Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Friday, January 26, 2007

Merc Reports Further on Seema Singh's death

I mentioned about a young lady who was murdered last Monday. Seema Singh was a former student at BCM. The San Jose Merc reported further about her life:
"Singh was driving alone in a Honda Accord about 7 p.m. Monday near Westminster Avenue at Alberni Street when she was shot once in the left temple, police said. The gunshot caused her to career into a power pole.

No one knows much about the shooting, but Prasad said he spoke with a mutual friend the night Singh died and learned that she left home about 7 p.m. and was headed to the home of a friend named Ronald. She never made it.

For Singh, it was a tragic ending to a difficult life. She had a history of family troubles and she had left high school early. But Prasad said Singh had begun to turn things around, studying at a college and working security at a San Mateo mall.

Singh's father died several years ago and Singh lived with her mother and sister in a home in East Palo Alto, which Prasad said was in a ``scary-ish neighborhood, coming from Fremont, but she thought it was normal.''

He said he met Singh at a Fijian festival in East Palo Alto five years ago and that they'd been buddies ever since. Their parents were born in the Fiji Islands and they shared the same cultural background.

What he recalls most about Singh was her ability to make friends -- she was so popular that sometimes she made others jealous.

``She was an outgoing person,'' he said. ``She would party a lot -- dancing, sometimes drinking, no drugs. Everywhere she went, she knew people in every city.'' "
The article is right about her personality. Seema was in a small group Bible study my wire led at BCM. She was all heart and personality, we knew her well. She was one of those kids that could light up a room and soon had everyone watching her. Her father passed when she was in junior high, and it really had a dramatic impact on her.

It's really sad to lose anyone. It's been hard on our community to lose someone like Seema, who by all appearances seemed to be a 'civilian' in the current feuds that are going on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

San Mateo County Times

The San Mateo County Times has a good article about some of the recent incidents in EPA, especially regarding the two young men who were killed last Sunday.

I Guess I'm a San Francisco Nut

Blogger "The Conserative Christian" takes exception to my quoting Brian McLaren in an earlier post. However, I agree with him that I can be sometimes quite nutty.

Although I'm flattered - if he would have read right he would have saw that I was quoting McLaren. Let's give credit when credit is due. In the end, I'm glad we're all talking about this issue. Right on, Mr. McLaren for stirring the pot.


Just found out that the young woman who was murdered was in a small group my wife led a few years ago at BCM. The BCM staff is dealing with the loss. A few years ago our summer team had an appropriate slogan, "Ministry is not a game!" How true that feels right now.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported:
"East Palo Alto police today were still trying to figure out why someone shot an 18-year-old woman in the head as she drove her car.

Seema Singh, 18, of East Palo Alto, was found dead behind the wheel of her Honda Accord with a single gunshot wound to her left temple after the vehicle crashed into a utility pole Monday night, police said. Singh was about a half-mile from her home, Lt. Tom Alipio said.

The woman was believed to have been alone in the car, and police have no suspects or motive in the killing, Alipio said.

"To tell you the truth, I can't make heads or tails of it," Alipio said. "There was nothing to indicate that she would be involved in anything bad.""

Another Homicide Last Night

At 8:00 pm I received another call last night. Chaplains were called out to the scene of another homicide, another young person killed. Pastor Bains and I responded, then called two other chaplains out. Honestly - we both needed a break from from telling parents about the death of their children.

The Palo Alto Daily News reported on the incident:
As police continued to search for the suspects who shot and killed two East Palo Alto teenagers over the weekend, a young woman was fatally shot while driving in that city Monday evening.

East Palo Alto police Lt. Tom Alipio said that around 7 p.m. Monday, officers responded to a crash at Westminster Avenue and Alberni Street, the same intersection where a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot by police last month.

The officers found an 18-year-old woman behind the wheel of a Honda Accord, who appeared to have been injured in the crash, Alipio said.

However, when medical personnel began to administer first aid to the young woman, they discovered she had suffered a gunshot wound to the head. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators have not yet determined a motive for the shooting and are still piecing together what happened.

"It does appear that she was shot while driving the vehicle," Alipio said.
In other incident, also reported in the Daily News, a loaded .38 caliber handgun was found at a local school. A eight grade student carried it to school. I heard the sirens when it happened - wondered what was going on.

