Dear OneGeorgeFox,

Three years ago today, a historic thing happened. Students and alumni gathered in Newberg and stood during chapel, with shirts carrying a message that shook the campus to its core.

“God loves you gay or straight. I am a safe person.”

It was that simple. This was no grand coordinated scheme to undermine the moral fabric of society. Together, we did what we could that day to ensure that no person would walk away from that chapel feeling alone and without hope.

Our website went live that day, and the students of Common Ground also made their existence public. For the first time in 127 years, the status quo of the school was visibly challenged. This was important and worth it, and if you were there in person or there in spirit, please take a moment to rest in that truth for yourself.

I am writing to you today to formally announce that I am stepping into the role of Executive Director of OneGeorgeFox. I was humbled and honored when my friend and mentor (who is also the founder of OneGeorgeFox) Paul Southwick approached me and asked if this was something I would be interested in doing. I consider it a privilege to say yes, and it is a responsibility that I do not take on lightly. I know that not every one of you knows me, so I would like to take a moment to introduce myself.

I am 24 years old, live in Gladstone Oregon, and I graduated from George Fox University in 2013 with a degree in History and Political Science. I was the founder and first President of Common Ground, the LGBTQA student organization at GFU. Currently I am working as a Recovery Specialist at a center in Portland for men recovering from severe mental illness. I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends, and my dream someday is to pastor a small Quaker church.

I’ve always seen myself as an unlikely leader. I am short, soft spoken, pretty nerdy, have a nervous laugh, and am extremely introverted. I am not a particularly exceptional orator, and my writing is filled with typos. However, I care deeply about people, and I am not afraid to act in the face of overwhelming odds.

The landscape regarding LGBTQ people at GFU has vastly changed in three years. However, I want to be honest in my assessment of where we are at. There have been incredible victories to be sure, there are openly queer students on campus who are visible for the first time ever. George Fox University found its way onto the front page of the New York Times as the situation regarding fair housing of transgender students was reported. Unfortunately, rather than a compassionate and listening response from the administration, we have seen a doubling down in attempts to discredit and discourage attempts to make the school safer for LGBTQ students. We have seen the staff be threatened with a gag order, and seen that the school is willing to fire a pastor from the very denomination it is affiliated with because he spoke out. We have seen various student government administrations be coopted and quietly ordered by administration to vote down recognizing Common Ground. We have been painted as the enemies of a school that we contributed our time, treasure, and talent to.

So while that might all feel very discouraging, I can’t help but be reminded of part of a dialogue from Middle Earth that I connect to:

Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”

There are intolerable things that are happening in the dark, and someone must be willing to bear witness to it, and move it all into the light. I am persuaded that you…yes you, the very person reading these words on a monitor or phone at this moment are that person. Does this feel unlikely? Maybe you are thinking, “but I work full time”, “I’m not anywhere close to Newberg anymore”, “I am busy raising my children”, “I don’t have a skill that is useful for this”, “I don’t have any extra money to contribute”, “I am not sure if I am ready to be outspoken at this moment.” or “I struggle with PTSD from my experience, how am I supposed to be an advocate?”

Maybe these things are true for you. I am still persuaded that you are an essential part of moving GFU to the place where it needs to be. I am convinced that you have a skill, a connection, a story, or an experience that will be immeasurably useful. We are a diverse group, and we are unified in an incredibly strong thing, we have a deep love for the LGBTQ students at GFU. Speaking personally, when I was a student at the school who considered ending my life, I can tell you that even something that might feel inconsequentially small, when filled with love, has the ability to save a life. This is work that we must continue doing, baby step by baby step, because every life of these ones who we love is worth it.

I am asking that we creatively imagine what a doubling down of love and nonviolent action on our part would look like. When love is the first motivation, I am convinced that mountains can be moved.

There are exciting things in store for the near future of OneGeorgeFox, in the next few weeks I plan on laying out my ideas for a first year plan as Executive Director, and will always eagerly accept input and ideas that have been stirring within you.

With Love and Hope for the future,

A.J. Mendoza

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2 Responses to Reflections from new Executive Director A.J. Mendoza

  1. Gail Bumala says:

    A.J., we are so incredibly blessed to have you step into this important role. You are the very seed from which this work has grown, with the loving cultivation and protection of Paul Southwick and Darlene Ortega.

    The many people who have signed this letter and those who received the inspiration to sign other letters at other schools rejoice with you and stand ready to act in every way we can. What is ashamed is done in the shadow of ignorance or fear. What is not ashamed is done in the openness and light. GFU has sought in the shadows to extinguish this light that exposes their shameful activities in regards to manipulation of student government.

    We rely on the actions of the allies among us who have signed the letter and are active in their faith communities to step up and take risks on our behalf. That is no light request, for they have much to lose. We’ve seen the cost in the firing of Wes Daniels from his adjunct professor position. Others have been punished and denounced. Nevertheless, they are here for such a time as this and in the end, God will bless them for caring for those with no voice in their circles of power.
    We (the LGBTQ community of alumni and current students and those to follow) have no right to ask this of you, yet we do. We are the oppressed, the wounded, the living and the dead, whose cries have gone unheard. Without our allies, we will continue to be unheard and kicked to the curb.

  2. Greg Barnes says:

    Congratulations A.J.! Godspeed to you and OneGeorgeFox for your courage to speak truth and demonstrate love. Samford Students, Alumni, and Faculty for LGBT Equality salute your efforts! Please feel free to visit our website(above) and check out our FB page with nearly 700 supporters in our Samford University Community.

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