Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A New Beginning - 8/26/14

My year of service in Hollywood has passed. I can't stop talking about it and truly miss it. But life moves on. I spent a week in Lexington, KY where I got to speak at Maxwell Street Presbyterian. I'm so blessed to have such a supporting home church and family. I truly thank all of you for all that you do in my life.

So... New Orleans. Wow. It's a little different than I remember it in 2011. But hey? Memories fade. It's  We live in Uptown/East Carrollton. It's close to Tulane, Loyola, and Audobon Park. The house is awesome. I have a roommate again, and his name is Bennett. He is also a second year and served in South Korea last year. We've already bonded over Guitar Hero, so we're pretty much best friends. The second years arrived in NOLA while the first years were in YAV orientation in New York. Remember when I was there? So long ago. There are 7 YAVs in the house this year: 4 girls, 3 guys, which isn't too much of a different dynamic than the beginning of last year.
Left to Right: Jennifer, John, Hannah, Bennett, Colleen, Katherine        NP: Vinnie

I'll be working part time with Mid-City Ministries and part-time with Lakeview Presbyterian Church (with the late great Barrett Milner). I visited Lakeview Pres on Sunday and am very optimistic and extremely excited. Work doesn't start until September 2, as we have a full week of orientation. But I'm more than excited. We get to do a bunch of touristy things this week, and I'll fill you all in once orientation is over and I start working.

God be with you.
-John

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 6, 2014 - Leaving Hollywood

So here we are: less than a month from the last work day at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. It's been such a journey and I couldn't be more grateful. I feel like reflecting on the year is inevitable in this post, so I'll do my best to make sure it isn't word vomit.

When I first arrived, I had such different perceptions of Hollywood. In the first week I didn't know my housemates. I really wanted to be at all of the tourist attractions. I wanted to get started working at Hollywood Pres. I wanted to make a difference. Now I know my housemates all too well. I've been to all of the LA tourist attractions enough to get really bored of some of them. I still love working at the church. And I feel that I have made a difference. That difference is something that people can't see. I haven't built houses. I haven't started a nonprofit. I haven't ended homelessness. I have developed relationships with folks that I hope will never end. I have organized and been an integral part of a winter refuge. I have learned so much that I can't put it into words. Coming to the end of the year is a challenging place to be. In the upcoming month I literally only have 4 days without something on my calendar. It will be an ending with a bang before a new journey. Before I go on about that, I want to list my fun highlights from the year. This is more for my personal memory, but it's cool to see it all written out.

Aug - YAV Orientation in NY
          Arrived in Hollywood
          Attended taping of The Soup
Sep - Started working at Hollywood Pres
          Attended Women's Brunch at Hollywood Pres b/c it had Bluegrass music
Oct - First time to LACMA
         Was on Let's Make a Deal
         Attended Cirque Du Soleil - Totem
         Went to LA Galaxy vs. Montreal Impact Game
         Visited set of Community
         Forest Home Hollywood Pres Church Retreat
Nov - Hunger Games Premiere
          Freddie's Birthday Bowling Night
          Neighborhood Thanksgiving
Dec - Christmas Store at FPCH
          Ben Adam & Selene's Wedding
          Jimmy Kimmel Taping
          Home for Christmas along with JT & Meredith's wedding!
Jan -  Winter Refuge Began
          MLK Day Parade
         Dweller Retreat to San Francisco/Yosemite
Feb - Day of Silence at St. Andrew's Abbey
         Attended UCLA vs. Utah basketball game
Mar - Winter Refuge ended
          Venice Photo Scavenger Hunt
          Spring Break Discover Groups
          Sam Speigel Visited!
          Nicola Rohr Visited!
Apr - Attended Last Comic Standing taping
          FTE Conference in WA
          DISNEYLAND
          American's Got Talent Taping
May - Brent & Tara's Birthday Weekend
           Patrick Jeter Visited
           Traveled to Memphis, TN to see Bobby & Kim get married!
           Dad Visited! Went to Dodgers Game!
Jun - Surf Lessons with Joel
         Chaperoned high school youth to Forest Home


It's amazing to see all of the things that I've done. It's concrete evidence of how blessed I really am and how active I've become since moving out here.