At this point I'm not even sure how to respond. The community is rightly very concerned and tense. Almost every day there is some sort of meeting with community leaders trying to come up with a solution. Please continue to pray.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Violent Weekend in EPA

As previously written, the new year has started off violent in our community. In the last four weeks we've had four homicides and about 30 shootings, many with casualties. One unique thing about the current wave, there is no real pattern. It's all our major groups fighting amongst themselves for various reasons. We've had feuds between the Tongans and Samoans, African American gangs and Latinos with the eternal feud between the Nortenos and Surenos.

Our Chief of Police, Ron Davis, has been working on all fronts to stem the violence. Last Friday night he called together the community of faith to talk and pray about the violence. Our church hosted the event (I took a rather poor picture with my treo). I was 'Godly proud' of our church for hosting the event. It ended with us praying for the leaders of the youth ministry For Youth By Youth (FYBY) since they are on the front lines with the kids. Many of those who have lost their lives have been loosly associated with FYBY.

Immediately after the meeting I went on a ride along with the police. I felt compelled (as a pastor and chaplain) to be out in the community. It only took minutes before we were screaming up to the scene of a shooting where two young men were shot, one clinging to life.

After church on Sunday I received a frantic phone call from Pastor Bains about a double homicide on the west side of town. Two young boys, 13 and 17 were shot to death. The San Jose Merc reported the incident:
Two teenagers died in a spray of semiautomatic gunfire Sunday afternoon, sparking a hunt for their killers.

The boys, 13 and 17, were hanging out in the carport of an apartment building on Cooley Avenue when two men dressed in hooded black sweatshirts walked toward them.

Witnesses told police the men argued with the boys, raising their voices. One of the men drew a semiautomatic handgun and opened fire. The men then ran north on Scofield Avenue.

'It makes me sick,' said Patricia Foster, East Palo Alto's vice mayor. 'It makes me so sad that our children are killing each other. We are supposed to protect our kids and let them grow up in a safe and healthy environment and we are not doing that.'

Sunday's violence reverberated throughout the city, reigniting tension and fear in a community that has struggled in recent weeks to keep the peace.

Read the article here.

Pastor Bains and I spent the afternoon with the victims families. We had the task of making the death notifications and helping with a victim identification.

So, we're left with the task of figuring out what the Body of Christ should and can do. There are many ideas on the table, prayer walks, fasting, youth summits... It's clear we need to pray and seek God for the peace of the city.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It's Still Like Taking a Drink From a Fire Hose!

- Showed up to our offices yesterday to find the electricity had been turned off. Turns out PG&E shut the wrong meter off. Had to juggle the property manager, PG&E and a job interview at the same time. I kept telling our candidate, "Well - this is what it can be like around here!"

- Our pastor's wife, Cheryl, found an awesome donation for us. She, single handedly, got us about $30k in 'in-kind' donations for the credit union. Stuff included two teller stations, two loan officer cubicles and, for the coup de gras, two ATM machines! The ATMs alone are a HUGE find. Cheryl made contact with a local credit union branch that was closing.

- EPA has been having a tough couple of months. In the last 9 days we've had 11 shootings making 25 in the last month with three homicides. All of this in a city that is only 2.5 square miles. The Chief of Police has called an emergency community meeting for tonight with the community of faith. Almost every day I talk to someone who says, "EPA is a different place." When I hear the statement is somewhat irritates me. Yes, comparatively EPA has changed. However the violence continues. People who live in more affluent places cannot understand what it's like to live around so much violence and what is does to families and children. One homicide is too much. One shooting is too much. Please pray for our city.

- Bay Area Reload is next week, YIKES! If you build it they will come! Bobby Duran from the UYWI staff came up for some prep work and had dinner at our house. Larry Acosta sure has an outstanding staff... Bobby is a great guy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NYT Article, "A Church's Challenge: Holding On to It's Young

VERY interesting article about storefront Pentecostal churches and youth ministry. The article is neither supportive or critical, but speaks to the traditional methods that small churches use to reach urban kids, namely good efforts like teaching values and encouraging kids and negative ones like focusing on emotionalism and legalism. Much here seems very familiar.

