Tuesday, July 26, 2016

City Highlight: Detroit

When I told people that I was going to be working in Detroit for the summer, I received a lot of mixed emotions; most people were encouraging and excited for me, but also gave me warnings. I was told by many to “stay safe,” “be extremely careful” and “don’t get shot.” It was a little nerve-racking walking into a city that I did not know- a city that has been given such a bad name, with those warnings in the back of my mind. Detroit was not my first choice for a place to spend a summer, but I knew that God had a plan and that I was following His will by coming here.

At first, taking in the sights was a bit rough. It was nothing like I was used to in Kansas. There are many buildings, both big and small, some extravagant, many abandoned. Yet between the perfection and the mess, there is art. Everywhere you go, there are colorful houses, massive murals and graffiti. A fence that we pass on the way back to the CSM housing site from our ministry sites is marked with graffiti that reads, “Obama for America, God for Detroit.”

I see God in this city everyday.

Each of our ministry sites are run by people with the most beautiful souls, full of love for this city. Getting to work with them everyday is a blessing, as I am constantly reminded of what it looks like to serve Christ. These people do not have glamorous jobs, and if anything, their jobs are the least desirable and least financially stable. But they have followed God’s leading. They serve day in and day out, serving their brothers and sisters in the city they all call home. They are in a food bank warehouse, sorting food to be shipped out to those who have none. They are in a hot garden all day, weeding and watering so that there will be food to give a starving community with no access to healthy and nutritious food. They are going out into the community and befriending those who want and need help with addiction. They do it because they believe in this city and are proud to be a part of it. They believe that God has a bright future for the city.

Detroit may not seem attractive to those on the outside looking in, but the people who live here see it as beautiful. They see it as home. This city still has hope. It still has passion. It still believes in a future.

Detroit is here to stay.

-Brandon Lay, 2016 Detroit City Host

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

City Highlight: Washington DC

Summer at CSM is always an adventure in the best possible way. You’d think that by my fourth summer with CSM, I’d stop being surprised by the amazing ways God shows up, both big and small. He is in all of our amazing hosts who are working so hard and learning so much, our groups who are learning so much about God and themselves and our ministry partners who are showing up every day to love the community well.

I really love this circle of ministry. The Directors pour into the hosts, who pour into the groups, who pour into the ministry partners, who pour into the community where the Directors live. It’s so wonderful to take a moment to step back and see the patterns of blessing that exist in these cycles of life.

More often than not, in the middle of the summer season, it is hard to create space to step back and see how God is moving in our city. There are so many tasks and things that pop up that need to be handled quickly, and it’s easy to lose perspective on the reason behind all of this work and why we do what we do. But it’s absolutely the most important thing. In Psalm 46:10 we’re told, “He says ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” Pausing to see how near God is to us is absolutely the most important thing we can do.

Group members: Seeing God at work in the community is more important than any actions that you take or words that you speak. If you tell everyone about God but they don’t see Him in you, you’ve missed out on the beautiful work of actually sharing the Gospel.

Hosts: If you miss the opportunity to rest in the Lord and take a moment for reflection, you’ll miss out on the amazing ways He is developing you into graceful, patient, flexible leaders.

Directors: If you don’t take the opportunity to pause your work and enjoy time with your groups, you’ll miss out on the joy of seeing these trips that you’ve been planning all year come to life.

Ministry Partners. We’re here for you. We come so that we can give you a bit of rest. Rest from running around after the kids that you love so much and show up for every day. Rest from making beds for our neighbors on the street who have a warm place to sleep because of your work. Rest from cooking countless meals for our hungry neighbors so you can enjoy time with them.

For all of us, wherever we are, let's pause. Let's take a moment of stillness and see that He IS God. This is beautiful, challenging, and something that is worthy of praise every day.

God is doing powerful things in DC through our neighbors, our groups, our ministry partners and our amazing team of hosts. Will you please pray for us to pause in a moment of stillness to look around and see that He is God and that He loves us more than the next tasks on our lists? May we pause to see that our groups and our partners are worth more than the work that they do, that they are beautiful and valued as they are, because they are made in God’s image. May we all earnestly seek to hear His word in the midst of everyday life and move towards being a tangible example of His love in the small and important interactions of friends, both new and old.

