In a series of recent posts (**see below), I’ve been fleshing out what it means to “love a city”. What it means to be rooted in place and proximity to work that has transcendent and transformational value. I want to spend the next several posts introducing you to people in my city, Oklahoma City, who are literally loving the “hell” (the brokenness, darkness, oppression, and injustice) out of this city. People who are remaking the world by remaking this city, one changed story, one redeemed institution at a time. These folk operate on the margins, often in places normal folk dare to tread. Each story is one I am connected to relationally. I introduce you to them for several reasons: 1. To bring to light the amazing work they are doing on behalf of some of the most beautiful, forgotten people in our midst, 2. To offer as models to other individuals of what can happen when you step into the arena of loving a city, and 3. To provide you the chance to engage with them as they build a better world by loving their city.
I am so proud of them, and I cannot wait to share their stories! Here you go!!
The first lover is my friend, Emilee Little, and the work she is doing at Newland Academy.
In 2007, Emilee, in a desire to connect with marginalized women from international backgrounds, started meeting with the growing number of refugee families that exist in our city by teaching English classes, crafting and selling with the women, and becoming friends with the families in the refugee community (like many cities, Oklahoma City is home to refugees who come here from their home countries because of persecution due to their religion, political beliefs, and/or ethnicity, and they feel that they cannot be protected by their home country. Of the 16 million refugees today, only 1% are afforded the opportunity for third-country resettlement, which is what has happened for the people living in Oklahoma today).[a]
The more Emilee came to know these families, the more she became aware of the oppression that existed within their “release” from oppressive countries. “From that place,” she says, “the Lord began to put dreams in my heart for this community and what it could look like to sow with my life to reap the foundation of the Kingdom in the hearts of MANY. In that season of dreaming He was telling me in deep places that loosing chains of oppression happened on the streets of the city rather than in a separate sector.”
In January of 2012, Emilee was given Isaiah 58—”A promise to expand my household with more children than a married woman; children who would dwell in a safe land with a just government and Him as their teacher; children who would repair broken places. Throughout the year Psalm 37 was used to teach me that I could trust Him to be a good Father and that He would show me what it looked like to possess the land. I knew all of this was connected to the refugee community but I was not sure how. So my first step was trying to move into the community.”
In September, Emilee was approached about starting a school for middle and high school refugee students. Several students were failing classes and repeating grades. Those who were passing were simply passing tests. They were not able to access knowledge in a way that was leading to freedom and life.
“In October, the Lord reminded me of Isaiah 58. 9 months after the promise for more children, He said it is time to labor and deliver your children! So I began a journey to raise support, leave my job, and begin a small pilot home school and research education solutions for refugee teens. It really wasn’t until I had begun my work that I understood the depths of why it was needed, what challenges refugee youth are facing and what it might look like to create an alternative narrative.”
At Newland Academy, Emilee and her team serve refugee students who were otherwise being chewed up by a system that did not take into consideration either their extraordinary circumstances or their extraordinary potential. Her vision for education goes beyond curriculum and assessments to bestow identity, cultivate passions, call out purpose, and unleash dreaming in each of her students. You can see why I love this work!
Here’s Emilee in her own words:
As you can see, this is a woman whose heart has been pierced by the needs of her city! What’s great about Emilee is that she has chosen to step into this oft-overlooked, neglected space with all of her amazing talents, gifts and passion to see hope and blessing come to those whom many even in her own city do not know exist! This is not a “resume-builder” for her; this is vocation (calling) in its purest form.
I invite you to check out Newland Academy as an example of what it means to be a “lover of the city”.
[a] See The Spero Project to learn more about international refugees