When I met Christine Nolf in high school, she impressed me as a leader and a doer. When I reconnected with her a few years ago I couldn’t believe how beautifully she had built on that foundation. I felt (and feel) an overwhelming sense of gratitude to know that she is out in the world, working hard to elevate our community through her daily works and advocating for the causes she believes in. I think she’s remarkable and inspiring, and I am so grateful to get to share her account of receiving a “cup of cold water” here.
The sweat was pouring out of me as I sat in the steam room. Right when I thought I couldn’t take the heat anymore, I would stay a minute longer, giving myself over to this purifying experience. I had just had a massage and as I sat relaxed and sweating, my mind followed, giving itself over to rest and peace. The abundance of life had handed me a whirlwind as of late with an eleven week engagement, wedding, grad school, marriage adjustments and then major work transitions. I had been traveling more than usual and always trying to keep my finger on the pulse of my community while leading my team at the small nonprofit, Mika CDC, I run. This afternoon at the spa was much needed refreshment, one of those gifts you don’t realize you need until you receive it.
The gift of the spa day was given to me by Wendy Tarr, a colleague in the fight for immigration reform. We met through our common work of mobilizing churches to care about immigrants and the legislation that affects them. Our interactions are mostly through our work and yet our work overlaps with our faith and lives and through the years we have come to be friends. It was strange though for her to give me a gift. We had never exchanged birthday gifts before so when an email popped up announcing that Wendy had bought me a massage I was pleasantly surprised. The gift came on the front end of what I knew would be a busy season, so I saved it. Wendy’s gift to me was more than the massage; it was the note of appreciation that came with it. It was having my effort noticed. It was an incentive to push through the busy season; it was a promise of rest. Wendy’s gift was a cup of cold water when I was parched from running hard.
Sitting in the steam room, rested and grateful, reflecting on Wendy’s friendship, I realized that her friendship has always been a cup of cold water to me. When I met Wendy, a couple of friends and I were putting on training breakfasts in church basements with donated food, trying to explain the urgency for immigration reform. About ten people would show up and we were mainly preaching to the choir. Wendy came onto the scene with the community organizing agency she works for, CLUE OC. She could have pushed us aside and run the path, taking all our relationships with her, but she didn’t.
Instead Wendy saw our efforts and came alongside to support. She brought an organizer’s mind with her and formed my friends throughout Orange County into a powerful network. The first event she put on had close to 100 pastors at it,
Anglo and Latino, discussing real problems and seeking solutions together. Wendy drew me in further, expanding our existing projects, and pushing us to think bigger. She trained me to operate out of my Christian faith, treating both the immigrant I’m advocating with and the legislator I’m confronting with dignity and mercy. She modeled courage to ask important people to do hard things and they did it. They responded. Momentum grew in Orange County and the next thing we knew mega church pastors were representing our area at the National Evangelical Immigration Table. Our movement had bite. Our pastors were speaking out. And I got to be a part of it. Wendy could have easily dismissed our tiny local efforts as weak and misguided, but instead she invited us in. She came alongside as a refreshing leader, offering cold water in the marathon that is immigration reform advocacy. God willing the finish line is in sight.
Christine Brooks Nolf is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Mika Community Development Corporation in her hometown, Costa Mesa. Mika works with neighbors in five low-income neighborhoods to equip them as leaders who transform their city through neighborhood projects and strategic connections. Her relationships with her neighbors have led her to become a strong advocate for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. She was recently married to Michael Moses Nolf and loves to ride bikes with him at the beach.