So onward. I'll be leaving LA on August 12. From there I'm going to LA in late August. But wait! LA to LA? That's right. Los Angeles to Louisiana. I will be serving another YAV year in New Orleans. It looks like I'll be working with Lakeview Presbyterian Church, where the head pastor is Barrett Milner (that guy who was my camp counselor, helped me steal "children" in the simulation game at MSPC, and worked with 2nd Pres in Lexington for years) and/or Mid-City Ministries. My exact duties at either agency aren't exactly clear to me as of yet. Here are links to their pages though:
http://www.lpcno.org/
http://midcityministries.org/about/



How Can You Support Me?
·         Your Prayers: Pray for me and for the people with whom I will live and serve this year.
·         Your Financial Gifts: Give a tax-deductible contribution as a one-time gift or in installments over the course of my year of service. The preferred method is to send a check to the address below. If you'd like to give another way, please contact me.


Make checks payable to:
Presbytery of South Louisiana,
MEMO LINE: "John Kupar - YAV"
 
Mail checks to:
Layne Brubaker
YAV Program
2221 Filmore Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70122



National YAV website:  http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/yav/
New Orleans YAV Blog:  http://pslyav.wordpress.com/
New Orleans YAV Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/#!/pslyav
 



I'm so excited to continue my story there, but I first have to say goodbye here. The next month will be a challenge, but I'm ready. Leaving doesn't mean that I'm gone forever. I'll be back to LA I'm sure.

-John


Monday, June 16, 2014

May/June Update

What's been going on in John's world? So many different things. I think I should post more frequently so I don't have these long posts. I'll try and keep some parts brief.
Here are some things that have happened since my last blog post:

Patrick Jeter visited!
It's really nice to have a friend come and see what all you've been doing. Patrick came to Hollywood Presbyterian on one of the days our program runs. It is such a relief from the daily grind to have a friend do it with you. We also did all the touristy stuff and somehow got this photo made at Universal Citywalk:
I love it.



I traveled to Memphis, TN to see one of my best friends get married!
There's nothing more celebratory than a wedding! Especially one of close college friends. Memorial Day weekend was Bobby Pinkston & Kim Ferguson's wedding. I had the honor of being a groomsmen and am so thankful for having them in my life.

My dad came back to LA with me.
He got to see where and how I live and did a bunch of touristy stuff. It was his first time out to California and he really enjoyed it.  There's nothing like some good father-son bonding.
Dodgers Game


Things aren't all happy go lucky though. Unfortunately one of my housemates, Tara, has had to end her YAV year for medical reasons. She was a vital part of our community and has been missed tremendously in the past few weeks. It will be a challenge for the remaining two months without her. I mean, who's going to laugh at my stupid jokes? Oh jeez. Please keep her in your prayers for the upcoming weeks as she goes through some intense treatment.
Tara and me at the Catching Fire premiere back in November


On another note, one of the women who stayed in the winter shelter with me passed away. She was such a crucial part of the shelter community with her huge personality. It was tough to see someone like this go, but I know she made huge strides in the right direction at the end of her life.
At the church we held a memorial service for her. It was an occasion that I'll never forget. To see all of the people that she had an impact just in her Hollywood community get together to celebrate her life was amazing. Sometimes you don't realize how much people mean to you until they're gone.

In the upcoming weeks there is so much to do! I have a trip to Copperopolis, CA next weekend. I'm chaperoning the high school boys from Hollywood Pres for their week at Forest Home (church camp). We have a DOOR fundraiser in less than a month. There's some birthdays to celebrate, some fun things I still need to do (surf. Come on John. Find a surfboard and get out there), and I'm sure there will be some struggles as well. It's all shaping me into the best person I can be. I love all that is going on and can't wait for next year...

Wait. Next year! I haven't shared that yet! I am planning to spend another year of my life with the YAV program. Where? New Orleans. I don't exactly what I'll be doing down there quite yet, but there will be more information to come.

Thanks for all your support!

