. Lilli would have to find another way to make up the difference. Couple that with the fact that she is not allowed to get a job in America and you have a problem. There is little to no chance she will ever get a college degree in America. We will invest $7000+ every year in her K-12 education, but then we sort of shut the door on her educational advancement.  We basically relegate her to a life of poverty as long as she lives here.

Thankfully, good caring people are involved in this issue.  Two years ago, Together Colorado advocates came and asked me if the organization I work for would be willing to make up the “Hickenlooper Promise Gap” for undocumented Cole graduates. We agreed to interview the students and that’s where my story began to intersect with Lilli’s story.

As I met Lilli, I saw that she had a dream, but I could tell she was about ready to give up.  She wanted to get a degree in Criminal Justice and be a US Marshall. She had a deep burden to help people, especially those who experience injustice. But she couldn’t hardly get up the courage to walk out her door. She was in constant fear of being deported by immigration authorities. Her relationship had turned sour with her son’s father.  His legal status gave him a permanent leg up on all custody issues and she endured the constant threat that he would “turn her in.” No job, no security, no educational path, no opportunity.

We granted her the scholarship and she arranged childcare and hit the books. That was two years ago. Today, I met with her for a check-up and she was beaming. I could tell things had changed. In twelve months, she will finish her Associates degree in Criminal Justice. But the first thing she showed me was her new documentation. In 2012, President Obama signed legislation allowing those who were undocumented but came here as children to pursue a modified legal status. Lilli applied and was accepted. She now has a modified Social Security card, a driver’s permit, and an Employment Authorization Card. She beamed as she told me she got a job at Chipotle, arranged for her son to start Kindergarten at Cole, and enrolled for the Spring semester.

Before I entered into a relationship with undocumented families, I came from a place where the immigration issue was pretty black and white. I was a captive to the latest horror story put out by the news of how some undocumented immigrant committed some heinous crime. I was scared into believing that “they” were going to take our jobs and ruin our economy. Underlying all the reporting was the simple message – “Send them all back.”  It all seemed to make sense. The answers were easy.  The problem was simple. “They” were not “us.”

But then I met Lilli…and hundreds of people like her. And I heard stories. And I agonized as I heard how families had been torn apart, employers had taken advantage of people who didn’t have a voice, and how the process of obtaining legal citizenship debilitates the person who is actually trying to become a citizen. I just started to become more informed about the history of immigration policy in America. I “read my Bible again for the first time” and saw how God not only tells Christians to advocate for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, but also the “alien or sojourner.” Things were no longer black and white. I don’t intend to simplify the issue, but one thing is pretty clear to me – we need comprehensive immigration reform in this country.

I yearn for the day when the left and right can actually come together and do what is best for our country and the families who reside here. I long for the time when people will turn off MSNBC and Fox News and actually engage the issue beyond pitiful sound bites. I will vote for members of Congress who are not worried about who is going to “capture the Latino vote” but rather who will make America a safe harbor for refugees from all nations. I dream of a day when we have a country where we truly love our neighbor.

*I want to thank the following “village” of people who have helped my friend, Lilli – Governor John Hickenlooper for making the promise and keeping his word; Jim Chavez of LAEF who helped facilitate the scholarship; Patty Lawless of Together Colorado who advocated for Lilli and many others; Jennifer Janz who gave Lilli a place to feel normal and safe at Single Moms Night Out; Tom Gamel for giving her the “Cole Promise Gap Scholarship;” President Barack Obama for his work in making DACA become a reality; and the many others who I do not know who have helped this dream come true for Lilli.

Original article about the Cole Promise

http://m.rockymountainnews.com/news/2004/jan/07/promise-college/

*Lilli gave me permission to write this story and post this picture.

The New Jim Crow

One of the most moving moments I had this year was hearing Michelle Alexander talk about The New Jim Crow. She encouraged citizens to start a new Underground Railroad to keep black men out of the prison system. Made sense of my last four years working with ex-offenders as I have watched the injustice that is done to so many.

new jim crow

Raising Kids In The Urban Environment

People ask me about raising kids in the city all the time. I took my son to a community meeting tonight and a homeless woman came and sat by him. When I turned around, I saw this. They say that fostering empathy in kids at a young age influences them for life. I believe that Champlin Janz is and will be a compassionate, transformative leader!

champ and woman