The Words of the Heller Family
The Harlem Church congregation.
Today's topic is "The Joy of Loving Harlem." According to the Divine Principle, joy does not exist alone. Joy can be created only through the subject seeing its internal character and external form reflected in its object. I am talking about joy in Harlem, so I should be able to see my ideal and my internal character reflected in Harlem.
Yet seeing the reality of Harlem, I am sure many people wonder, "Where does she find such a thing in the environment of Harlem?" There are many types of joy, however. The joy I would like to share today is as the Bible describes: the joy which will last forever and which gives you peace and the fruits of righteousness, the joy which is your treasure eternally.
Father said many times that black people in America are, relatively speaking, more on God's side than the white people because they have been supporting Father's activities ever since he came to America. Who came to support our church's events? It was the minorities. He spoke of this many times and he himself recommended that white brothers and sisters reach out to the black community, because the people are blessed people.
People in Harlem are very religious. I see that in my neighborhood, in spite of the many problems and difficulties. God dwells in the heart of man. So by looking at the hearts of people, we can feel the heart of God. Most people in Harlem have a lot of scars and pain, a lot of family and financial problems, problems with drugs and crime. Yet people are still friendly and you can feel their suffering hearts. We know that the main aspect of God's restorational heart is suffering.
When I meet people in Harlem, I feel God's parental, suffering heart taking responsibility for and wanting to experience the pain of human beings. I find that kind of God in Harlem. My neighborhood is not the type of place where you feel a creational God -- a beautiful nature scene with green fields and a river. It is not like that. When I see Harlem, I find the God who sheds tears for the suffering of His children. I think sometimes, who can embrace the people here? The answer is that only we can, because we are also the suffering people of God. We suffer not for our own problems, but because of God's problems and for others. So I do feel that it is only the Unification Church members who can reach the suffering hearts of Harlem, for we know something of the suffering of Heavenly Father.
The environment of Harlem is very distressed. Many people feel fearful, especially sisters and mothers who have children. Many want to come, but the environment for raising children is too adverse. Yet I am a sister and the mother of four children and I am raising my children with my husband in Harlem. I would like to share some of my testimony that can make me say it is a joy to love Harlem.
I came to Harlem in August of 1982, 40 days after my husband got an apartment. He got the apartment very miraculously, because he was not making much money at that time. Rent in the area where we got the apartment was around $400.00 for two bedrooms. My husband picked that home church area and apartment only because of Father's words. Father said that white brothers and sisters should go into the black neighborhoods to serve the black community.
I came to join my husband and we didn't have anything, except for that apartment. It was filthy -- really dirty. He had prepared it the month before I went there in order for us to start our family and do home church. He took me there with so much honor, like a prince taking a princess. He was so happy driving, but when we got there and I saw the apartment, I just wanted to get out of there!
The floors of the kitchen and living room were filled with chewing gum -- it was everywhere. When I saw that, I just didn't want to live there. The very next day I went downtown and met one of my previous leaders from CARP and expressed my desire to go back to CARP. I knew I would not do it, but that was my feeling.
Since we had no resources, we knew we had to start something. The first thing we started on was the restoration of our apartment. I started scraping up the chewing gum, scraping the walls, preparing it. I felt that all the walls, the ceiling, the floor, everything, were crying. I felt that more and more as I was cleaning and I became more and more prayerful and serious. I thought, "My apartment is crying out for true love, saying, 'I never received true love.'" I felt it was lonely and really complaining. The creation was groaning in travail because of the fall of man and longing for the coming of true man. So I said I was sorry to the wall, sorry to the ceiling, sorry to the floor because no one had come to love them. I promised that I would use this place for Heavenly Father. I said, "Don't worry; I'm here." I was crying and praying and painting -- and I got more energy and we did it very quickly. Soon we had a new floor that was shining.
