Thursday, December 28, 2006

2007 Is Almost Here!!

Hi friends!
Just a reminder that 2007 is coming quickly. It's not too late to serve at the 2006 rate, though!

Here's what you need to do in order to make sure your group is ready to serve in the city next year:

  • Call the Home Office (949-248-8200) to find out if the dates you want are available.

  • Make sure your deposit and registration form are postmarked by December 31,2006.

If you have any questions please email or call us (949-248-8200)!

Happy New Year from CSM!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ultimate Gift at Christmas

Who knew that saying Merry Christmas would make you a rebel? I say it every chance I get to remind others what the meaning of the season is. As I Christmas shop, purchase gifts and travel from store to store I see all different types of people doing the same thing…looking for that “perfect” gift. One day while traveling from one mall to the next I heard a radio commercial talking about purchasing gifts for others and the anticipation we have to see the surprise and joy in the person’s face when they open their gift.
I have to admit, to me that’s the best part, watching someone I love open a gift I have sought out for them, purchased, wrapped and freely given out of love. As I pondered the reactions I would see on Christmas day, I thought about God and His ultimate gift of Jesus. I imagined how our Father anticipated us opening up the gif of His Son. How much love and care He has for us to give us that extraordinary gift. Then I thought about how I have squandered that gift, so to speak. How I don’t live my daily life in a way that shows appreciation for the sacrifice my Father freely and lovingly gave to me; just like gifts I have given in the past and they are now at Goodwill, or in the trash, or buried in the back of a closet.
The gift of Jesus to our broken world is a gift that cannot be set aside, changed or altered. It is a gift to be cherished, appreciated and most importantly shared with others. On Christmas day as you watch your loved ones open the gifts you purchased for them, consider the joy your Father has watching you open His Gift every day…
-Tawnya, CSM Nashville City Director
Learn more about serving in Nashville with CSM!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Loving Those Around Us

One of my favorite parts of the “off season” (the fall season in which we don’t have groups coming regularly) is volunteering on my own at ministry sites of my choice. Although I have several favorites, I find myself at Yellowstone Academy most often – this private school is located in an area of Houston’s Third Ward known as the Bottoms. The kids, who are coming from extreme poverty situations, are given an education in the context of a loving Christian environment. I’ve been volunteering at the school for nearly three years, but I’ve recently been absolutely amazed at what I’ve seen. Let me tell you the story.
Mr. and Mrs. Torres, a couple from Venezuela, are the custodial staff for the school. This being their first year in the position, they immediately took an interest in the school far beyond sweeping and mopping. Each child is an important part of their day as they have learned faces and names. One young lady, in particular, has become a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Torres. This special first grader looks forward to their arrival each day and even recently asked me, “Have you met my friend, Mrs. Torres?” Not only do they relate well to children while on the job, though, Mrs. Torres has even begun to arrive at the school early so that she may have time to volunteer with her special first grade friends before beginning her custodial work. As she teaches the students words and phrases in Spanish, they help by teaching her new English words. The partnership is precious.
I love the picture of the Torres’ and the Yellowstone students. Folks who wouldn’t normally have connected in life are able to be friends. Language barriers, differences in culture and background, and even their positions at the school (as custodial staff, as students) don’t seem to matter too much when the focus moves off of those things and onto an attitude of kindness, appreciation and love. I recently asked Mrs. Torres if she and Mr. Torres had any children. She smiled, and with a twinkle in her eye said, “Yes – 198 of them!” She then ran off to play tag on the playground. I hope that this can be a challenge to me this Christmas – to love people. To look beyond what I see, or what I automatically assume based on appearances or positions. After all, we probably would have never imagined that a tiny baby born in a stable would actually be the promised savior of the world. The King of Kings. The Prince of Peace.
-Megan Breed, CSM Houston Associate City Director

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

Toronto Trip Reflection

"I wasn't really prepared for the experience. Sure I had been praying about it and everything but I wasn't ready for my pride to be shot down so much. Honestly, I used to think that homeless people were on the streets because they were lazy. Wow, not true! I learned that every single person out there has a personal story and a background. They are just like me they just don't a have roof over their heads. All the stereotypes that I had with me when I went were totally broken down. God was really speaking to my heart from the moment I stepped out of the van. At a soup kitchen that my team was working at, I met this one woman, who was about 25 who actually used to live right near where I live right now. She went to a high school where I knew some of the teachers that she knew as well. It was cool because I was almost too shy to approach her, but she ended up being the sweetest girl. You really have to learn to take a leap of faith sometimes. Trusting God to speak through you can be a scary experience, but also very exciting. God taught me a lot about relationships and my attitude, and I am so thankful that I had the chance to go on this trip. I definitely want to go again sometime, I am not sure where or when but I am trusting God to help me with that decision. God bless you all!"
-Student on CSM Toronto Mission Trip