-John

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Calling of Matthew

This scripture has spoken to me lately:

Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

So there was Matthew, just sitting as a tax collector. Jesus says, "Follow me," and he does. Jesus does not scold him for his 'bad behavior' (as a tax collector). He seems to have no requirements for someone to be a follower of him. He doesn't ask Matthew to stop being a tax collector, repent, and only do good from then on out. He simply calls to him. From here, the Pharisees ask why Jesus eats with the "tax collectors and sinners". At this time the Pharisees most likely saw themselves as better than them, not including themselves as sinners of any sort. The Pharisees were, bluntly put, wrong. We are all sinners. Jesus didn't look at people who were classified as sinners as bad people, and we should all do the same.

Working with homelessness is a challenge. People often say that the homeless are people who don't work hard, are alcoholics or drug addicts, and live on the streets. This can be true, but is generally not the case. Every person I've come in contact with has a unique story. This story is normally so complex, that you couldn't hear it all in one sitting. Jesus didn't need to listen to the stories. He saw a person and knew their story. He didn't judge based on what they had done. He was there to help them. This is something we can all work on.

Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Think about that a bit. See how you can apply it. 

Summary:
Follow Him. Don't judge. Jesus was here for the sinners.

-John 


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Kentucky Life

April 16, 2014

People who aren't from Kentucky and haven't been there only know of a few things Kentucky: Churchill Downs, KFC, The Louisville Slugger Museum, Muhammad Ali, and college basketball are the only things mentioned. Seeing as how the only thing on there I really care about is college basketball, I'm going to share what it was like being a UK fan on the west coast.

I brought 7 Kentucky shirts with me when I moved out here. Needless to say they are the shirts I wear the most. People have asked me if UK is Kansas. Outside of Kentucky, you must call the University of  Kentucky, Kentucky. UK is easily misinterpreted as the United Kingdom or any schools that start with K. I brought the "Box Filled" shirt (which simply has the years Kentucky won basketball championships in boxes) that I got after the 2012 championship. Every single person asks what it means. Growing up I never realized how big of a deal Kentucky basketball was to the state. In case you haven't thought about it, we have no big names in any sports. Football? Cincinnati. Baseball? Cincinnati. Soccer? Europe (cause the MLS is a joke and Columbus is too far away to count). Hockey? What's that? You mean the Thoroughblades? Basketball? Kentucky. Kentucky way more than any NBA team. We bleed blue.

Things that you don't think about for those who live on the west coast as Kentucky fans: a 12pm game on a Saturday means being awake by 9am, you have to ask the sports bars to change the channel to the one with Kentucky on, not UK (see how annoyed I am by this), and you are most certainly not always surrounded by friends. Throughout the season I felt so weird. I attended a UK Alumni group a few times to watch games. This was nice, but not exactly what I expected.; old dudes and their wives who didn't know anything about Kentucky except the colors.  I could read KSR and see how the city was reacting to an up & down season, but not feel it. I visited the Schrader's at USC to watch a couple of games. This is really nice. The few people who still bleed blue.

Throughout all this, I can say that Kentucky basketball kept me sane. It kept me grounded through thick and thin. From January to March, I was running on an extremely odd and exhausting schedule. Watching the basketball games gave me something to look forward to just days away (sometimes more due to the inability to watch them live). Watching the boys made me feel back at home, especially when I'm screaming at my laptop in my room.  They kept me going and helped me make it through some of the hardest of times. I know that wherever I go I'll keep a special little cut on me somewhere so I can continue to bleed blue. It was a great run boys. Maybe next year?

Go Big Blue!

-John

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14, 2014 - 10 Things You Might Not Know About Homelessness

In conjunction with the internet fad of making lists, I decided to make one myself. Here are 10 things I learned from my time in LA working with homelessness so far.

1. There are plenty of food options.
Being homeless in Hollywood sucks. That's for sure. But there's one thing that you won't go short of. Food. Through all the agencies serving here, our friends experiencing homelessness can easily eat 3 meals a day. Don't feel obligated to buy someone food on the street.They'll be just fine.

2. Socks are in short supply.
Think about it. If you were homeless, you'd walk everywhere. You'd likely not be doing laundry that often. You'd worry more about jackets and blankets early on. But after time, your socks get completely ruined. Have you ever gone more than a few days without washing your socks or wearing new ones? They get ruined quickly. Instead of buying that person some food, ask if they'd like some new socks instead.

