Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Allowing Hope to Interrupt

One afternoon this week, our group was serving at the Los Angeles Mission. We went into the kitchen and loaded our plates up with delicious food. I noticed there was another gentleman eating by himself at the very far right side of the hall, so I asked the man if he wouldn’t mind if we sat with him. He politely told us to please sit down with him. 

Somewhere along in the meal I asked the man what his name was and he told me his name was Robert*. He then asked us what our names were and where we are from. One of the youth group’s leaders cheerfully told Robert that their group is serving with CSM (Center for Student Missions) for the week. After Robert heard the youth leader say “CSM”, he jumped up as if his pants were lit on fire. 

“Wait! You guys are from CSM?” asked Robert. 

“Yes, why?” I asked. 

“CSM saved my life.” 

At that moment he sat down slowly and started unpacking his story of how he ended up as an Alumni at Los Angeles Mission. 

Back in the early 1990s, Robert moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend. Some conflicts arose between the two and Robert started diving head first into a drug addiction. He told us that he tried going to a rehab, but he would end up using drugs again. He spent eight months in 1992 using drugs. “It was a dark time of my life,” Robert told us.

Early one morning in October 1992, Robert found himself homeless and sitting in McArthur Park. 

“The devil was tempting me...I felt hopeless,” he recalled “He told me God couldn’t us me."

He was wrestled with those thoughts that morning. Things seemed to be hopeless for Robert. He talked to God about his feelings and didn’t sense any help coming his way.

While he was wrestling with those thoughts, he looked over and saw a group of young kids walking through the park. The young kids came up to him and started conversing with him. Their City Host, Rochelle, began telling him that they are from CSM. 

They asked if he needed prayer for anything. Robert told the small group about what he was struggling with. How hopeless he felt. Rochelle encouraged him to see what Los Angeles Mission can do for him. She told him about the people in the program and how God changed their lives. 
Rochelle and her group decided to pick up Robert the following Saturday morning from the park and take him to Los Angeles Mission. Robert told me that the day he was at the park was the day that CSM changed his life. That because of CSM, God spoke to Him that morning. His life was transformed from that moment on. 

Fast forward to present day. 

Robert told us that he is now a chaplain for the Los Angeles Mission. He works with individuals that might be in similar situation that he was in. Many of the Alumni will tell you that having received so much themselves, they feel a need to give back to the community.

Hearing Robert's story, I felt true joy. I was crying when he told us about Rochelle and how she led her group in prayer for Robert. I felt joy when God answered Robert and Rochelle’s prayer for hope. I felt joy when I realized that God actually listens to our prayers and He cares about our worries and pain. I felt joy when God started to reveal to me that even the most seemingly hopeless and depressing places are full of hope. 

It has been an enormous blessing being a part of God’s restoration and hearing stories of God changing people’s precious lives. I am looking forward to seeing what God has planned for the rest of the summer. 

- Andy, CSM Los Angeles Summer 2015 City Host

*Name changed to protect identity.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The beautiful rollercoaster called life!

Many CSM groups blog about their experience while serving in the city. It serves as a beautiful way to reflect on all that God is doing and teaching. We are grateful for Calvary High School being willing to share their experience at CSM Chicago with us. Does your group have a story to tell? Email us!

How many different emotions, feelings and experiences, ups and downs from one extreme to another can you have in one day!?! Go on a high school mission trip and you will find out pretty quickly!

Our day today was filled with new experiences both positive and negative. So goes not only the rhythm of a youth trip but also the rhythm of life as well.

We started our day with ICE COLD SHOWERS! Those of us who decided to brave the arctic waters the wonderful icy waterfalls could be heard throughout the house as they loudly expressed the awakening shock!

I can't say I totally toughed that one out but did subject my head to the joys of that brisk awakening - yup, I admit, I am a wimp when it comes to cold water!

We made our way to our day site in the morning which was to the Jackson Park Rec Center to help with their summer day camp, which supports summer activities for local children ages 6-12 years old. Today was "beach day"--- Every Monday is "beach day!" Groups are split up into 5 different ages groups with 1 to 2 leaders per group. Our group split up to help out with each of the groups as we played, hung out with and then walked to the beach at Lake Michigan for the day. Our students truly shined and stepped up to offer friendship, fun and mischief as we spent the morning at the beach. I think for most of our team, that would be a pretty great "up" for the day.

After returning to our housing site for a quick change and refresh we headed out into the city for our next adventure.

