Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Embracing Identity and Equality in Christ

Before I left my hometown of Wichita, KS, to come work at CSM Houston, I promised a lot of people that I would keep them updated. Here are some insights from my first few posts...
 “I have spent my whole life hiding behind my misplaced identity. Since taking an extended break from all physical beauty "enhancers", I’ve noticed a sad but very real change in myself. When people allow physical beauty to outweigh inner beauty then character slips are easy and often go unaccounted for. Having a bad day is never an excuse to make people feel any less than what God created them to be: treasures.” (June 4, 2014)

“I occasionally got the opportunity to actually interact and have conversations with the people I was serving. One by one, the stories I heard began to tear down my pre-existing opinions towards these people...We are equally worthy. We are equally human. Most importantly, we are equally loved by the God who created us both, and it is my duty to serve and enable my fellow humans with the resources I have been blessed with.” (June 14, 2014)

I'm learning that these posts are more than just documentations of things that have happened during my time here at CSM Houston - they tell the step-by-step story of my personal growth. 

I came to CSM Houston with a misplaced identity, and a false perception of beauty. Within my first two weeks of being in Houston, I found my identity in Christ and grasped what it truly meant to be beautiful. 

Once I began to embrace my identity in Christ, I began to see the world through His eyes which instantly triggered the change in my perspective towards the people we serve here at CSM. It was during that time period, also, when I began to grasp true equality in Christ.  The dividing walls consisting of social, racial, economic, and religious bricks came crashing down and there was nothing standing in between me and the people I came here to serve. 

Galatians 5:13 started to unfold in my life: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” 

When I started living my life with a servant’s heart, a life full of intentional service to others, the life God intended for me to live, I was changed. Working at CSM is much like a race. Everyone eagerly begins the race with a fast pace, mostly unaware of all the roadblocks along the way. Together, we have learned what a life of service looks like: the beauty, the pain, and everything in between. 

Our race isn't over yet though, guys! My hope is that both myself and my fellow City Hosts are able to finish these last couple of weeks strong, serve with the eagerness of a child, and long for more of Jesus. 

Fight the good fight. Finish the race strong. Live with the goal of hearing The Good Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” I will leave you with these words
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). 

Go in peace.

- Morgan, CSM Houston Summer 2014 City Host

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oakland Pastor Encourages Us to Take Multiculturalism Beyond Photo Ops and Potlucks

Dominique Gilliard is a pastor in Oakland and was one of our guest speakers for summer staff training in 2013.  I am always challenged by what he says and the way he follows Christ, even when it's hard.  I appreciate him as a Christian leader in our community.  Dom makes me think and put my faith in Jesus into action. 
Check out this interview with him....

- Kim Foster, CSM San Francisco Bay Area City Director

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Can We Tawk About When Helping Helps?

Dan Reeve has been president of CSM since September of 2008. Before coming to CSM, Dan served seventeen years as Urban Mission Director for the Evangelical Free Church Urban-Intercultural Mission. He is passionate about serving the often-forgotten people in urban America and raising up the next generation of urban leaders. Dan and his wife, Kimberly, reside in Brooklyn, NY.

So often, short-term mission trips can do more harm than good. 

There - I said it! 

A lot of us currently working in the short-term mission field are reading a very import book these days entitled “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. The book reminds me, as the head of a short-term mission organization, that despite all the good intentions - most of us don’t even realize that we’re not really helping. 

All too often, I've seen how we, the Church, can hurt the poor in our “good works” efforts when we... 

  • Fail to see that the real problem isn’t the need to paint a peeling wall, but reconciling broken relationships with God, ourselves, others and even with God’s creation. 
  • Try to do “relief work” - when what is really needed is Restoration or Development.  (And when we don't stop to learn the difference between “relief”, “restoration” and “development”). 
  • Look for needs we can meet, but neglect the assets and people already in the community that we could potentially collaborate with. 
  • Get wrapped up in the moment - telling people we love them and then flee back home. 
  • Fail to “empower” existing, long term ministries. 
  • Fail to leave resources in a community, rather than solely take resources out. 
  • Do not include the local church. 

It’s understandable that we make these mistakes, after all, we’re only trying to help. After years of being a local urban pastor on the receiving side short-term mission groups, I have learned some lessons on how helping can truly help. 

Here are 11 suggestions that I'd recommend using as a guide when serving short-term... 