3. Showering isn't as hard to come by as you would think.
From all the guests in the shelter, only a few struggled to find somewhere to clean themselves (mostly for health issues). Sure it's inconvenient to go somewhere to shower, but they're not that hard to find. From leaving the shelter, our guests were able to get showers at two different places (five days a week) within a half mile. If they really felt they needed a shower, they were able to take one. One guest even had a 24-hour gym membership solely to use the shower whenever he felt necessary.

4. Having a cell phone is very common.
Of the guests in the shelter, less than 5 did not have cell phones. It was the easiest way to keep in touch with case managers. Cell phones were watches. It was one of the few items that guests were attached to.

5. You can be vegan and homeless.
I really didn't believe it when I met the vegan homeless woman. But yes. She did it. Through all the meal services in the area, she was able to find places that served what she could eat (or just be extremely picky while eating). She too did not struggle to fill her stomach every night.

6. Women can be more troublesome.
Men were not the most problematic. Of all the disputes that occurred in the shelter, women were involved in almost all of them. When living on the streets, women usually spend their time with men, not other women. When living in the same space as other women they feel threatened.  It's an interesting dynamic. But again, think about it. It makes sense.

7. The majority people of experiencing homelessness smoke.
 My advice on not becoming homeless: DON'T SMOKE. It's a big expense. Know that I absolutely cannot say smoking leads to homelessness or homelessness leads to smoking. It's simply something I've taken note of.

8. Building a relationship with someone is way better than giving them money.
 This is a view that I hold strongly. Sitting and speaking with someone, getting to know them, will benefit a person significantly more than handing them $5. When experiencing homelessness, you don't have as many friends with whom you can share your story. It's a time of mental distress. Seeing someone going through this is so painful. Once you become friends, you can help more than you realize by encouraging positive behavior. If you smoke, try offering a cigarette to a friend on the street. Talk with them. See how they are and where they've been. You'll be amazed by some of the stories you might hear.

9. Words are important.
Duh John. Without them we couldn't communicate. What I mean is how we speak with one another. If you greet someone on the street with, "How are you?" you might be disappointed with the response. Instead, try saying, "Hi, I'm [insert name here]. It's great to see you today." Starting with a positive comment is rarely followed by a negative one.

10. Homelessness is an experience, not an adjective.
Adding "homeless" to someone's description is just like adding "white" to my description. There are so many different "white" people in this world, it really means nothing. The same goes for homeless. There are so many people. So many stories. Just because someone is living on the street doesn't mean they are any less of a person than you. Homelessness is an experience. Just like having a rough day. It is not something that you should instantly think less of a person for.


There's plenty more to share, but this is a good start. Thanks for all the support. I couldn't be here without you.

-John

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 18, 2014 - Rounding the Last Curve

Rounding the Last Curve

There are less than 2 weeks left in the winter shelter! I've slept poorly, missed meals, worked 15 hour days, been kicked by a guest, called the police, called an ambulance, had to settle disputes, and take down and set up 25 cots before and after meals.  It's some of the most exhausting work I've ever had the pleasure of doing. It makes working at a camp look like babysitting a sleeping 7 year old. I've struggled to make it through at times, but am still standing, just tired. You know you're tired when people you've just met say, "Man you look tired. Is there anything I can do?" But that's it right there. It's the part that keeps me going. It's what makes being a part of the church worth it. It's that unconditional love.

People in Hollywood tend to be in their own world. They don't care as much about others as you see in the Midwest or South. It's hard to get used to at first. People don't acknowledge you on the sidewalk or even hold doors for you. But when it comes to the churches of Hollywood, they know how to show their compassion. They know how to care.
FPCH Winter Shelter

Every night at the shelter a different group of volunteers from one of the local Hollywood churches comes to serve dinner. One of my roles is to explain to them what the shelter exactly is and what they'll be doing for the night. These volunteers have never met any of the guests, but always come in with an attitude of peace, care, and love. Not only do they act this way to the guests, but to the other volunteers and me. It's really nice to meet and know people who truly care for others and act on their feelings of love. It's something that I feel I can always work to improve upon and challenge everyone to do.

And now for a touching video that's not really related to anything I just blogged about but reminds me of all us YAV:




-John