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I didn’t really understand or notice much of God’s sovereignty in my personal life until very recently—about the way he continues to pull us back to where he wanted us to be all along no matter how we stray or think we are meant to be elsewhere. From a UC Irvine alum who was never politically active and only went to church on the weekends, to who I am now, I never thought God would take a drill and break open my guarded piggy bank of experiences in order to share it with other people and interweave my worlds in such an organic way.

The Beatitudes were a huge foundation for my first trip to the Holy Land with ROCKHARBOR in 2015. To be quite frank, I didn’t have them memorized, I really didn’t know much about what they truly meant theologically, but for the most part, Matthew 5 made sense. How could it not? In the most simple terms I could ever use, the Beatitudes say that the underdogs are blessed. It was pretty self-explanatory to me until I saw what it meant in real life.

We visited Balata Refugee Camp in the West Bank that year. It was a 10-second walk across the street from the alleged holy site, Jacob’s Well, the place where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. A story of Jesus’ love for all people, a story of how he went out of his way to pursue and love a woman deemed as unclean and an enemy. To this day, not a lot of people go out of their way to historical Samaria to see Jacob’s Well, and if they do, not a lot of people know an entirely different and dark world lives across the street. A world where hope is scarce yet exists.

A year after graduation, completely independent of my attendance at ROCKHARBOR, a friend from the dorm introduced me to The Tiyya Foundation and I had a chance to work on photo and video projects with them; dunked head-first into the reality of what the refugee crisis looks like in America. It consisted of meeting teens who learned English on their own, simulating barriers that refugees face and always learning something new from someone much wiser. Later on, I coincidently even had a chance to share photos from Balata and speak about what I learned and am still wrestling with regarding the trip with people much “smarter” and “successful” than I was

A second trip to the Holy Land in January 2017 happened, another refugee camp visited, Aida Camp. This time, a group of individuals with aligned hearts and rage for the issue came home thinking, “How can we engage locally? Who can we learn from? How can we love others in our own Orange County bubble and not just when we’re in the Middle East?” Tiyya came to mind: not only as an asset to gain knowledge from, but as an exemplary entity who has already been consistently investing in their community by empowering families, providing support and resources to displaced immigrants, and raising up the youth.

One group meeting with Tiyya leadership filled with stories led to another, and one-by-one individuals from ROCKHARBOR were called to use their gifts in order to take part in serving the refugee community.


Amanda is now a Tiyya intern who supports Tiyya staff and interacts directly with clients. Robbyn, a marriage and family therapist who meets with the families regularly. Carli coordinated diaper donations and delivery and delegated teams to drive across the OC every month to meet and drop off. A bunch of volunteers helped Tiyya organize their office and storage unit to make room for a remodel where the goal was to make a more inviting space for clients. Life groups served together. ROCKHARBOR’s Best Week Ever raised $1,784 for backpacks and school supplies for the new year and a huge group of people from ROCKHARBOR and Reunion Church served at their Back to School Event. Here I am, still getting to do what I love and take photos for them from time to time.

Tiyya is doing so many amazing things in the Orange County and Los Angeles areas. They want to see families get jobs. They care that families have someone to help them learn English. That children have supplies for the fall and a soccer program to keep them healthy and happy. They care that families who don’t receive aid get the diapers they need. They serve with open hands and want to make genuine relationships with other organizations in the area who can help them do the mission they set out to do even if all they need are some optometrists to check eyes, some stylists to give haircuts, or some ROCKHARBOR volunteers to set up some games and activities.

If you asked me to describe myself three years ago, I never would have coined myself as the “fight-for-justice, speak-up-for-what-you-believe-in, non-profit-loving, or even, I-want-to-be-a-missionary” type. I was perfectly content in being in the camp of, “Just-Try-to-Do-What’s-Right-As-You-Go-About-Your-Own-Way”. Perfectly content being the girl who got involved because she knew it was a good thing to do. I think I tangibly understood how sovereign God is by the way He took away distracting and unnecessary parts of my life and the striving I was doing in order for me to focus on a very clear path that was opposite from anything I had imagined life to look like.

God presented me with the opportunity to go on these trips to Israel and Palestine with ROCKHARBOR, to not only walk where Jesus walked, but to learn how to listen and love others well. To see others as yourself and how God sees them. To be passionately engaged with the injustice that exists in this world, and how to properly and lovingly address and do something about it.

He also gave me relationships with people at UC Irvine who are as equally engaged with injustice in this world who identified my strengths and empowered me to be a part of one of the coolest organizations ever.

I want to do that for others.

Those Beautitudes that I thought were pretty cool black and white statements are now flooded with color.

I never thought that the two experiences would collide and it’s been such an amazing journey seeing the way that God has equipped me as a leader, something I never thought I was. It’s true joy witnessing so many good friends use their passions, talents, and unique gifts to serve the refugee community and love others who come from different backgrounds and have lived unimaginable lives. I couldn’t be more excited to see what the future holds and to see our community exponentially be known for standing in the gap for the oppressed, to go out of their way to a metaphorical Samaria to pursue genuine relationships, and to sacrifice time and energy to love others who society may not expect us to love.

article and photos by Andrea David