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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Come serve with us in Motown!

Big things have been brewing here at the Center for Student Missions! There have been murmurings and whispers of a new member making its way into the CSM family. After much thought, prayer and the combined efforts of many, we are excited to announce that we are moving forward with a year-round, full-time site in the city of Detroit, Michigan! We are so excited to welcome Detroit to the family. It took some time, but through God’s grace and blessings, we can now get to work in “Motor City!”

“CSM never goes where we are not invited by indigenous leaders,” says Dan Reeve, President of CSM. “Honestly, so many ministries asked us to come serve with them that it felt like the Apostle’s call in Acts 16:9: ‘come over to Macedonia and help us!”

Emily Hoffman, a native to the city, will be CSM Detroit’s founding City Director. Hoffman helped to facilitate three separate CSM service trips this past summer and will now continue to do so long-term.

“CSM has proved to be great fit for Detroit,” says Hoffman. “Connections with ministry partners have been God-orchestrated and mutually beneficial to both our groups and their organizations. I’m excited about establishing relationships with even more ministries in the city and seeing future CSM groups make an even greater kingdom impact!”

CSM will begin accepting registrations immediately for Detroit trips booked as soon as October 2014 and beyond! Groups as small as seven total people can serve as short as 24 hours.

“Detroit and its many ministries really do need you to serve alongside them in bringing Shalom to this needy city,” says Reeve.

Come serve with us in Motown, and let’s see what God’s doing!

For more information or to learn how your group can serve with CSM in Detroit, please visit, call 267-928-2620 or email

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Opening Ears (and Hearts)

Ever since I was a little boy I always thought that being a pastor must be one of the hardest jobs to have. Spending a whole week in preparation for one hour of speaking, reading and re-reading the Bible, and meeting with a lot of people. I had no idea how it could be done.

I had never thought about the fact we have a God who speaks to us and likes to do so. Now, I knew that God spoke to us, but I had thought I pretty much knew what He had to say to me. “Be a good person, serve, love, ...” so at one point I stopped listening in church. I went through the motions and then I would go out and serve without getting filled back up. That was one system that was not really working for me.

Something was different this Sunday at church, though. I decided I was going to be focused about what the pastor had to say. It was amazing. Listening to what God was saying to him about a verse was different than what God was saying to me about the verse.

That is when it clicked for me. We are always learning because our God is a LIVING God who teaches us things all the time. We just have to be open to listening to what He has to say. When I make the choice to open up to what God has to say it makes my week and life so much more enjoyable.

So as this summer is drawing near to a close, I encourage you to be open to what God can teach in the few weeks that we have left. 

It will be life changing.

- Logan, CSM Nashville Summer 2014 City Host