Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Christian Response to the Refugee Crises

Refugees and Immigrants have been with us since the days of Cain and Abel. People have moved by the pull of a better life and have been chased away by an unlivable home.

We have often tried to get a handle on the new reality of people movements around the world by categorizing people: Legal/illegal, citizen/alien. But by doing this we not only fail to come to terms with the global problem, we also leave gaping holes of injustice in the wake.

Instead, let’s talk about people: Jose fled with his parents and siblings to L.A. from Guatemala, after a five month walking-trip through Mexico. Though the parents had no visa, still L.A. is all Jose has known since he was 22 months old. He hasn’t even learned much Spanish in his new home. To talk to Jose this week you would know his constant fear that is keeping him up every night, wondering if he will have to leave. 

Joseph spoke out against a tyrannical and murderous regime in his African home, and the result was a burned down house and bullets at his car. He came to NY under an asylum application but is scared that it will now be denied, after nearly 2 years of going through the process. Where can Joseph go? Back to a sure death?

Sari is a 12 year old little girl, who arrived to JFK with only a small suitcase of all that she owns. Her parents sold everything they had, left after bombs destroyed her city, and prepared to move in with Grandma. She has nothing to go back to and now, it seems, nothing ahead of her.

There is a lot in the Bible about how you treat “others” – those who are not of your nationality, race, faith and status. I have been guided for many years by three simple truths that help me navigate the complex, controversial and growing refugee and immigration realities in America:

1. Our response to refugees must be born from a RADICAL HOSPITALITY that is informed by God’s stated expectation in the Bible.

       a. God’s Creation: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and ALL WHO LIVE IN IT…” Psalm 24:1

       b. Remembering Who We Are: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD.” Leviticus 19:33&34.

We are a nation of foreigners; we are, as the NT reminds us, “aliens” in this world ourselves, and our ultimate citizenship is in eternity. God expects us to treat those who come to us as if there were no borders - to treat them “as ourselves”.

       c. Knowing How Jesus Expects Us to Treat the “Other”: “Then Jesus said to his host, when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you WILL BE BLESSED. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13ff

       d. Know Who God is and That We Follow His Example: He knows what it’s like to be the guest (Luke 19:5), stranger (Matthew 25:35-40), and Host (Rev.19:9)

2. Know why people come to America. 

Most think they come for prosperity, to flee war or famine, to rejoin family, and some fear they come to do Americans harm. But the Bible is very, very clear that it is GOD WHO DETERMINES WHERE AND WHEN PEOPLE LIVE. “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries where they reside.” Acts 17:26.

God ultimately has a purpose for relocating the populations of the world and that purpose is missional; “God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps find him, though He is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:27. 

If we see the refugee and immigrant as God’s mission to us it has to replace fear, selfishness and complacency.

3. The Bible is very clear on what justice to the “foreigner” looks like. It’s in the same chapter as our beloved “Ten Commandments”: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.”

This is not a political issue, it’s a moral issue, a justice mandate and a Christian’s response.

The crises of the new “Ban on Refugees” must cause us to weep now for those who are suffering, remember the call of Jesus to welcome them, and pray for a dawning of hope for those trapped in the turmoil of the unknown.

Join me in being Proverbs 31 kinds of people who, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31: 8&9

Come join with CSM and help be Christ to the refugees our partners serve in the city! To learn more about how you can do this, please visit our website at: http://csm.org/signup.php

(Article written by: CSM President Dan Reeve)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Present with the present

     During a recent visit with one of our ministry partners, he mentioned that one of his favorite things about having groups serve at the after school program he facilitates is that he gets to teach and learn from new people he wouldn't have otherwise encountered.  He said, "Every day I ask the Lord to help me love the people well who end up in my space.  I love that your groups end up in my space.  Because we can point them to Jesus and they can point us to Jesus and we together can point our community to Jesus."

     I love the heart behind this.  The learning is mutual and it's together.  It's not a volunteer group coming in to be the superhero who saves the day or the ministry partner just "talking at" students.  It's reciprocal learning.  It's an offering to listen and stay still so we can be reminded of what is good and true. In this, I'm also reminded of the Danish ritual of hygge, which is simply translated as "enjoying life's simple pleasures - friends, family and gratitude."  It is creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good of the moment.  It's seeing what is in front of you and being thankful for whatever it is.

     In this season, this is where I'll rest.  We served a lot this year.  We learned a lot this year. So, for now, I'll rest in the unhurried in our spaces.  I'll ask for greater recognition of Jesus and leave behind the need to be the one saving the day. May we be known as people who are present to the present, grateful for the privilege of shining the light and have the light shown on the only One who could ever be our hero.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Serving: Not Just For The Holiday Season

Every holiday season Los Angeles is a flurry of decorations, celebrations, and volunteer opportunities.  The holidays provide a great way for people to get involved and give back.  Many of the organizations we work with at CSM LA have incredible celebrations that use the help of countless volunteers.  Every year the Los Angeles Mission and Midnight Mission both host big Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless community in Downtown LA.  Volunteers come from all over the city to serve a delicious Thanksgiving meal to the residents of Skid Row.  Faith in Christ, a small church in South Los Angeles, puts on a Thanksgiving dinner for the people in their South LA community as well.  Every Christmas season, My Friend’s Place, a day shelter serving a large population of homeless youth in Hollywood, has a festive gift giveaway.  They give away sleeping bags, socks, sweatshirts, and much more to the homeless youth in Hollywood.  With so many opportunities to serve during the holiday seasons, it is easy to forget these organizations utilize volunteers year round. 

