Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Interrupted: Kim Cochran

CSM Chicago will be posting a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry". If you have a story about how God interrupted your life through a CSM trip, please email it to alumni@csm.org!

Kim, purple shirt second row on the right, serving with her group at CSM Washington, DC
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

The grace of God is not simply a pardoning; it is an interruption of the human spirit that, apart from grace, revels in its brokenness and wanders complacently in the desert. This interruption is a tall order, and it more often than not becomes a series of interruptions. Kim Cochran, a woman who is no stranger to CSM and who even mentored one of our Chicago city directors, knows this narrative all too well. This is the story of Kim’s life interrupted.

Kim Cochran was an interim youth leader at Redeemer Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Before the summer of 2009, she had never before been on an urban missions trip. That particular summer, she was leading a group of youth on a trip to CSM Nashville, and she came into the trip with all sorts of preconceived notions. She had a fairly simplistic view of homelessness, thinking most of them to be lazy people who were not willing to work hard enough to earn the success they longed for. This is a stereotype that many people in our society carry around without ever bothering to engage with someone experiencing homelessness. God’s grace was too great to allow Kim to continue in that way of thinking. On the trip, God pushed Kim to meet several people experiencing homelessness, and it broke her. The people that she met defied her preconceived notions. They were not bad people, nor were they lazy people. Most of them had simply been thrust with little control into circumstances that were extremely difficult to escape and that caused them to be stuck in the world of poverty and homelessness. Kim came from that trip filled with compassion rather than the judgment she had carried before.

During the following summer, Kim took a group of youth to CSM Chicago. It was on this trip that Kim began to see people in a new light. She stopped defining them by their lack of home or money, and she began to see them as mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters who happened to be experiencing homelessness or poverty and who were also subsisting in extremely rough, oftentimes dangerous, conditions. The conditions she saw in Chicago left an impact on her heart, as she served both in homeless shelters significantly lacking in material resources and in neighborhoods that were devastated by gang violence. In one neighborhood, the children could not even play outside because it was too dangerous. It dawned on her that each person she was interacting with was someone with a rich, complex, and beautiful story much like hers, and that each one of these stories was so much bigger than homelessness, gang violence, poverty, etc. Faces, stories, personalities, gifts, and everything else that is central to being human were matched with the statistics she had heard; she thought of these humans who were newly significant to her trying to make it in some of the worst conditions that she had seen, and she was struck with the weight of it all. Just a little over a year prior, she would have thought of many of the people she was meeting as lazy, “mooching off the system”, maybe even as criminals. Now, her response was a heart filling to the brim with love and compassion.

Kim’s process did not end there. A year later, she took her youth to CSM in Washington,D.C., where, as Kim puts it, God started to “put it all together.” She had spent so much of her time on these trips coming in with a savior complex, thinking that, because of her more well-off socioeconomic background, she had the upper hand and was better off than those she was serving in almost every way. In D.C., God impressed on Kim the idea that the people she was serving had dignity, just like she did. They were not helpless human beings, and they had things to offer. More than that, they could minster to her. Kim’s group led a Vacation Bible School in the housing projects in D.C., and Kim got to know some of the families of the children that week. One of the mothers made a particularly big impact on Kim. As Kim listened to her talk, she was floored by the love this woman had for her children, how she was raising them, all the sacrifices she was making and things she was doing for them to ensure that they had the best life possible, and how deep and strong her faith was. Kim had not expected that on this trip she would be taught and ministered to by the people she came to serve, and she was deeply humbled and moved. She had subconsciously and errantly assumed, like even the most well-intentioned of us do, that because she came from more she could not glean and benefit from the wisdom of those who came from less. God did not simply interrupt this expectation; he shattered it.

This past spring, Kim went on a youth missions trip to Guatemala, ministering to people who literally lived in mud huts. She thought of how this made the poverty she saw in the inner city look like lavish riches, and she thought to herself, “These people are living in the lowest depths of poverty and do not have access to the gospel. Why are we wasting our time in the inner cities of America?” True to form, God used Kim’s daughter to humble her by pointing out that material poverty did not equal spiritual poverty. Among some of the most destitute poverty on the planet, Kim saw depths of faith that she had not before witnessed and that she did not even feel she possessed. She realized that meeting physical needs was important, but the physical can often be a distraction from the gospel of Christ. As Kim’s daughter said, “God’s economy is different than ours.”