Our "assignment" was an experience CSM calls "immersion" and involves our students taking on the rolls of leadership among themselves challenging them to put themselves into the shoes of a homeless person by simulating a homeless scenario. Adult leaders were there to take a step back and let the students make the choices on where they were going, following directions, meeting people, making connections and seeing what life is like in the city if you are homeless and have very few resources. (we were able to make subtle guiding suggestions at times we saw necessary but mostly just observe) This experience was vastly different for each of our 3 small groups as they navigated through public transportation to the destination they were given. Some had overall positive experiences while others not so much. Our group of 4 students and myself were given $10 ($2 per person) to find dinner that would feed all of us by pooling the money together. 

Where would you eat, shower, sleep, be safe, connect with people if you were homeless. Where are you welcome, where are you not welcome, how do you get your basic needs met? 

This was a huge "out of comfort zone" task for our students to put themselves into and I have to say that the group of young people that I was with this evening made me so very proud of how they embraced this experience once they got past the approach of being a visitor and having the mind set of checking things off the task list and really embracing the experience.

I stood back and watched as they went from being "separate but together" to really bonding and working together...pooled their money together to buy a meal to feed not only the 5 of us, but 2 young men they met who travel around the country by hopping trains with their 2 dogs. Because the four students opened their lives to these 2, treated them as equals and with dignity...offering to sit down and share a meal with them they shared their stories with us, talked with us and made an amazing human connection with us and prayed with us.

Some of the feelings the students had during this experience were extreme as well. It is not always easy to feel vulnerable or lost. It's frustrating, it's uncomfortable, sometimes even maddening.

The following is a quote from a debriefing conversation with Heather Michel this evening. 

"There is a feeling of defeat, hunger, hopelessness, frustration...that turns to satisfaction in being able to figure out how to make something work."

I suggest any of you reading this blog to reach out to one or more of our students when they return and ask them about their "immersion" experience and allow them to share it with you.

They truly have some amazing and meaningful stories to tell about it and I can guarantee they will be from one extreme to another depending on who you ask and how the rhythm of that experience was for them.

Originally posted on Calvary High School Missions Chicago 2015 blog...

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Where in the world is Dan Reeve? BOSTON!

Hello from Boston!

It's a busy week here for everyone. We have a bunch of groups from all over the East Coast serving this week with CSM Boston. I spent some time with one of the leaders from Trinity Episcopal 
Church,  Reverend David Canan. I always appreciate when the senior minister comes with his/her group, but that wasn't the only reason I wanted to mention David. During our conversation, David told me about why he does urban mission trips; he talked about being in a suburban church that has "adopted" a small, struggling congregation in an at-risk community in Philadelphia. Trinity isn't just treating this Philly congregation as a "welfare case", but they have a mutually beneficial partnership that helps both congregations grow missionally and build genuine reconciliation bridges.
During my time here, I also have met Jeanette Merren, Director of Greenwood Shalom MCAS. You know that I have a very high value for church-based, wholistic ministry and that's why Jeanette's program is so special. Her main mission is to assist in literacy, writing, and math skills for students who are failing in school, but she is so much more involved. Jeanette talked about how angry so many of the young kids are when they come to her. This is a chronic issue among kids from dysfunctional homes and communities. Jeanette has a wonderful plan for helping kids face their anger rather than just trying to stay calm. I watched as she and some of our group took part in "table talk", an exercise where kids can safely process their feelings and learn some skills to manage them. The main task of our CSM participants in this is to be caring and loving "ears". It was an amazing experience!

Another one of our favorite ministry partners is the Emmanuel Gospel Center. The Emmanuel Gospel Center offers many different programs to serve the community. Today, I met Arvelle Adamson, the Outreach Director, who works with all of the clients in the residence; but more than that, Arvelle spends hours each week out on the street, leading groups that care for those without homes, guiding them to shelter, and sharing Jesus' love in work and in action. Arvelle's outreach is called Starlight Ministries and their tagline is "taking the Church to the Streets". Today, I watched Arvelle take the time, as he always does, to process homelessness with our group before they serve. He described homelessness as a process that winds people right into a hurricane of messes (health, social isolation, unemployment, and all of the poor coping mechanisms people apply in order to cope). Arvelle explains that the only way to help anyone caught in a hurricane is to "pull them out" and that's what Emmanuel Gospel Center does. Then they can address each of those issues that a person faces, including their spiritual needs. Look at Arvelle's photo and you'll see the joy and compassion on his face.

You can be praying for our Boston ministry as it faces a number of housing challenges. Pray that God would provide us with sustainable housing that is year-round.      
From here, I'm off to Chicago and then to Detroit. I'll make sure to let you know what's going on there!


