March 13th, 2011 by Jennifer Velarde-Menary
We are pleased to offer you our first fledge written by a guest writer. We met Jennifer Velarde-Menary, a sophomore attending Forest Lake Christian High School, in 2007 at the ACSI Leadership Camp at Mt. Herman. Since that time Jen has been regulary corresponding with Jonalyn through emails and “Ask! LIVE.” Jen recently sent us a story of her discovery about her own prejudice. Since she is an eager, teachable voice of this new generation, we thought you’d enjoy hearing how she has grown and invited others into Jesus’ good life.
How many times do we judge and even shun people who aren’t like us? Our fallen human nature is to judge people based on their first impression of us. Maybe it takes us a few minutes to warm up to people, which is okay, but God tells us that everyone living and breathing on this Earth is made in His image.
Recently I attended a four-day driver’s education class in Grass Valley, CA, in Nevada County. This class, with 15 students crammed inside, was held in an old, rundown, shabby room, half of the light bulbs were out, and brown mysterious stains covered the uneven ceiling. Going to Forest Lake Christian, I related more with people from my community as the differences between the communities of Nevada and Placer County are dramatic. I came early, was the first to sit down, and chose the single seat closest to the window. I thought that, if I was going to be cooped up in here for eight hours, I would at least have a window seat.
An older boy sat down next to me. An overpowering stench of pot caught my attention. This guy next to me was new to me. I mean I have my handful of friends that straddle the line between normal and risqué but he was firmly planted with both feet on the risqué side. He scared me. And I monitored every move I made because I had no idea what would tip him into being mean to me. I found out his name was Thomas. Thomas looked joy-deprived, emo, physical, mad, and harsh. His headphones blared screamo music in his ears; loud enough so everyone could hear. I ignored it…refocusing my attention to the instructor
One other kid, Cain, stood out to me as well. Right when I spotted him I thought to myself, “A.D.D. due to drugs.” Acne covered his face. Cain would not be quiet and had a wide vocabulary of strong cuss words and phrases. Distracting the kid next to him, Cain could not concentrate on the instructor’s presentation.
These were my first impressions.
Observing the kids in the class I noticed how diverse we were. Three of us had families who cared and it showed. Six or seven were victims of heavy drugs, alcohol, crime, and abuse. A couple others seemed to have hard family situations but managed to pass as normal.
During lunch, I met a gay twin and his sister. I liked them from the beginning . . . she seemed sweet and I loved his scarf. However, I liked them even more when they pulled out Odwalla and blueberries for lunch.
In the afternoon, now that we were more familiar with each other, the atmosphere lightened up. I began to realize how different these people were from my regular friends. God opened my eyes and my heart to think about judgment.
Things flashed in my brain. How could I turn my nose up at all these other humans? Why was I being so un-Christian and close minded? In addition, the one convicting question I dared to ask myself was, “Is this how I would react to or treat Jesus?” I took one look at Thomas next to me and that simple glance spoke for itself. It hit me that every single person in that room stoned or sober, had a heart, a soul, a purpose and was an earth dweller made in the image of God himself.
All at once, I felt strangely warm toward the people around me. Peace and joy took hold of my heart.
I came to find out that Thomas was in a gang…he was seventeen, hung with a bunch of cocky jerks and indulged in what he considered music. I was no longer afraid of him. Simply saying “bless you” as he sneezed showed him I cared enough to lighten the mood. Sometimes a warm smile can make a day. I imagined that everyone but his friends gave him rude awkward looks. Did I want to be one of those? On the other hand, was I going to mix things up a bit and send him a smile? . . . you bet I did.
Cain shared with the class his story. Raised by his brother, Cain was illegally driving at fourteen, got pulled over and busted with stolen marijuana. He said, “Guys, never ever steal stuff. I’m messed up now cause I got two points on my record.” Earlier I heard him talking about “still burning” and “shooting.” Ironic enough, Cain and Thomas switched seats. Cain didn’t smell as badly.
My first impressions of Thomas and Cain scared me. I refused to associate. But when they opened up I felt the pain in their voices . . . more in Thomas’s. Regret and confusion lurked among Cain’s words.
God taught me something in driver’s education that day, something I won’t forget. Rude awakenings like this tend to give us a kick in the rear. Today was filled with so much purpose.
Galations 3:28 says, “In Christ there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus dared to reach out to people who were considered the lowest of all outcasts, showing dignity and compassion to all. We differ in how we look, live, and act, but we have one thing in common: the image of God personally and intimately woven in our beings. Let the prejudice exit your heart so that you may be free to love on anyone and everyone (asking God to help us see people the way He sees them). You can know that people’s opinions, beliefs or lifestyles will harm them, but still love and accept them as people God cares about.
- Jen is fifteen years old. She chose Jesus at a young age, but in her words she “passionately rededicated” her life to Him freshman year. She loves painting, pilates & spinning classes, being real with her friends, tennis and volleyball. She believes that she has read every Fledge in Soulation’s library! We are thankful to have teens like her supporting what we do and infusing her community in what it means to be appropriately human.