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.

Monday, June 01, 2015

May 2015 City Journal

In there, you'll find...
  • Philadelphia City Highlight
  • 2015 Photo Contest
  • CSM Spotlight: Urban Intensives

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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!

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