  1. NEVER go serve where you’re not invited. Plain and simple. So many times we go to a community assuming that we are wanted and that we know what is needed. The result is sometimes resentment and other times damage to the ministry that has been there building rapport and long-term development. 
  2. Don’t go where you’re not needed. There are so many opportunities to serve the poor and often-forgotten, so make sure that what you have to offer really is needed.
  3. Go to be servants, not saviors. God uses servants like Jesus! 
  4. Go with a plan to build genuine and lasting relationships that are mutual and develop reconciliation between God, others, people themselves and God’s creation. 
  5. Look for assets in the community you seek to serve. There are already many ministries, churches and social service groups that have been serving that community, often for many years. Reach out to them and ask, “can we help you”? 
  6. Leave more resources in the community than when you came. CSM uses small “mom and pop restaurants” for dinners, enabling these small community assets to be successful. 
  7. Don’t be a burden to the ministry you partner with. So often, we ask a very busy pastor, social worker or social service staff to lead our groups, taking them away from the vital work their doing. It’s better that you find out where you’re needed, learn how to do it and support the staff that’s there, rather than being cared for by over-worked ministers. 
  8. Learn the difference between relief, development and restoration and which ministry is most needed and can be served with your group's gifts and capacity. 
  9. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you are building loving relationships in just a few short days. Those relationships can happen if you have a plan for on-going partnerships, but please don’t tell a child you love them and will write them and then not do it. 
  10. When possible, work with a church that is doing holistic ministry. The greatest need of often-forgotten people is intimacy: frequent and informal contact with people who care. The Church is the very best provider of intimacy in a wholistic way. 
  11. Remember that the Gospel is good news that can be shared by proclamation, testimony, teaching, acts of mercy, connecting people with those who know Christ and a host of other venues. 

John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association, reminds us constantly of this poem by Lao Tzu. It sums up my thoughts on how we can best "be a help" to those we serve:
“Go to the people. 
Live with them. 
Learn from them. 
Love them. 
Start with what they know. 
Build with what they have. 
But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say 'We have done this ourselves.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Are Awake


I am overwhelmed as look into the towering skyline of Lower Manhattan & Midtown on my almost everyday commute across the Manhattan Bridge. From where I sit on this train, any human who has ever sat in this exact seat has seen the same view, but perhaps with different eyes. 

Massive skyscrapers effortlessly reaching toward the sky, glistening in the early afternoon sunlight, and a swift flowing East River below. What you can't see from this seat are the millions of people rushing to and fro among the criss-crossing streets. Place to place they wander, many wearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, calloused by the sight of those who reside in the shadows of the buildings that tower above. 

Another day, another commute. As if they were ghosts, I guess. 

I've been in the city for almost three months now and I've seen more of the city than many tourists claim they've seen. I've traded a five-star hotel for a small room in a church with three beds and two roommates. I've traded the expensive chain restaurants for an authentic taste of other cultures. I've traded the 5th avenue dream, full of luxury and cleanliness for an immersion into the broken, abandoned and unclean. I've traded the average surface level small talk and instead have dove deep into conversation with the people I've met, listening to story after story, heart break after heart break. Every day I walk these streets, leading group after group, serving at countless sites; and at the end of the day as I make this commute across the bridge looking into the distant Manhattan skyline I wonder, "is it enough?"

Face after face I pass, each with their own story, baggage, heart cry, longing for something more. As I look out the window on this crowded train I begin thinking to myself, how can a city this size, in all it's resources, still be hurting like this? In a city of 8.4 million people, how have we become so calloused to the sight of those hurting around us? Have we removed ourselves so far from those who are "not like us", that in order to feel better about ourselves we classify them as being "just another culture"? Have we gotten so wrapped up in our own lives that they have become entirely invisible? 

My heart aches and rages all at once at the hurt I cannot "un-see" everyday. Inside, I scream at the fact that we have become so caught up in what the world says is the right thing to do, say, and act, that we are quick to forget whom created this world and the people whom we are called to love. When I look out the window on this train I am overwhelmed, not by the skyscrapers, but at the immensity of the hurt that lies below these tracks. I suddenly feel so small. 

Everyday I make this commute, and as my days here in this city are quickly winding down, I can't help but wonder what happens after this? Just as this life slows down for no one, the city too, doesn't miss a beat. Has all that has been done here this summer enough? When I board my plane to fly home, will all the countless hours serving, sleepless nights, early mornings, prayer tours, conversations, and relationships amount to "enough"? In a country, and city, that thrives on check lists and accomplishments, the answer to that question is: No. Not even close. 

