By Amy Rose, The Crescent
After another hard day of working at a homeless agency in Portland, Chris Miller was ready to go home. It would be a long way back home, so he picked up his pace as he headed for the train station.
“Man, you must really can’t wait to get home.”
The man’s voice caught him off guard. Who would be talking to him now?
The words came from a homeless man who had noticed Chris’s quick gait. It was a weighty statement.
It was as if he was telling Chris a story of a time when he once had a home to return to. However long he had been on the streets, he remembered the sense of home. It was nostalgic. Homesick.
At that moment, Chris had a realization: I have a home to go to.
As a senior majoring in Social Work at GFU, Chris faces the challenges of poverty head-on.
Born in Indonesia to missionary parents, Chris spent most of his life in the Philippines when his parents’ ministry positions changed from language teachers to seminary professors.
He attended a K-12 international school. “It was like a mini college campus,” Chris said. “It was on a hill overlooking the city, with great sunsets.”
Soccer was his passion growing up. Later in high school, he was given the opportunity of teaching soccer clinics for kids. He managed about 50 kids for a couple weeks, with a big tournament at the end of the season.
“That’s where I found my love for the innocence of youth,” Chris said. “I found it very comfortable to be with kids because I was a silly, rambunctious kid too. It was easy to get on their level, something God has blessed me with.”
“It was cool to find that passion out of an interest in a sport,” he said.
When it came time to decide on college, Chris knew only three things: The school had to be a Christian campus, on the west coast, and near a big city.
“I’m a city boy,” Chris said. “Home, for me, is the concrete jungle.”
It was too expensive to travel to the United States to visit colleges, so he relied on his basic criteria. He still had no idea what major he would choose.
“The first year was rough, but freshman year is always awkward for anyone,” Chris said. “But God took care of me.”
“I definitely experienced culture shock, which is another way to put ‘Life sucks because you’re in a new place,’” Chris laughed. “That’s definitely an MK [Missionary Kid] joke.”
He repeated the sentiment that God took care of him. “He sent me a senior, Omar Medina, who was a Social Work major. Sometimes I think he was an angel,” Chris said. “We met through a mutual friend at church.”
“It was cool to see someone who was so passionate. I learned about a lot of social issues from him,” said Chris.
“I’ve been blessed my whole life,” Chris said. “I was surrounded by poverty in the Philippines, but I never truly engaged it. You don’t really pay attention to it unless you have to.”
“Because I am blessed, I should be blessing others,” he continued.
He signed up to take the introductory Social Work class with Clifford Rosenbohm, and he was hooked.
“It’s a very real, very raw major because you’re not in it for yourself, that’s just straight up,” Chris said. “You don’t do it for the money or because you want to be happy all the time. It’s so emotionally taxing.”
Chris began experiencing this firsthand through his internships with Love INC in Newberg and Join (a Portland-based homeless agency).
“It’s so rewarding to see people grow,” he said. “And the people who don’t seem to grow, you still learn so much from them… You can’t judge a person—there’s more happening that just what’s on the surface. That takes an exorbitant amount of time and effort to see below the surface.”
He has discovered the rawness of homeless populations. “They will tell you exactly how they feel,” Chris said. “It was shocking at first when you get those outbursts. You have to remember, it’s not about you. It’s not personal. You definitely see the base level of human emotion.”
Besides his internships, Chris finds ways to live out his passions in other capacities. For two years, he has worked at Camp Tilikum. “A lot of spiritual growth came out of that,” he said.
Even though he identifies five years old as the age when he became a Christian, Chris admits “it felt kind of fake for a long time.”
“Faith became real my first summer as a camps counselor at Tilikum,” Chris said. “It was week five, when I was exhausted. All the kids were gone. After a staff meeting, I went out into the woods. There’s a path around the lake, a freakin’ Garden of Eden walk.” He smiled as the memory came back to him.
He continued, “I went far enough out that no one would think I’m crazy talking out loud by myself. It was outstanding. In subtle ways, I could feel that God was there.”
He said that sometimes it takes being at an ultimate low in order to begin building faith up.
“You kinda [sic] have to be at the bottom. A point where I don’t give a f— anymore. You can be as honest as you want with God,” Chris said. “That prayer walk was an extremely empowering experience. It was the shift from my strength to God’s strength.”
It is God’s strength he feels he must rely on in order to live out his passions.
After graduating next semester, Chris plans on moving to San Francisco.
“It is a place of advocacy. I want to be a part of that melting pot. My huge ambition is to be in an environment in which I’m forced to grow,” he said.
Chris emphasized how blessed he feels, given that he has the choice to move anywhere he wants.
He said, “My goal is thrive in the chaos . . . To be in the city, where there’s always something to do and no excuse to sit on your butt.” ◼︎