Dan Reeve
CSM President and CEO

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Can We Tawk about...Forgiveness?

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Can We Tawk - a regular communication sent out by CSM's President & CEO, Dan Reeve. 

I’m writing this right after our church worship service when our congregation joined with millions of other Christians who shared in a liturgy of grief - and commitment to standing together - with the families of those who lost their lives in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday. I’m tawkin’ about this not because of the racism that consumed the shooter, or the right and/or wrong of guns, or even whether a certain flag should fly on SC’s capitol building. 

I’m tawkin’ about forgiveness because the American Church has a very rare opportunity to prove the truth of the Gospel in the way we imitate the survivors of this tragedy. The daughter of victim Ethel Lance said she forgave the killer and said, “I think he took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you and I forgive you.” The mother of victim Tywanza Sanders, 26, also said, “May God have mercy on you, every fiber in my body hurts, and I’ll never be the same,” but she forgave her son’s killer. 

One of the most important books I have ever read is “Exclusion and Embrace” by Miroslav Volf who talks about his own struggle living in a war zone in the former Yugoslavia. His was a life of victimization, over and again. His dad was tortured in a concentration camp. A soldier playfully put his older brother, Daniel, on a horse-drawn bread wagon. The five-year-old leaned sideways…and his head was crushed between a gate post and the wagon. But his father never pressed charges and ministered to the soldier after his guilt sent him to a mental hospital. He reports that, “My room was bugged…Then for another three or four months, I was interrogated and threatened that I would be sent to prison…” When ethnic and religious tensions exploded into war, Volf was teaching at Evangelical Theological Seminary in his Croatian hometown, Osijek. The entire seminary had to go into exile. “For months in 1993 the notorious Serbian fighters called ‘cetnik’ had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued (in the presentation of his paper) that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ.” After the lecture his mentor asked the most difficult question, “But can you embrace a cetnik?” 

Volf was taken aback. Where could he find the strength to embrace someone who, to a Croat (or Bosnian Muslim), was the ultimate evil “other?” He writes that he wanted to answer, “No, I cannot—but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.” His book explains that the ultimate goal of human life is a community of love in the embrace of the Triune God. Just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have distinct identities yet live in unity, people who become new creations in Christ retain their identities—and still make space for others.

He admits it’s often hard for him to reach out to Serbs, just as a Serb friend grieves over crimes committed against her people. Volf says that no matter what someone has done to you, you must be willing to begin the process of making your enemy your friend. 

Practicing what he calls “double vision” lets you see a situation through your eyes…and through your enemy’s eyes. It’s hard to forgive someone who’s unintentionally wounded you. It’s even harder when hate fueled the wrong. Even small steps toward reconciliation make a difference.

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”

How petty are the hurts and offenses against me that I hold on to with dear life, for years? Can we ALL join the testimony of those at Emanuel Church and Dr. Volf, to be witnesses to the Gospel of forgiveness? In this awful tragedy we have, maybe for the first time in a long time, the opportunity to not politicize, fight, riot, accuse, demand revenge or continue to be divided; but instead, we can check our own hearts, let go of our hurts, see others - even those who hurt us - through the eyes of the Christ who loved us, and forgive.

Imagine what would happen if all of those reading this “Can We Tawk” were to join Ethel Lance’s daughter and say, “May God forgive you and I forgive you.”

- Dan Reeve
President & CEO

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Moving from Hopelessness to Hope

I have been involved in the downtown Los Angeles community for over 9 years now and I can say that I have seen many fluctuations in the population of people experiencing homelessness.  Some years it seems like there are a lot less people and then the next year the numbers are overwhelming.  But within the last couple of years it appears that the increase has been dramatic.  There is no denying that the population has increased to an overwhelming amount of people.  

I recently read an article in the NY Times that focused on this issue facing downtown LA. Although it does not address all the issues that lead to homelessness (i.e. domestic abuse, racism, sexism, health care system, foster care system, lack of jobs and job training, homophobia, ageism, and much more), it does address a couple of the major factors. 
It is easy to simply see and/or read about what is happening in the streets of Los Angeles and become hopeless.  However, here at CSM we desire to partner with organizations and people who are truly desiring to seek change and justice.  We desire to be part of the transformation process of hopelessness to hope.  An article like this can bring attention to the problems, but there are people who take this information as a springboard to action.  The people who serve with CSM Los Angeles can have the opportunity to be a part of that process.  This article quotes Alice Callaghan, a long-time partner with CSM.  Alice started and runs an after-school program in Skid Row where several CSM groups have served at.  Many of our groups have been extremely blessed by the hope Alice and her organization offer to the community.  
Let us become aware and then let us take action.  "For with God nothing is impossible," Luke 1:37.