Kim has taken in all that God has had her experience and is now externalizing it to others. Back in Missouri, she volunteers at a camp for underprivileged children, many of whom are from Ferguson. Kim has developed relationships with a few of the mothers of the children she serves. She sees the way they are raising their children well in the midst of poverty, gang violence, and next to impossible situations, and she affirms them and lifts them up in that, speaking dignity over them. Kim has come to firmly believe that, though these problems of physical poverty need to be solved, the gospel has to be the most important thing. The biggest problems these mothers have, more than providing for their children or keeping them safe even, are how to raise their kids to love Jesus in the midst of the darkness. Though humans come from all sorts of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, we are all united by our need for Jesus and His gospel, and this is the gospel Kim feels called to live out and speak over the people in her own community. Where she used to be sternly opposed to venturing into crime-ridden St. Louis neighborhoods, God has now convicted her to fearlessly join in with the others who are brandishing the light of His gospel and Spirit in areas of brokenness and darkness. This coming summer, she will be returning to CSM Chicago with a church called The Summit, and God will more than likely continue to interrupt her. It is almost humorous; precisely when, in our proud state, we think we have arrived, God turns our worlds upside-down and shows us how much more of our journey is left. If we are paying attention, we will see that, in the midst of us constantly speaking our own plans, views, and assumptions over the world, God is always trying to interrupt us and speak louder than us for our own good. 

Ask yourself, “How is God trying to interrupt my life? Will I let Him?”


Friday, May 08, 2015

What we do.

Groups don't just visit, and neither do I. 

Even though we're technically a short term missions agency, we like to think that the potential impact can be described as anything but "short".

When groups come to Philadelphia, they're not just visiting.  Nor are they the sole force in healing brokenness here.  Below is an excerpt from a blog by Craig Greenfeled that outlines the impacts we hope a group will be open to.  Not only them, but I experience these insights, re-orientings, and discoveries frequently through the seasons of my life.

I'll leave you with his words...
1. Vision (or Exposure) Trips - a focused intentional time where we ask God to open our hearts to the plight of the poor.  What the eye has not seen the heart cannot grieve over. So, it's natural that when people find themselves face to face with poverty for the first time, something significant happens. The rest of our lives are irrevocably shaped by what we have witnessed. We gain Vision.

2. Learning Exchanges - a time when our theology and understanding of the world is rocked to the core and deconstructed. When we travel as learners, eager to have our minds expanded and preconceptions challenged, we will not be disappointed.

3. Discernment Retreats - where we discern our vocation more deeply on the margins. To pursue a vocation in any field without the perspective of the world's poor - where God's heart and good news is centered, is folly. How can we be a banker for God, if we don’t know how the financial services industry affects the poor? How can we be an architect or planner for God, if we don’t know how the design of cities affects the homeless? How can we be a teacher, if we don’t bring the reality of the world's poorest to our students?

- Nicole Engelhardt, CSM Philadelphia Associate City Director

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Not For Sale

I remember learning about slavery as a child – sitting in a classroom full of middle-class children and listening to our teacher describe 18th-century slavery in America.  Horrified by the stories of such inhumane treatment, I couldn’t understand why so few people had stood up for justice.  Nor could I wrap my head around a movement where money and greed had so gruesomely caused people to regard God’s most precious creations as nothing more than mere possessions.  Obviously, I was appalled by those buying, selling, and mistreating slaves – but I was equally disturbed by those who were against the slave trade but didn’t do anything about it.  In their choice to remain inactive, motionless and apathetic, these people sinned - not by what they did do but by what they didn’t do.

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.” –James 4:17, NIV

As a little girl sitting in class, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “If slavery still existed today, I would be different than those people.  If I were free, I would stand up for those who weren’t.”  What I didn’t know as an elementary school student was that slavery did still exist.  While I sat in my little classroom listening to my teacher speak about a topic said to be in the past, I hadn’t the faintest clue that slavery was actually happening all around the globe.  And it’s still happening today, at an even more disturbing level.  Over the years, slavery has simply adopted a different exterior, but the interior remains unchanged – pure, horrific human bondage.  I was once a little girl who vowed I would have stood up for the slaves, and now as an adult, I have a real opportunity to stand up for their justice – and so do you.

*                *                *                *                *

I’ve been a CSM City Host in the Bay Area since February.  Every week during our prayer tour, we drive through an area of downtown San Francisco littered with X-rated bars, strip clubs, and other establishments selling sex.  Every time I drive by these businesses, I know that the women do not want to be there.  It’s modern-day slavery, and far too many people are oblivious to what is happening.  When slaves were kidnapped from Africa and violently thrown onto boats in the 1700s, the mistreatment was blatant and undeniable.  Nowadays, slavery operates under a more underhanded guise, but it’s just as gruesome beneath the surface.  Emotional manipulation, looming threats, subtle brainwashing – these are the weapons coercing people to become slaves today. 

Tragically, sex slavery is booming throughout the world, generating roughly $32 billion globally (SFgate.com).  No countries are exempt from the corruption; first world and developing countries alike are buying and selling women (and sometimes men as well).  In America, a country that identifies itself as the “Land of the Free”, victims are both trafficked locally and brought in from other nations. 