The next thing we started on was a News World and Noticias Del Mundo paper route in our home church area. We started it because we wanted to educate people there and reach out to them in some way. We wanted to first serve them. We were also preparing letters to introduce ourselves to each one of them: "Hello, this is Jorg and Ayako. We are members of the Unification Church and were married at Madison Square Garden." We had three hundred and sixty families in our area and we started with the newspaper, because we could educate them through the paper and also see who could accept the ideology of our newspaper.
We didn't know that the newspaper would become such an important resource, not only for witnessing, but also financially. Right now, it is very important as a financial resource for us. We did not know such things in the beginning. Jorg, my husband, has been delivering the paper every day for about seven years. That is something everyone notices. He is around; he does not speak so much, but he is doing it consistently every day, delivering the paper at six o'clock in the morning and collecting the money on Saturdays. That is something I respect him very much for.
Home church events are occasions of joy.
I do feel that God really looked after us and took care of us in so many ways. Almost all our furniture came from someone giving it to us or God giving it to us directly through someone throwing it away. When my husband delivers the newspapers, he is the first one to go around the neighborhood in the mornings, so if someone threw something away in the night, he is the first one to see it. Almost all the furniture we have is fixed, sanded, repainted old furniture that we made new out of what someone threw away. We felt those were good things to restore.
Furniture, a washing machine, a sewing machine, even a computer we paid almost nothing for compared to what we see in the stores. God provided in so many ways. Even our clothes -- people in my neighborhood are so poor but the interesting thing is, they wear good clothes. They spend more money on clothes than the) do on food. They throw away good clothes many times. So when my husband would go around the neighborhood, he'd find things in dry-cleaning plastic bags, folded neatly and nicely, thrown away. He would bring them home. I would go through everything and think who I could give them to. Almost all of our clothes were provided it this way by God.
We had to find a way financially. If we want to love people, we need money. If I was going to do home church, I had to find a way to cut down my expenses for myself in order to spend money for others. Food and clothes are a realistic need in life, so God provided many things.
Sometimes I am afraid these days, because when I think seriously of what I need, it comes to me. So I want to have only God-centered thoughts, not have them be based on my personal desires. Whatever I want always materializes within a few weeks. God is really providing for and taking care of us so much.
We didn't have any medical insurance at that time. When I found I was pregnant, I thought, "What can I do?" I was sure my husband would provide everything; he is that kind of person. But I did not want to have him take care of my expenses. So we thought about it and right then one of the home church ladies said, "Oh, there is some program for low-income women nearby -- go and have an interview." All four of my children were born in the Harlem Hospital. I am very grateful for that, because having children can cost a lot of money. God really helped me a lot through the home church people.
One week, we had people come to dinner every night. By Friday morning, I was out of money and someone was coming for dinner again that night. I thought, "Oh, what can I do? What can I make? I don't have any money. This is for guests -- not for me or for my husband." I was thinking about it and that morning, my husband picked up a plastic bag of clothes that had been thrown away. They were very nice clothes, dry- cleaned in the package. I was going through the clothes and thinking who to give them to and I checked the pockets and found thirty dollars!
So many times when I was out of money, it would be in a pocket or people would just come and say, "Oh, I want to pay the newspaper money today." Twenty dollars, thirty dollars, ten dollars. It always happened on the day I really needed money for guests. I really felt that God wanted to take care of me and our family because we were doing God's Will. It really gave me joy, that God was wanting to take care of us, not only spiritually but physically too, through finances and material things.
There is another side. I cannot hide that I struggled many times. I often felt alone in Harlem, in the apartment with a few children. Another difficulty was not having result right away. I was living there, doing home church, but what was my result? There were always other projects going on -- mobilization, witnessing, work with ministers--but I was always in Harlem. Sometimes that made me feel unhappy. Sometimes I got quick-tempered and angry -- or became frustrated and wouldn't say anything.
