Dear friends and supporters,
As we sit in this season of Advent and look back on our second full year of UPN, we are filled with hope. ✨ Hope for the here and now and hope for what's to come. It’s not for reasons some might think - like increased enrollment, an increased budget, or an increase in staff. Honestly, our enrollment has been down this semester compared to last year and we still have a lot to raise to meet our budget for this fiscal year. Those things aren't necessarily easy to share, but they are our reality. In the midst of that reality, though, God has been reminding us that although we tend to measure success by width and breadth, He measures success by depth and transformation.
What we see highlighted as we look back on this year is the work God is doing in one heart at a time - in kids like Eddy, Nyo Mee, and Esther. And we’re reminded that’s why we’re doing this work. Not to reach as many as we can just for numbers sake, but to reach whoever the Lord puts in front of us for His sake - so that He can do His transforming work. Today, with his permission, we want to share a story of one of those that the Lord has put in front of us this year.
Eddy is from Honduras. He grew up in San Pedro Sula, which has long been one of the most dangerous cities in the world. His father was killed when he was very young, and his mom has been left to take care of several children on her own. After Eddy, the oldest child started to be recruited by gangs several years ago, Eddy’s mom made the impossible decision to leave Honduras with three of her kids to seek refuge in the US with the hopes of providing safety and better opportunities for all of them. So three years ago they left Honduras, eventually making their way to Tennessee.
Early this year, Eddy found out about UPN from Htoo, one of our StreetLeaders, who was in Spanish class with him. After getting to know Eddy, Htoo sensed that he needed community, so she invited him to apply to be a StreetLeader. During his interview, it was clear that Eddy was not yet proficient in English, knew very little about Jesus, and he was not confident in using his voice. What was also clear was that Eddy was going through a really tough time and was looking for a loving and welcoming community. So we invited him into the UPN family early in the spring semester.
Eddy was quiet around us for a long time, but slowly he began to get more comfortable and show us his kind, generous heart, humble spirit, and a hilarious sense of humor. After Eddy had only been with us for a couple of months, we had multiple prayer stations set up for reflection, journaling, and prayer during one of our Thursday night discipleship nights. As I walked by Eddy at one point, I noticed he had written several pages in Spanish and was still writing. Later when we all came back together, Eddy wanted to share and requested for what he had written to be translated so the group could hopefully have a better understanding of what he wanted to say. So he spoke into Google Translate and someone read it for him in English. When Eddy finished, it was probably the most touching moment we’ve experienced since starting UPN. The heart behind what he shared was this, “Thank you for being there for me and for showing me love like I’ve never had before. You have no idea what has happened in my life.” We were all stunned by his vulnerability and the room was silent as several of us walked over to him, hugged him, and eventually prayed over him. To think that God had used our UPN family in that way in such a short time with someone who had a lifetime of hardship up to that point, was humbling and powerful. Over the course of the last 10 months, Eddy has become a beloved member of the UPN family and has begun to flourish in so many ways.
He’s gained confidence in using his voice and being a leader among both our students and his fellow StreetLeaders.
Earlier this semester during our weekly StreetLeader training, Eddy was given the role of leading our students in our daily chant during our opening ceremonies for that week. Jonathan asked him, “Eddy, do you think you can do this?”. Eddy hesitated for a second, looked him in the eyes, and confidently said with a smile, “Yes” as the other StreetLeaders celebrated and encouraged him on. He did a fantastic job the next day and has only continued to grow in that area.
He’s started to open up and share more about the difficult parts of his story.
One night on our Fall Campout as we were sitting around the fire, Eddy shared details about his family’s journey from Honduras to Texas. We all sat in amazement listening as he shared about the nearly 1500 mile journey over several months- partly on foot, partly by truck, partly by train. What sticks out in my mind the most from that night was the way the other StreetLeaders reacted to what he shared. They were shocked and filled with compassion for their friend that had gone through such an incredibly hard journey at 15 (even though the two that were present had both grown up in refugee camps until they were 9 or 10!).
He’s shown a heart that is seeking to understand more of who Jesus is and has begun to ask really good questions about Him.
On one Thursday night this fall we spent our whole time together letting the StreetLeaders ask any questions that they wanted to. All the adults present made sure to give the caveat ahead of time that we definitely didn’t have all the answers, but we wanted to create space for them to ask anything and let them know that this was a safe place to do that. Eddy pretty much exploded with questions - really good ones like, "How do I know Jesus is real?", "Why did Jesus have to die?", and “When Jesus came into the world, did people just go crazy??”
One of my favorite moments with Eddy happened a few weeks ago. For some context, we can’t pay Eddy because he doesn’t have a social security number yet. Praise God that through the help of several who are working on his behalf, he is on a path to get special juvenile status and will eventually be eligible for citizenship. But for now, Eddy shows up on his own every week without getting paid like our other StreetLeaders. So on this particular day, after being prompted by what I can only attest to the Holy Spirit, I offered to take Eddy shopping for clothes. I thought he could probably use some and knew this was one way that we could “pay” him for working at UPN. He carefully spent time picking out and trying on and made sure he didn’t go over the limit that I gave him. He found several things that he liked, and we were both delighted at his success. On the way home, I could tell he was thinking about something. Then after a while, he shared with me that that very morning, he started “thinking in his mind” (his words) about how he needed some clothes. He made sure to emphasize to me that he had just thought those things - he had not said them out loud to anyone. I exclaimed, “For real?? Wow. God heard you and He knows what you need.” Then nodding his head he said quietly and thoughtfully, “God is big.” I agreed, “Yes He is REALLY big.” It was a sweet moment of him recognizing how God sees him, hears him, and had taken care of that specific need that he hadn’t spoken out loud.
There are so many other ways that God is working in Eddy’s life - including his immigration case (the timing of it and the people that God has surrounded him with to help have been nothing short of miraculous) and the potential that we are walking towards of him being able to go to a really good university (he is graduating in May and is an excellent student!). The most beautiful thing is getting to witness what God is doing in his heart. Yesterday, I asked Eddy to share what he has learned about Jesus this year. This was his answer; “What I learned is that no matter how you are, He will always be there for you. But also that He is someone you can trust.”
What a hopeful picture Eddy's story is. We are all so blessed just by being able to witness all the ways that God is moving and are so hopeful for what He is going to continue to do in and through Eddy's life. God has given us the opportunity to show Eddy that he is seen, known, and loved. I'm not sure that Eddy knew those truths before he walked in our doors- but I believe he knows them now and wants to know more about this Jesus that has shown up through a community of people in some pretty amazing ways. Thank you for the ways that you have supported this work so that we can keep showing the love of Christ to others. We are eternally grateful!
By December 31st, our goal is to raise $50,000 so we can continue to spread Christ's message of hope to the often ignored, overlooked, and underserved refugee youth in our city. There are thousands more like Eddy out there, and we trust a big God that knows exactly who needs to show up at UPN next. Will you help us continue to serve with your generosity? Whether you give a one-time gift or sign up for a recurring monthly donation, your support is literally bringing hope and transformation to the darkest corners of hearts and homes in our city and to the ends of the earth.
Eddy on his first trek with UPN to the Blue Ridge Mountains in June.
Grace and peace to you and yours this Christmas.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with confident hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13
Shawna + Jonathan Sheahen