Love is an open door PART II Joseph Zhoa

Love is an open door

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am Yu Zhao (Joseph), a rising junior at the University of Dayton and I am majoring in Psychology. It is such a blessing for me to participate the Los Angeles immersion trip this year. The most anticipating trip for me was to visit the Homeboy industry, a non-profit organization founded by Fr. Greg Doyle S.J. who has changed and saved thousands of former gang members’ life by treating them with love, dignity and offering them jobs in the homeboy industry. Today, my dream finally came true.
Upon arrival, all members of the Homeboy industry have already gathered in the main lobby of the building, greeting and encouraging one another, listening to the schedule of the day, and holding hands together to pray for fulfilling their mission of the day. While we were praying, I was greatly touched by the family spirit that was created at that moment which brought all of us together beyond individual differences. Later, I learned that morning layoff and prayer has always been a tradition since the very beginning. I believe it is essential for all of us to take time for self-affirmation, encouragement, and prayer in the morning so that we may live out our authentic selves, a life which is by our values.

    After the morning gathering, our tour guide, Omar, shared his story of conversion that I will never forget. Omar lived as a gang member before joining the home boy industry since he was young, due to his hopelessness to this world, he joined the gang by accepting the worldview that nothing in this world mattered to him as he would die for the gang one day. However, in 2008 he visited the Homeboy industry for the first time after being invited by Fr. Greg for many times during juvenile camp. With the intention of making money to support his gang life, he worked in the Homeboy industry for several short periods of months inconsistently. In 2010, during the time when Omar was away from the homeboy industry, he was shot by members of rival gang group and was severely injured. Though Omar was filled with anger and hatred when recovering, he thought of his son and wife who he deeply loved; he decided to go back to homeboy industry this time for raising his family and becoming a responsible dad. During working, Omar still struggled from forgiving colleagues who came from his rival gang group that shot him and he chose to leave again. But after several months of street life and mentally battling, he finally made up his mind and took the courage of going back to the homeboy industry, a place where he has countlessly been in and out. After years of training, counseling, and working, Omar finally had a better control of his temperament, he gradually reached the goal of having his apartment and traveling with his family for vacations. 

As Omar was telling his story, I saw the most joyful and proud smile on his face. I was moved by Fr. Greg and the homeboy industry for always opening their arms and embracing people who want to change and live a new life. Just as the unconditional love of the father in the Prodigal son story told by Jesus, the father never asked what his son has done while being away; the father didn’t request the son to promise what he would do for the future. Instead, he celebrated with his son with joy at that moment. Indeed, the love that homeboy industry offers just like our merciful heavenly father always remains the door of mercy and love open. But will I be willing to open the door of love and mercy in my heart and forgive people’s past and focus on their future?

Looking at my life, I have weaknesses and struggles that I have always wanted to change. For instance, I had craved to have stronger self-control in my life, I think back to a time when I failed to control myself and watched movies the whole night. I was filled with disappointment because of the time I could have spent learning something new or challenging myself in new ways. Reflecting upon Omar’s experience, his cycle of coming in and leaving the homeboy industry taught me to be patient with my weakness and remain hopeful in God and myself even if I fall back again. I shall remember that what matters is what we decide to do now rather than sitting at the same place regretting the past. Also, Omar’s story reminded me of a Marianist (Fr. Jim Russel told me not to write his name out, so I listened.) once said: “It takes time to let great things cultivate.”

Omar’s story is just one of many beautiful transforming stories took place in the Homeboy industry. I believe it’s an invitation to us that calls everyone to have hope, mercy, and compassion on ourselves and others in any situations. Let us pray for the courage to answer that invitation so as to remain our door of love always be open.

Joseph Zhao, University of Dayton


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