When Jesse was a 20-year old college student, he became an Arrive Ministries volunteer because he wanted to be a blessing and make a difference. 

After being paired with a Karen family of 8, it didn’t take long for Jesse to realize that his life would be impacted forever by this relationship.

“The realness of the situation hit me soon after I stepped into that space. Many people today have preconceived notions of people they have no proximity to. That was me. I thought I would ‘do a good thing’, but once we had close proximity, those notions evaporated. This family, first and foremost, doesn’t need me. They are capable and savvy. Of course I can be a resource, but they didn’t need my help as much as they appreciated my friendship,” says Jesse. 

Jesse’s volunteering increased from one day a week to two, and grew exponentially into a “life-changing kinship,” as Jesse calls it.

The Karen family always welcomed Jesse in and shared their space and food; the younger boys wrestled with Jesse like an older brother.

“I was a broke college kid who knew I could find a warm meal. The relationship is symbiotic,” he says.

 

A Vital Perspective

Jesse speaks very humbly and passionately about the posture he believes we should have towards our neighbors.

“Posture is everything. How you posture yourself going into a cross-cultural relationship will be what you get from it. If you posture yourself as a learner, it will blow your socks off. You will be so enlightened and glad you did. If you posture yourself as the needed hero, you’ll find those elements but it won’t be nearly as impactful for you or for the people you’re connecting with. Posture is everything. Being a listener is crucial in this role.”

 

Travels to Gain Understanding

Jesse’s early experiences with the family piqued his curiosity to truly understand who they are and where they came from. He was so moved that he bought a one-way plane ticket to Thailand– not to volunteer, but to listen and learn. He stayed a month in southeast Asia near the biggest refugee camp in Thailand. Coincidentally, a man named Ku was living in that refugee camp at that time, a famous Karen singer who would later become Jesse’s future best friend.

When Jesse returned to the states, he began advocating for the rights and respect of the Karen people.

 

Founding Urban Village

A supporter asked about the possibility of starting a non-profit organization for Karen people. Thus, the founding of Urban Village, which now stands in St. Paul as a gathering place for events and activities that enrich the lives of the local Karen community and its neighbors. The Urban Village is a tribute to the history, culture, and community for local Karen people.

Ku was able to immigrate to Minnesota following his time in the refugee camp, and now lives in St. Paul, and is a leader at Urban Village.

“This place is very special for the Karen community because what we do and have at Urban Village represents our history and our culture. We can use this place to speak up and let other people know about Karen people,” said Ku. “You see all these paintings that represent our culture, important leaders, and the landscape of our homeland. This place means a lot to me.”

Today, Jesse shares a duplex with his adopted Karen family. 

“People will interpret it how they want to, ‘a young white Christian dude living with a family, but this isn’t a charity case. This family was gracious enough to take in a lost college kid. Their kindness, hospitality, and love is astounding. I have a community and a job because of them. All they got out of the deal was a roommate,” remarked Jesse.