I didn't even want to go out or talk sometimes. My husband would say, "Omma, I could never do what I am doing without you. I cannot complain. I could never find a woman who is willing to do what you did." When he said that, it meant a lot. At those times when I really struggled, I didn't even give back any appreciation or good words to him; I just ignored him. But inside, I was very grateful and that was enough for me to go on and not run away from the reality.
Also, deep inside, no matter how much I experienced loneliness and lack of result, one thing was clear in my heart: I was struggling on behalf of God, of Father, of history. I never lost that feeling. I didn't go to meetings, didn't want to go door to door witnessing, did not want to see my neighbors -- but always inside, I kept that faith.
Those kinds of feelings were gradually resolved by having spiritual children. People came to the Harlem Church and joined through our home church connection. We met one minister in the church nearby our house who later went to Korea. Now, he and his family all go to the Bronx Center for Sunday service. That was wonderful and joyful. Also, the first person we met in our home church area, an 82 year old lady, signed membership. She said, "I agree with everything you say, I am with you." I am not sure she really understands all our teachings, but in her heart she agrees. She babysits for our children. And there are others. Having spiritual children gave me fulfillment and victory.
The Heller family
There is another joy: that is my physical children. I feel Jesus and Heung Jin Nim really helping from the spirit world. Raising children in Harlem is a headache for many brothers and sisters. I have lived here seven years and I now realize that raising my children centered on home church is totally different from simply raising my children in Harlem. Of course, I have to deal with the reality of the school situation and crime, but when I walk outside with my children, people always react positively. They look at my face and they always smile. When my husband and my children and I walk around together on a Sunday, people talk: "See that family walking together on Sundays?" Many families are not together in Harlem.
When we moved in, some people talked about us being brain-washed Moonies, and some said that we came there to make money. They used to give us looks and slam the door, but now, because of our children, a person came to my program, saying, "I've seen your family over the years, and I heard bad news about your church, but I see that you have something beautiful and I decided to ask you to be my spiritual teacher. Please teach me what you learn in the Unification Church." So now she comes every Wednesday night to our Bible study.
Another lady came up to my husband and children when they were taking a walk and said, "Oh, I had a dream that I should talk to you. You and your family were all together and so precious and I thought the message was that there is something special about your family."
After I had my oldest daughter, I had a dream about seven schools. Each of the principals came up to me and said, "Will you please give your children to my school?" The message of the dream clearly was that my children will not have problems testifying to True Parents in school. They will do very well.
Because the environment was bad, I felt I had to protect my children. We are the only Unificationists in our neighborhood. Everyone else is of a different belief. Until they were three years old, I really kept them close to me and tried to teach them the basic traditions. I didn't send them to preschool. But when my oldest daughter turned four, I could see that she was very shy. She wouldn't go anywhere. Then at one point she asked to go to school, but I couldn't find a school I was confident in that was close enough and religious enough. All of a sudden, an ICC contact came up to me and said, "We want to organize a preschool program. Please, can you send your children to my school?" She said that Jesus had inspired her. I felt it was connected to the spirit world and True Parents. I really believe that Jesus is helping us to raise our children to be good.
This year my daughter, Young Ai, will be the kindergarten graduation speaker because she got the highest marks in English in all of the school. When I went to register the next child, my oldest boy Young Nam, the lady in the office was very happy because she knew Young Ai. They said, "Oh, we have another good one coming!"
The situation of public schools in Harlem is not that good because the children are often raised by apathetic parents, or parents who shout, scold, acid spank all the time. Then the children don't listen and don't behave well. But I feel our children can have a good influence and help both the teachers and other students to be more serious.
Young Ai takes a ballet class in the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Last week, that teacher also talked to me. She wants to gather several very good children. She said, "Your child is extremely talented in ballet, so I want to put her into special, professional lessons and techniques. She should be eight years old, but because she is so good, I want to put her in it right away." So I answered yes.