As Pentecostalism advances across the world, winning converts faster than any other Christian denomination and siphoning believers from more established faiths, it is also suffering its own slow leak: young people who are falling away from the faith.

Mainline Christian churches have grappled with the problem for years. And recently, evangelical leaders in the United States sounded an alarm over “an epidemic of young people leaving.”

But the loss is doubly distressing for Pentecostals, evangelical Christians who can be especially zealous in seeking new members and rejecting the secular culture they feel is luring adolescents away from religion.
Read the article here.

Please leave your comments, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Sticking Point and SAT

Here is an excerpt from Guy Kawasaki's blog. It's a good post of an interview of a new book called "The Sticking Point". Ever wonder why some ideas 'stick' and others don't?
Question: What separates ideas that stick from those that don’t?

Answer: We spent lots of time researching sticky ideas—ideas that people understand, remember, and that change the way people think or behave. The ideas we studied ranged from the ludicrous to the profound, from urban legends (no, there is no kidney theft ring) to great scientific theories (yes, the land we walk around on does ride on giant tectonic plates and when they collide they cause mountain ranges and earthquakes). We found there were six principles (“SUCCES”) that link sticky ideas of all kinds. Sticky ideas won’t always have all six, but the more, the merrier.

For example, JFK’s idea to “put a man on the moon in a decade” had all six of them:

1. Simple A single, clear mission.

2. Unexpected A man on the moon? It seemed like science fiction at the time.

3. Concrete Success was defined so clearly—no one could quibble about man, moon, or decade.

4. Credible This was the President of the U.S. talking.

5. Emotional It appealed to the aspirations and pioneering instincts of an entire nation.

6. Story An astronaut overcomes great obstacles to achieve an amazing goal.

On the blog Guy has a 'Stickiness Aptitude Test' or SAT to see if your product has a sticky factor. It's an interesting test. I took it and scored a 5. It tells me I need to change the way I communicate our message. However, the test is really geared to folks in the tech market - so you have to take that into account if you're coming from a non-profit / ministry perspective.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Crazy Week

What a week! It's been like drinking from a fire hose! Here's some updates:

- We're really making a push to see our credit union started by the summer. There are some major hurdles to jump and lots of negotiation going on. Word on the street is that we may have competition from a major bank coming to the city by the end of the summer and my goal is to beat them here. They won't go after the same market as us, the working poor to working class, but competition is competition. Please pray that God will continue to guide our discussions. This is a critical time for us so we're pressing hard.

- Locally, there has been a rash of homicides in the Pacific Islander community, starting with a police involved shooting of a young 16 year old man. For a number of reasons it's grown to be a Tongan / Samoan feud. It's been a tragic time with the murder of a young woman and retaliation on family member's houses. As a local pastor and police chaplain I've been blessed to be involved to be involved in some of the peace talks. I can't say too much - but please pray for us and for peace in the community. There is a press conference today at 3:00 pm. I'll post some of the coverage. Here's a excerpt from a news article:
Lutui is suspected of killing his cousin, 19-year-old Melevea Fifita of East Palo Alto, with a stray bullet, and Absalom allegedly shot his sister, 21-year-old Seu Tuimavave of San Francisco, with a stray shotgun blast on the night of Dec. 29.

Police believe the teens accidentally shot the women, whom they were defending after a verbal argument escalated into a fight at about 10:30 p.m. on the 2700 block of Fordham Street. What provoked them to draw guns, however, remains unknown and will be a major focus of the ongoing investigation, Wagstaffe said.

"There were many other people there," Wagstaffe said. "We are hoping that they all come forward so we can get a clear picture of what happened, because it's not a clear picture."

About 16 friends and relatives of Fifita and Lutui waited outside the courtroom Thursday after missing the two defendants' brief appearance.

Pastor Heilala Ahio of the Tongan Congregation at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto said she is focused on calming tensions within the Pacific-Islander population of East Palo Alto.

"We don't want some type of rivalry between Tongans and Samoans," she said. "That's my main concern. We don't want anymore youth to die."
Find the entire article here. However, knowing some of the inside story I can say that the media hasn't always gotten the story right.

One personal comment. It's been a honor to be involved with these discussions. My respect for the Islander community and pastors has grown immensely as well as my appreciation for their culture. We're praying that God's peace will manifest in this situation.