According to an article published by SFgate.com, San Francisco is one of the top cities in the United States for child sex trafficking.  Various factors contribute to this misfortune.
 “The Bay Area has become a magnet for such exploitation. It's a diverse, affluent area that has been an early adopter when it comes to technology and globalization. It's a global hub for travel - both business and leisure - and well-connected to communities all over the world, thanks to the large number of immigrants who live here.

Our freewheeling culture may be one of the factors in why such exploitation goes undetected. There is general laissez-faire attitude toward the activities in massage parlors and other adult-oriented establishments that human traffickers can use to their advantage. And it's not just about sex. Cheap labor for everything from construction to pedicures to landscaping is sought and received with few questions asked”.ˡ

It is possible that the general population does not realize that many women working in strip clubs, massage parlors with “happy endings,” and other similar establishments are not there by choice.  Many have been manipulated and coerced by pimps to work in these places and are threatened if they try to leave.  Often, traffickers will threaten to kill a woman’s family if she attempts to get out.  Men are also tricked into working without pay, being offered seemingly good jobs that turn out to actually be slave labor.  When they try to stop laboring, they receive the same threats.  Fear and manipulation keep the victims in bondage. 

Though the facts about trafficking may seem daunting, the end result is not hopeless.  The first step we must take in the fight against human slavery is awareness.  We cannot win a battle if people do not recognize that we are in a war; therefore, we must start by educating people about what is happening.  Fortunately, there are countless organizations working against human trafficking, specifically in the Bay Area (such as Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition, The Sage Project, and San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking).  In May 2015, Freedom Summit will take place at Levi’s Stadium, the new location for the San Francisco 49ers.  The summit will educate people on how to work towards ending human trafficking.  The theme of the event is “NOT IN OUR TOWN!”, a slogan that makes me proud to be serving in the Bay Area.

Obviously, there is not a quick fix to end trafficking, but I believe organizations and events that promote awareness are a good place to start.  Making gradual moves towards justice is far better than bowing down to hopelessness.  I know I can’t save the world, but I can be the person I said I would be when I was a little girl – someone who stood up and did something instead of turning a blind eye to the issue.  Being a part of CSM Bay Area provides a great platform to let people know that the sex trade is a very real problem in America.  Though our prayer tour provides only a brief glimpse of the red-light district in San Francisco, it still introduces every group to the fact that sex trafficking is actually happening in our own backyard.  I’ll never forget one of my group leaders commenting, “I just had no idea…no idea about the amount of establishments selling sex in the U.S.  I can’t believe it.”  I pray that the eye-opening truth will spur our visitors to learn more about the sex trade and eventually take action within their own communities.

As I conclude, allow me to direct you to avideo. It’s perhaps the most poignant demonstration against the human trafficking issue I’ve seen. Bay Area local, Mickey Cho (along with vocal assistance from Hanna Baek), created the song entitled “Not for Sale”² to promote awareness about trafficking around the globe.  Its haunting lyrics will undoubtedly leave you wanting to get more involved in the movement against slavery.  Let’s spread the word and fight for freedom.  

- Caitlin Scudder, CSM San Francisco Bay Area Spring 2015 City Host

¹“Human trafficking a blight in progressive Bay Area.” SFgate.com. SF Gate, 31 May 2014. Web. 27 March 2015.

²Cho, M. and Hanna Baek. (2014, July 14).  Abolition Summit 2013: Not for Sale by Mickey Cho.  Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxUErxE1pak.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Interrupted: Kyle Antinore

CSM Chicago will be posting a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry". If you have a story about how God interrupted your life through a CSM trip, please email it to alumni@csm.org!

Kyle Antinore
CSM Washington DC Associate City Director
As humans, we are constantly entering into new experiences, some that carry extreme weight and many that are of little consequence. There are times when the events that we imagine will have an immense impact on us actually do not end up meaning much at all in the grand scheme of our lives. Perhaps one of the most beautiful phenomena of the human experience, however, is when we willfully go into situations expecting them not to amount to much, only to have them not only cause us to experience paradigm shifts, but change our plans in a radical and fundamental way. When Kyle Antinore came on a trip to CSMWashington, D.C., in 2012 as an assistant group leader, he was expecting nothing more than a fun, week-long service experience. What he got was a divine interruption of his expectations and a more transformative experience than he could have ever imagined.