Things are happening. It is not because of me or my daughter, but I feel it is because of home church and God's blessing. Spirit world was really helping. Why I am happy about these things is that people often think nothing good comes out of Harlem. My family has to challenge to be good not for our own sakes, but in order to testify to True Parents.
Because the school situation is so bad in Harlem, especially beyond elementary school, I came to the point where I had to be serious about educating my children about godly attitudes -- why they are going to school, and why they should do well. So now when my daughter says, "I'm going to school," I say, "For what?" She says, "For True Parents." And I say, "You have to do well because True Parents are good." I tell her those things every morning. Also we do Pledge and follow the other traditions of our church. It's sometimes not easy, but every morning, we sit down and have morning service, prayer, and three bows.
My internal attitude is that I want my children to experience God's heart and develop the heart of God. So what is best for them, I believe, is to see their parents doing home church in Harlem. My attitude is that the best education I can give to my children is a living example of True Parents' representatives in Harlem.
Two thousand years ago, people thought, "What good can come out of Nazareth?" Nobody believed Jesus was great because he came from such a bad place. So, here, in Harlem, if we can be victorious in our home church, it will be a testimony to True Parents. That way Father can be happy. When he looks at New York City, where does his heart go? I know for sure, his heart goes to the humble, difficult places, because his children are living in such humble, difficult places.
This is the last thing I want to share. I feel one of the good things about Harlem is that the environment can help us to be God-centered people. The environment can help husband and wife to come together, because the situation is so bad you know your standard will affect the result. For example, my husband gives out newspapers every morning. The moment he goes out, I have to pray that God can protect him. When I see drug dealers and users, I pray that God can bless them so that they can get the strength to get out of drugs. Especially in my relationship with my husband, if I fight, if I cause a problem inside God's house, we can never bring results. That will only bring Satan's attack. So I became very serious about bringing unity, because that is where God dwells.
Where we live in Harlem is a particularly dangerous area. Satan really wants to discourage us so we will move out. I was looking at Father's words and they say if you start doing home church, crazy things will happen to you. That started happening in our area and now we are at a dividing point. My husband is organizing a rent strike in our whole building to push the drug dealers out.
If you work against crack and drug dealers, your life is at stake. But my husband doesn't have any second thoughts about it. He prayed about it and started doing it. I am not that courageous; I only try to support him. I pray to God to protect us. It makes me serious to be a God-centered, loving person and to make good conditions, through prayer, through good communication. Everything I can think of I do. That helps both husband and wife to come together.
Father and Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. So I am the Kingdom of Heaven. This Kingdom can be established when my mind and body intersect at a ninety degree angle. When I go to home church, I am giving my Kingdom to people.
Today, I talked about the joy of following True Parents' direction and the joy of being free from Satan's accusation, and experiencing God's love and care, not only spiritually, but in our physical lives too. I also spoke of the joy of bringing witnessing result through spiritual children and the joy of knowing that Jesus and Heung Jin Nim are helping our physical children to grow up. Love, wherever you live, is the same. We are the Kingdom. We can dominate the environment: We have Holy Salt, Divine Principle, brothers and sisters. Beyond everything else, God is on our side and True Parents are on our side.
Everyone has their idea of what they think the Kingdom of Heaven is or will be. But to a hardworking grassroots person in Harlem there isn't even time to think about something so seemingly far off. Never do they think of Harlem as the potential Kingdom of Heaven.
I've worked in Harlem since 1982. Before that, I worked in Boston for five years, and I must say that Harlem is different than any other place. The history of Blacks in America is a long and troubled one. Their struggle for the basic rights of American citizenship is well chronicled. Their fight to enjoy the safeguards of the American Constitution is yet to be won.
When I walk through the streets of Harlem, I can see how apathy and disrespect within a neighborhood can ravish its people and destroy the community structure. Yet, I'm amazed at Harlem's flexibility and its ability to keep accepting and reaching out no matter what pain it feels or has felt in the past as a community. Harlem has persevered, and I reverence that perseverance.