- Lastly, I'm conducting interviews for our current open position for a youth program director. I have some excellent candidates but it's always a ton of work to comb through resumes and interview people. Please pray for me as I seek God for the right person for the job. If you know of anyone - please let me know.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Is New Jersey Flactulant?

Being from New Jersey I resent any implication that my home state farted. I don't want to hear anything from New Yorkers. Like your city never stinks???!!
Who cut the cheese?

New Jersey, apparently.

Across the length and breadth of Manhattan, people were asking, "What's that smell?" after a pungent odor like natural gas or rotten eggs blanketed the borough and northern New Jersey for three hours yesterday morning.

By evening, the answer seemed to be a stinky gas emitted by a New Jersey swamp or marsh.

"That's where our noses and instruments tell us" the smell was coming from, said Charles Sturcken, a spokesman for the city Department of Environmental Protection.

Find the entire article here.

What I'm Listening to These Days

The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldier
(Can Jack White save rock and roll?)

Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
(Reincarnated Patsy Cline in Alt-Country clothes)

Fred Hammond, Something Bout Love
(Freshest gospel voice sine Andre Crouch)

Bobby Bare Jr., The Longest Meow
(Does his daddy proud.)

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question

There is an excellant series of posts that Mclaren did on the how the church should deal with homosexuals. Being from the San Francisco area - this is a pressing issue. Even in the traditional African American church there are many who are on the 'down low. It's an important topic that we must consider.

I'm glad Mclaren is willing to ask these questions. Now, to be sure, sin is sin. But why do we classify some sins as more evil than others?

Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us." That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.

Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we'll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they'll be admittedly provisional. We'll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we'll speak; if not, we'll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the "winds of doctrine" blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.

Find the entire article here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Coming back from Florida

(wrote on 1/3/07)

Wow, 2007.

As I write this I’m heading home from five days in Florida. Last Friday I returnedhome to preside over a funeral for a very close family friend, Fred Sielkop. Fred was a kind, gentle man who was my father’s closest friend and ministry partner for over 30 years. They first met in the renewal movement called ‘Catholic Charismatic’ when there was an openness to the Holy Spirit that grew in the Catholic church. Fred and my father served together in and out of the Catholic church since the early 1970’s. Our families grew close over the years. I have many memories of the Seilkop family and their old house on New York avenue in Deland.

The time went well. My dad, being ‘old school’ isn’t showing much emotion - there is simply a anxiousness and restlessness that I can see in him (even more than ususal - no one would classify the Liotti’s as relaxed!)

Being at home is always bittersweet. I love seeing my family and especially my sister and her kids. It was also good to spend some time with Karen Keller. I’ve known Karen since I was 15. Her and her husband Evan work for
Intervarsity Central Florida. She’s a great friend and I’m proud of what they are doing. The picture is of her and my sister. My sister Kelli and her husband are on staff at Christ Community Church in Daytona Beach, FL. Saul serves as the assistant to the senior pastor.

However, every time I go to Florida and especially to Deland I’m thankful for living on the west coast. Deland is a somewhat backwater southern town. It has grown much since I left for the last time in 1990, and people like my folks love it there. I don’t know - maybe too many memories. Visiting is good, but I’m not sure if I could live there again.

So - the passage into 2007 was a somewhat adkward one this year. I missed being with Melissa. My parents made the best of it - but everything had a somewhat grey tone.

At home, things have been going a little nuts. Before Christmas a young Tongan man was shot by a police officer. The cop wasn’t one from EPA - but an officer from an outside town that responded to a robbery in EPA. Our local force is small - so we regularly receive help from outside.

Essentially, as a result, the Pacific Islander community is in turmoil. Many are angered by the shooting and the tension has intensified a fued between the Tongans and Somoans. Another young woman was shot last weekend pushing our homicide rate up to 7 for 2006. Please pray for our city.

So… 2007!!... I’m interested to see what is in store for us this year. Many things with the credit union project are still in formation. We’ve come very far, we have very far to go. We also hope to kick off a youth program in the Spring. I’m in the process of recruiting a person to help with administration and to manage the youth programs. I'm excited about what's ahead, but happy to be turning another page.

Peace and blessings to you in this new year.