In the spring of 2012, Kyle Antinore was approached by people from his high school alma mater to be a chaperone on a middle school missions trip to CSM Washington, D.C. He was a sophomore at a community college in New Jersey, where he grew up, and he was pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice. After college, he planned on trying to get into the criminal justice field and perhaps going to a police academy. Not only did he have his career planned, he even had the next few months of his life planned, as he had three classes left towards attaining his degree and wanted to complete them in the summer of 2012. He had a job at a deli that was practically full time. Kyle had his future fairly planned out, especially for someone his age, and, although he passionately loved the Lord, his plans did not involve ministry in any capacity. In addition, although he had a heart for the homeless and impoverished in a city called Camden, New Jersey (a few minutes away from his hometown), partially because his parents ran a ministry for the impoverished there, this passion for the inner city was not generalized to all cities. Washington, D.C. was completely off his radar. If anything, Kyle was going on the CSM trip to be of service, and he expected simply to be a role model for the middle school boys, bond with them, and help keep them in line. With all of that established, one-hundred percent of Kyle’s expectations were completely interrupted that week.

On the first night of his trip, his group was taken on a prayer tour that exposed them to the unique challenges faced by many in the city, and God was already working on Kyle’s heart by the end of this prayer tour. He came from a family background of many people who didn't know the Lord and had always felt a burden for them. God impressed on him that He was just as passionate and burdened for the unsaved in this city, as Kyle was for his own unsaved family members. As Kyle looked out over Washington, D.C., he felt a newly broken heart for the hundreds of thousands of broken people in the city. Throughout the week and with every experience Kyle had, God reinforced the things he was instilling in Kyle’s heart, and he felt himself changing.

On the last day of his trip, the director of CSM Washington, D.C., approached Kyle and asked him to be a city host for the summer of 2012, giving him a few days to think about it. As Kyle already had summer plans and also had a fairly consistent job, it was something he knew he had to think and pray about. He committed the idea to prayer and asked his parents and his former youth pastor to do the same, and within hours he got a call from his deli employer letting him go from his job. It was then that he knew God was very clearly and assertively calling him to the city host position. After only about a day, he took the job. After a summer of hosting, he was offered a job as the Associate City Director for CSM Washington, D.C., and he accepted it, going against the grain of the plans he had set out for himself. Kyle has been working for three years as the Associate City Director, and, at 22, he is the youngest director in the organization. Now, as a testament to how God has caused these things to come full circle in his life, CSM Philadelphia is in talks to become ministry partners with Seeds of Hope, which is the homeless, ex-convict, drug-addict, and prostitution ministry that Kyle’s parents run in Camden, New Jersey.

Kyle entered into his week-long CSM trip with no expectation of how fundamentally it would change him and no particular passion for Washington, D.C. He came out of it with a completely new passion and direction in life. He had so many plans and expectations for his life, and within a week, God called him to abandon his expectations. Let us allow his story to cause us to examine ourselves. There is nothing wrong with making plans, but remember that we serve a God who is in the habit of interrupting lives and calling us to abandon expectations in the most beautiful ways. God interrupted Kyle’s expectations; leave space for Him to give you the privilege of interrupting yours.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Helping Hands and Listening Ears

Philadelphia currently maintains a population of roughly 1.5 million people, making it the 5th largest city in the United States. There are approximately 3,000 homeless individuals that are living in shelters across the city, but on any given night of the week, there could be 300 – 500 people sleeping outside in the city as well. Homelessness is a strongly stigmatized circumstance, but CSM Philadelphia is partnering with ministries across the city to fight that.  

While the issue of homelessness has not gone unnoticed, the treatment of it has simply been erratic. A homeless man named Lucio, 68, has been homeless in Philadelphia for the past three years. “We don’t really need the food all the time. The most difficult is to find a place that’ll really give you help and hear you out,” he says, “It don’t do me any good at all if they isn’t gonna listen.” Such is the mission of Joetta Kieffer, the founder and heart behind Hands of Hope, a homeless outreach ministry in Philadelphia. The basis of her ministry rests in the idea that a connection and conversation is more helpful than a pamphlet.  

She believes that everyone is deserving of an open ear to hear their voice. She becomes passionately indignant when the notion of inequality comes up in regards to the homeless population in Philadelphia. 

“They are no different than anyone else. Their circumstances are just different than where I’m at. That does not demote them as human beings,” she says, “we are created equal.” 

The greatest issue, perhaps, is not necessarily that things are not being done, but that people are not willing to understand the issue on a holistic level. People are people, regardless of their circumstance, and deserve to be treated as such. The homeless of Philadelphia are passed by more than 2,000 people each day. The intention behind Hands of Hope is to send people out with the only goal of not being the 2,001st person to walk by. 

“God loves them and does not see them any different, so why should we,” Kieffer says, “We’re all the same when it comes down to it.” 

Come join CSM Philadelphia and Joetta as they work on homelessness one conversation at a time. 

- Scott Lasley, CSM Philadelphia Apprentice