- Rebekah Bolin, CSM Los Angeles City Director

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Interrupted: J.D. Klippenstein

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!

This month, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and give the subject of our article a platform to offer a firsthand account of how God altered the course of his life. No one can tell a story quite like the person who experienced it. Allow these words to be an encouragement and testimony to the powerful work God is doing in and through His children. Without further ado, this is J.D. Klippenstein’s life interrupted:

CSM has played a major role in shaping my career, faith and identity. My experience as a student volunteer and later as summer staff in Chicago planted seeds that God continues to nourish and grow in my life today. 

I grew up in a white, middle class, evangelical bubble in Reno Nevada. I grew up going to church and got baptized when I was in the 3rd grade. My faith was pretty surface level and didn't extend much beyond Sundays. It wasn't until my junior year in high school that I started to see that my relationship with Christ entailed more than a divinely gifted "get out of jail free" card. Spring break of that year I went with the high school youth group down to L.A. for a week long mission trip. 

One morning we served breakfast at a soup kitchen and then walked over to a nearby park to eat our sack lunches. The whole team sat together on one side of a large fountain. On the other side of the fountain several people who appeared to be homeless were sitting and chatting. As we ate our PB&J sandwiches, I began to feel a bit uneasy with our seating arrangements. I was convicted by the fact that I was there to "serve" and "love" homeless people, but I was too uncomfortable to sit on the same side of the fountain as homeless folks. I remember taking a deep breath and then walking over to the other side of the fountain. I avoided eye contact with my friends because I didn't want them to ask questions and because I wasn't quite sure how I would explain what I was doing.

I sat down and nervously watched the people around me. Something inside me broke in that moment. I felt that in a fundamental way I was connected to those people and their suffering. It wasn't someone else's problem. It was my problem. It was my problem, because I was a Christian.  That experience made me dive deeper into my relationship with Christ and really explore what it meant to live out my faith. 
It started me on the path to discovering that faith was more than a mere ticket to heaven - it was the answer to a broken world. That discovery has been one of the strongest guiding factors in my life.

In college, I decided to join CSM summer staff in Chicago because I had had such a profound experience as a student and wanted to dive deeper into that. That summer was more challenging than I would have ever thought going in and I also learned a lot about myself. Most importantly, working on the west side of Chicago showed me the systemic nature of poverty. Poverty, violence, homelessness, and all the other challenges I saw in those neighborhoods weren't just unfortunate or isolated occurrences. Entire neighborhoods dealt with these injustices because they had been marginalized and disenfranchised. I realized that charity and volunteering alone would never be able to fully address the root causes of what I saw in Chicago and I felt a strong call that I needed to learn how to fight for justice.

That passion continued to grow throughout college.  I had experiences trying to help some friends who were homeless as well as building relationships with a folks on an American Indian reservation that further convinced me that the world is broken and in desperate need of redemption. I didn't know what to do though. No one in my life was seeking justice in the way that I felt called to. I decided I needed to go back to the city that had made such an impact on me and enrolled in grad school at Loyola University Chicago. My program was the MA in Social Justice and Community Development. The classes, conversations, and ideas I encountered in those two years opened me up to a whole other world. For the first time I saw that there were real ways that I could work towards a more just world. I also learned that for hundreds of years in the United States Christians had been fighting for justice. They had worked to abolish slavery, picketed so women could vote, and were the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement. God equipped me to do the work of justice, just like he has done for followers of Christ for thousands of years.

In Chicago, I worked as a community organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. I spent nearly three years building relationships, developing leaders, and mobilizing communities to stand up for the rights of homeless students. It was extremely challenging and humbling work, but it was also deeply rewarding and transformative. It affirmed that God was real and actively redeeming his creation. I also came to believe that white evangelical churches--like the one I grew up in--need to better embrace social justice and develop believers who engage in the important work of transforming their communities to better reflect the Kingdom of God. Now that my wife and I have moved back to Reno we are back at the church I grew up in, I have taken on a leadership role and I am working to bring about that change in my own church.

It is kind of crazy to think a week long trip to LA in high school, has not only had such an impact on how I have spent the last 10 years of my life, but also continues to motivate me and inform my faith.

Praise God for constantly interrupting our plans and expectations. We pray that this story will help you surrender yourself to greater acceptance of where the Lord may be leading you.