- Jess Fothergill, Washington DC City Director

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

City Highlight: Nashville

“Love your neighbor, y’all!” These signs have been popping up all over our neighborhood and across the city. They are part of Room in the Inn's campaign to encourage simple acts of kindness. This effort coincides with the city of Nashville's campaign called “The Big Payback", a yearly call to rally around community nonprofits. It’s mostly known as a time when nonprofits raise funds that help them continue their work. This year, Room in the Inn wanted to shift the focus from themselves, back once more to this city.

The campaign encouraged our community to perform simple acts of kindness, volunteer their time, and to give back financially. These acts of kindness weren’t always giving tangible gifts, but focused on connecting with people around us. Room in the Inn urged people to listen to others and not try to “fix” them, to pray for our homeless community, to make eye contact, and to talk to strangers. These things sometimes go against our natural instinct, but all point us towards what we are shown by
Christ. Jesus spent his days with those who were seen as the outsiders, the ones who didn’t fit, yet we sometimes cringe at or fear those whom we deem different. It isn’t comfortable or always easy to talk to someone that we have labeled as an outsider in our own minds, but once we decide that we are all human, things change. A simple smile and a hello can make the world feel like it is spinning a little slower. It can make us feel human again. It makes us feel connected. We all have desires to know and be known, but our fear keeps us from engaging with each other and getting to this place.

My work with CSM has only strengthened my desire to engage with my community, my neighbors, and strangers around me. I long not only to have my needs met by being known, but I long to know others so that in turn they understand that satisfaction. And in this place of understanding, I pray that we are connecting to more than just that moment, but also to the One who created us with these desires in the first place. So, say hello to the people around you, and don’t forget to love your neighbor, y’all!

- Miranda Burr, Nashville Associate City Director

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

City Highlight: New York City

Walking through NYC on any given day, I’ll see people wearing their mess on the outside. Image bearers of God who are panhandling, mentally unstable, lying on sidewalks or subway trains, and at times, drinking their pain away. I am consistently reminded of the brokenness we live in and the ultimate sacrifice God made to restore us to Himself in Jesus.

I am also reminded of the dignity that He bestows on each of us. Though we are made from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7), He has made us in His image and His Word reveals that we are caretakers of the earth. However, when we treat each other as less than image bearers with dignity and worth bestowed by the Lord Himself, we are at the very least insulting our Creator.

As God continues to sanctify us, let us be mindful of our words and actions. Words can be powerful just as powerful as actual and they can easily separate us from those we are called to love. As we speak, are we lifting up or tearing down at the cost of others? Are we a bold testament to the love of Christ or are we denying Him with our actions? Jesus teaches His followers parable after parable about humility, about the last being first and the lowest being brought to the head of the table, which is a powerful reminder of where our sinful hearts tend to run to.

CSM NYC has had the privilege of serving alongside organizations such as NYC Relief, NYC Rescue Mission, St. Paul’s House and others, who understand this and desire to see people realizing their full humanity in Christ. Through holistic ministry, they are helping to restore the dignity that was never lost, but misplaced for some time. As followers of Christ, we are called to toil for the Gospel, the true restoration of man to God, however, we cannot separate the Gospel from justice, mercy and love, we cannot expect to see lives change in the Gospel without acknowledging one another's full humanity and working for the good of others as Jesus did.

- Liz Koenig, NYC Associate Director

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Friday, April 08, 2016

Can We Tawk?

It's very rare that I encounter a person who models so many of the attributes that I value in a leader, but recently I met one such individual while visiting Tijuana to prepare for our Mexico pilot launch. During my time there, I met with Naomi, the leader of a very tiny church in the "the Dumps", the former landfill area of the city. Naomi is a 26 year old Pentecostal pastor who has lived in this community for only five months. Her congregation is small and it meets in a tiny, broken down building that they call a "Templo".

Naomi told me about how she arrived at the Dumps. With literally the biggest smile I had seen since entering Tijuana, she explained to me that she had been learning with another pastor for the past three years, while serving as an evangelist in another city. She was then assigned by her association of churches to the Templo. After hearing part of her story, she took me to see her church and her home. When I stepped inside the Templo, I was shocked at how run down and neglected the building was. There simply were not enough people to take care of the place. She then showed me her “house.” It sits behind the church on a concrete slab. What I saw was a shack that has holes in the walls, an outhouse as a restroom, and a lone shower sitting on top, trying to keep the rain from coming through the roof. She briefly told of how the first rain destroyed all of her personal belongings.

