In class the other day, we were asked the question of what the communities we grew up in looked like. What were common values and ideals…
I raised my hand and said something like, “As an Asian American, I come from a community of people that survived by small business. Everyone I knew owned something whether it was dry cleaners, beauty supply, gas station, restaurant…I come from a community of hustlers.”
I left out an important detail in my profession before the class, which was that my father was a pastor. His “job” was to pastor this community of hustlers.
I admire my father now for reasons that I used to hate him. For instance, we moved around a lot when I was younger. I hated the farewells and the arduous awkwardness of making new friends. But I remember my father saying once, “When a church has no problems, it’s time to move on to a church that does.” Even in my youth, I realized that meant we were going to be moving again soon.
When I share with my father the gripes I have with the first generation of immigrants. Sometimes he would nod and chuckle, but there are times, when his eyes burn and he’ll say very gently, “You don’t understand the immigrant life.”
To be a hustler is a dangerous thing. You can never sleep deeply. You are always nervous. You are always at the mercy of the host country. One thing can go wrong and it’s game over. You could get sick, break a bone, catch the flu, get caught speeding, get scammed by your own family, your kid needs braces, grandmother falls down the stairs, a key shipment doesn’t come through, you might get robbed, your visa sponsoring company goes bankrupt, your international phone bill equals your rent, you’re lonely, you can’t trust people from your country any more than you can trust people from this country, and you wish you had studied English more when you had a chance, but now it’s too late because you’re playing for keeps now and it all matters now because children have lives and it might be OK for you to ruin yours, but you thought you could keep from ruining theirs…so you can’t stop now, can’t quit now. Even if you’re doing something illegal now, what else could you do? It’s only illegal if you don’t get caught. So what should we do? We’ll pray. Pray for this hustling life. Because if it works, it must be good. And if God is good, He’ll make it work.
Perhaps this is why urban rap music is so attractive to the sons and daughters of these hustlers.
Perhaps this is what happens when churches are a gathering for hustlers. Churches can shelter visa sponsorships. Pastors help people get their driver’s licenses. Sunday school can be the first hour of the week you don’t have to look your kids in the eye. SAT class at church can help your kids get into college. Churches can help the community. Pastors aren’t hustlers by nature…they’re just trying to reach them. Some in the process become them. Some of them try to teach them that hustling ain’t the only life, but that might have to come later, pastor. But if you could ever get those problems resolved…even for just one moment…it’s time to move on, you’re needed somewhere else.