It will never amount to what we know as "enough". My smallness grows ever smaller at this thought and ever smaller still as I am reminded of the truth. God did not call me here to do "enough". In fact, He did not call me to be "enough" - because He is enough. He called me here to love and serve His people who reside in the shadows of the streets I walk each day, to which He says He is enough for them. He called me here to invest in the wreck that overwhelms this city in whatever seemingly small capacity I am able because at the end of the day, He is still enough. 

As I began to embrace my smallness, it was in that moment, I recalled powerful words that were spoken to me just the week before. "It is time to move from the mentality of 'us' and 'them', to 'us' and 'Him'." 

From the observations I've seen this summer, the truth of the matter is that all too often we put on our blinders, refusing to see or acknowledge those around us because they aren't like us. Just like at school, a party, or even youth group, we like to flock to our friends or those we are familiar with. When we look at the life of Jesus though, we find that He did quite the opposite. He could have chosen to only speak to those who were most like Him but instead He sought out those who were in fact not anything like Him. He went directly to those who were broken in spirit, abandoned by those who claimed to love them, the unclean and smelly, the different looking, the hungry, poor, and the powerless. He saw the ones residing in the shadows of the busy streets. He touched the ones who were deemed untouchable by society's for them. 

Now I get it - He's Jesus! You and I cannot even compare! But we can obey. He commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we are obeying and loving God with all we are, as we are, we will find ourselves laying down our pride, selfishness, calloused eyes and cold hearts. We are humbled and broken at the feet of Jesus because what breaks His heart ultimately also breaks ours. While we are not dying for those around us as Christ died to save us, we instead die to ourselves daily because He first loved us. We then choose to seek out those who, according to society's standards, are not worthy of our time or attention. We stop passing by and start stopping by. We suddenly become aware and realize we can no longer pretend we never knew. We are awake. We love because He first loved us.

- Kristyn, CSM New York City Summer 2014 City Host

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If Not Us, Then Who?

Our next subway stop is 161 Street. Yankee Stadium. The Bronx. As a baseball lover and apologist, I know the stadium is a cathedral of sort, where the ghosts of baseball's finest haunt the outfield while the contemporaries attempt to be remembered by the eyes and hearts of young fans. I am no doubt enamored by the view of this modern temple, which comes into clear view as our train comes to a stop. A group consisting of 6 students from Indiana and I are heading to our next serving site.

We are late, coming from a food pantry which we quickly grew to love. The invitation to serve those who need the most basic provisions is welcomed among us. And so we joined - in part - with the seasoned volunteers and staff of a Harlem food pantry to provide for our fellow humans, not fully knowing we are too the ones in need.

We rush off the crowded train. Immediately we join the buzzing of the electricity created from the fans going to the game. As we zip through the crowd to our next stop, a feeling of nervousness hits. In the shadows of the stadium lies a soup kitchen and food pantry: The Momentum Project. This particular organization provides resources for people living with HIV/AIDS. Often, these individuals are pushed to the brink of society. These neighbors are what the gospels would consider a 'least of these.'

A dynamic analogy from the gospels would be the lepers and outcasts which Jesus took the time to eat dinner with and shared in the breaking of the bread. He risked his reputation and his social status to help them feel their own humanity. As we serve the HIV/AIDS patients chicken and rice, our hope is that they can find pieces of their humanity in our smiles, greetings, and love. As we hand them vegetables, canned food, and cartons of dry milk that make up their food pantry bags, we quickly forget the stigmas surrounding those people; for they are now fellow brothers and sisters, friend and neighbor.

If not us, I think to myself while walking back to the subway station, then who will serve these people? This is not a question of arrogance, as if the Church is the only institution capable of serving. No, this is a question reflecting the nature of the gospel. If we, as believers, do not pour ourselves and step into the shadows of modern temples and urban structures, embracing the darkness with the light then the gospel is nothing more than a self-help philosophy. The written Gospels' collective testimony proclaims the needs of the poor, downtrodden, mistreated, and oppressed are to be met by those who believe in the Christ. If not Us - if the Church is not fighting for the rights of the "often-forgotten", risking its popularity for the sake of being the hands and feet, and breaking bread with overlooked and lonely people - then who will?

- Kieffer, NYC Summer 2014 City Host