Naomi, Pastor of
Templo Evangelico Pentecostal Filadelphia
She only spoke briefly about her home and the physical state of her church building, though; Naomi was more intent on sharing about her ministry. She spoke of focusing her ministry on the drug addicts that lived in the community of shacks and broken down shanties. She talked about how she had tried to reach out to the children in the Dumps and engage them with a long-term view of development, not just handouts; but the children have come to expect a handout and are not interested otherwise. She talked about how she holds regular prayer meetings with the 10 parishioners that make up the core of her congregation, pleading to God to give her favor in this forgotten corner of Tijuana.

Let's summarize: Naomi is a single, young woman, living alone in a dangerous shack, serving a completely forgotten community. She spends time trying to help people who are addicted to drugs, with no partner, no support to speak of, and a goal to transform that community, all by herself. And you know what? She believes that with the Holy Spirit, she will! She is one of my new “sheroes”. I always try to look for needs AND assets in a community, but the truth is that Naomi is actually the only asset I could find in the abandoned garbage dump of Tijuana.

She reminded me that I have not always been willing to step out and take risks to follow my calling. She role-modeled for me what it’s like to be cleansed of cynicism so that we can share our life, wholly, with the often forgotten where God has sent us. When she initially told me what she did, I never would have imagined the living conditions she was in, or how impossible her mission was, because in the three hours before our visit to her church and her home she never once complained. Naomi only spoke of her calling and her plan and her excitement. I, on the other hand, have spent quite a bit of my day “whining” about my noisy neighbors, the rude kids that hang in my alley, how often I feel tired from my work (which is, incidentally, so easy comparatively speaking) and how badly I needed my last vacation because, after all, it had been over a year since I got a break.

Now, I’m not really feeling guilty by Naomi’s example. I’m not even feeling sorry for her situation - though I am a little angry that someone assigned her to this mission without a whole lot of backing. What I am experiencing is a refreshed reminder of what is important to me - what I value.

There are two things I want you to consider: First, reflect on what is really important to you and then ask, what am I doing about it? How am I living my life to work out those values? Second, is there anyone who wants to go fix that shack? It needs a new, simple roof, work on the exterior sheeting and the interior walls. It’s not a complicated job, but would you please ask yourself if you could give a few days to come to the garbage dump and empower one of the few assets that is making a genuine difference to the often forgotten in the community? If you’re interested reply back to me and we’ll work it out. Come as a small team and we’ll house, feed and support you. Together, let’s help Naomi. Thanks for Tawkin’!

- Dan Reeve, CSM President

If you or someone you know would be interested in helping to repair Naomi's home, please email dan@csm.org.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

City Highlight: Houston

There is something to be said about the way God orchestrates our trips here at CSM. We can spend months and months planning a trip, but our work and plans don't make the trip; it's God. He never ceases to amaze me with the way He can pull a week together and make it so much more than I could have ever imagined.  As we entered into our first season together as a staff, we were eager to see how God would put the details of our Spring trips together, and He did not disappoint.

One month before our Spring season started, I found myself in a very nervous pace around the office, thinking "we have a full spring of groups ready to serve in our city, but I don't have a host to accommodate their trips". At that time, I did what I should always to when I become overwhelmed and I went to His word. God quickly showed me this: "do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God" (Philippians 4:6). In that moment, a peace came over me. It was as if God was saying "do you really think I can't handle this?" I realized this Spring is His, our Summer is His, and every time between, before, and after is His. So why am I worried? Needles to say God, provided us with the host we needed through the tireless work of our support staff and the directors in other cities who so graciously sent us the help we needed.

As we begin to transition out of the Spring season and begin prepping for our Summer, I ask that we would be remembered in your prayers. We are very excited for the ways the Lord is going to work in both the lives of our staff and the groups that come to Houston to serve with us during this season. Please join me in praying for the city. I love this city and I pray for it daily. I pray for the staff we will be hiring for the summer, that their hearts and minds will be prepared for what God has planned for them this summer. I pray for the groups that are coming to serve with us, that they would be ready and willing to be the hands and feet. And I pray for my fellow Directors and Associate Directors all around the country who put their heart and soul into what they do in their cities each season. I ask you to please consider praying with us so we can help make a positive Christ centered impact in our cities each year.

Jason McMinn- CSM Houston City Director

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