          At CSM LA, we have the honor of partnering with these places throughout the year.  At Midnight Mission, we serve breakfast and lunch to residents of Skid Row, who utilize the Mission’s daily food service.  At the Los Angeles Mission we are always put to work doing various projects.  Pastor Joe and Ms. Gwynn at Faith in Christ run many programs out of their small church and we are always happy to help lighten their load.  My Friend’s Place offers incredible resources and opportunities for homeless youth.  They have a hospitable dayroom, where youth can come and hang out during the day.  Their center also has social and case workers on hand to provide services for those who need it. Beyond that, My Friend’s Place has career counselors that will give resume and interview advice to anyone applying for a job.  CSM volunteers often work to organize the center’s clothing closet, which is full of good quality, donated items that are free for the shelter’s homeless guests.    
          Whether you are able to serve meals, do work projects, or sort clothes for homeless residents, there is always work to be done and organizations that can use extra help.  I encourage you to get in touch with your local food bank or rescue mission.  Volunteering during the holidays is a great way to give back at a time when we all want to feel connected and loved, and lucky for us, that doesn’t need to end with the Christmas season.

-Allison Schuh, Los Angeles City Director

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

News from Tijuana

CSM sites have always been birthed out of local organizations inviting us into genuine partnership with them. The advent of CSM Tijuana was no different. God provided an opportunity for us to share in ministry and life with Kevin and Sara Neff, directors of Lily of the Valley Orphanage, almost a year ago. We'd like to share with you their most recent newsletter so that you, too, can see the amazing work the Lord is doing in and through Kevin and Sara and the children they love, serve and nurture every day. Enjoy!

Sign up to serve with Kevin, Sara, and these amazing children next spring or summer!
Donate to CSM Tijuana so that we can hire, train, and support a local city director!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Power of Story

We as humans connect with story. More than facts or numbers or lists, we understand more deeply when we sit down and talk with someone, when we see that person as human, like ourselves. I think of one ministry site CSM Boston works with, a home for hurting people working to learn who God is and how He made them. As part of our work days there, we sit and eat lunch with the residents, and spend time sharing our stories with each other. Over lunch, we hear stories from ex-convicts, drug addicts, victims of broken relationships and systems. They share their stories of brokenness and redemption, of being saved by God and used by Him. At the end of the day, groups leave with the same reaction: "they are human, like me." This is someone created in the image of God, loved and cherished by Him and revealing a piece of God to me that I have not seen before. 

I think of a director of a clothing exchange program we work with, providing low-income and homeless families with children's clothing. With every group, she shares her story of being homeless herself, only able to keep her child through getting clothes and baby items she needed from this program. After getting back on her feet, she was able to volunteer at this program, and is now the director. Her story is unique, one of brokenness and restoration, one of being used by God, saved and now being used to help others.

The other night, in preparation for Boston's Urban Intensive on understanding refugees and immigrants in America through the lens of story, I sat with a Vietnamese couple to ask them to share their experience coming to America as refugees many years ago. They shared stories of pain and hope, wisdom in what it looks like to thrive in a country full of opportunity but burdened with roadblocks. They talked about the role their church played in their resettlement. As the church community allowed them to transition and process, they were then able to do the same for other newly arrived refugees, both Vietnamese and not. God used their story, their history of pain and hardship to invite others into His Kingdom. By His grace, God redeemed a story of brokenness into a story of thriving as His child. 

At CSM, we step into a story of God's continuing restoration of the city. We step into the story He's crafting of the individuals and organizations He's using to restore - the stories of the broken learning the redemption that comes in Christ, the story of the woman who went from homelessness to directing a non-profit to help those in poverty, the story of a Vietnamese family using their brand as "refugee" to welcome others branded with the same name. 

-Courtney Gingras, Boston Associate City Director

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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

City Highlight: San Francisco Bay Area

The Impact of Discipleship

Ten years ago, a friend of mine who has a passion for racial reconciliation and caring for the poor started informally discipling me and told me to go to a seminar by Edward Gilbreath (author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity).  As I listened to Ed and heard other seminar participants share their stories, my eyes were opened- there were whole sections of Scripture and hundreds of verses about caring for the oppressed and marginalized in our society that I had not noticed in my church upbringing or from reading the Bible on my own.  Six and a half years ago, my husband, Jason, and I chose to take positions with CSM as Co-City Directors in order to continue exploring God’s heart for the poor, for racial reconciliation and for justice.

As a CSM City Director, I appreciate getting to personally learn more about issues that are near to God’s heart, while also providing an opportunity for youth leaders of CSM trips to disciple their students while they participate in ministry together through prayer and service.  One way that I have been growing over the last month is through reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer sharing true stories of people he has worked with and known.  Bryan has helped me put many faces to the statistics of Mass Incarceration in our county, one of the things we pray for during our CSM Oakland Prayer Tour.  He has also convinced me further of the benefit of CSM groups investing in youth in our cities and praying for these young lives long after the trip is over. 

I highly recommend both of these books as we continue to disciple others, study scripture and pray for God’s Kingdom.

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