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

CSM In The News: Windy City's Homeless Meet Valley Teens Eye to Eye

Kirk Bell leaned in toward them when he spoke. He wore blue jeans, a T-shirt and a white cowboy hat with a Marlboro logo on the back.
It was quiet at last, the weed trimmers the teenagers had been using were laid down, along with the rakes. Huge black trash bags were filled with the clippings of overgrown grass that had been cut from the walkways of the old military installation. The youngsters held water bottles in their hands and the image of the tall black man in their steady gaze.
They were glad for the rest. They'd been sweating all week -- working hard for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hoping dinner would be better.
Kirk was here to tell them about the folks moving here as units were renovated. His ministry was helping renovate the old brick buildings, but volunteers were needed to cut the grass and make the grounds presentable. The residents here were from the projects, plain apartment buildings that housed the city's needy, many of them hardened criminals or just-released inmates. The city is tearing down city housing, displacing thousands to neighborhoods across Chicago.
Behind them, a child's cry could still be heard in one of the few occupied apartments.
These units in a former military base didn't look appealing, unless you'd been someplace worse.
The teenagers sitting on the ground had seen someplace worse.
They'd been in the shelters where younger children fight for attention.
They'd been through the shelter's kitchens where the stench of institutional food preparation could turn your stomach. They'd been in the sticky, hot soup kitchens where fellow diners eat and run back to the streets, hoping for a rain shower or at least a breeze in the Windy City.
The former gang member turned preacher perched on a cooler and told the teens his story. By the time he was their age he'd made it all the way from the city's projects to a gang. At 18 he walked away -- a feat made easier with a Bible in his hand. He's held the Bible close every day since, and when he gets a chance to talk Jesus to teenagers, he jumps at it, and they listen.
Everyone you see watches you, he said. They read you like a book. They watch what you do.
So do the right thing.
With a clever mix of bathroom humor and gut-wrenching stories, he held their attention and told them to hold fast to their faith and spread it like wildfire.
There was no doubt in my mind that they would.
These weren't children from the streets of any city -- they are members of the Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church youth group. They'd come to Chicago in a heat wave -- to work, to sweat, to learn, to pray.
They did all that and more.
The first hot night in Chicago, they'd heard a poem written by a homeless woman.
It began like this:
"Look me in the eyes at least,
when you pass me by on the street
whether or not you answer my plea for money:
my eyes are the poorest of me --
require only your two cents when we meet --
and are more in dire need of these than your feet."
In the days and nights ahead, they went from shelters to soup kitchens to sidewalks where those without hope seek safety.
By their last night in the sticky city, these students recapped their week.
They'd knocked down walls and framed new ones at an old crack house turned ministry site.
They'd fed the homeless and held young children. They'd looked them all in the eye, and they had been fed themselves.
They accomplished more than they thought they could. They learned that stereotypes can be turned off.
They found that to help someone isn't nearly as fulfilling as to simply say, "You matter."
They worried that too soon they would forget the faces, the stories and the lessons of those down on their luck.
The church sent them on the mission trip to seek God, to serve others.
The redemption they found was a bonus.

Cindy Corell
City Editor
The News Leader
Staunton, VA

Monday, October 30, 2006

Heart of Service = Learning to Love

Something I did not expect to learn on this trip was love. I thought we would only learn to help, but that is not even close to what we learned. I learned that a person can not help without loving someone as much as you love a family member. It helps when you understand their problems and put yourself in their shoes and love them for who they are. When I learned to love I realized so much. I understood the hardships people were put through and it hurt me a lot more because I really cared and wanted to help but knew I couldn’t do it all in one week while I was there. I am really thankful that they taught me how to love. It has opened my eyes to see greater things and to also feel greater things also. Before I could be somewhat sad to see or hear about homeless people on the news or a movie or in a book. Now I know and understand after being there and showing how much I loved the people and wanted to help. Its given me a greater understanding of things now.

-Student from Kansas, served at CSM Houston July 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seeing the Homeless Through God's Eyes

"Seeing the homeless through God's eyes" is something we talk about a lot at CSM. On the prayer tours, before helping at soup kitchens and missions, or right before an urban plunge, our CSM staff urge the group members to reach out and get to know a man or woman who is without a home. While at first, students and even adults are intimidated, after a very short while, it is hard to get the groups to say goodbye - walls have come down and friendships have been formed. People connect to people and realize God's love is for all. When I read this article about the increasing violence against the homeless committed by teenagers, I realized CSM's efforts to link youth to the marginalized is more urgent than ever.
-Kyle Becchetti, CSM Vice-President of Operations

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Simple Meal Provides Lessons

This last summer we brought a group of 19 from our home in Vancouver, WA to serve with CSM L.A. Of all the great things that happened during the week, our first morning on the streets of L.A. was among my favorites. This was the morning of our City Search. Our group was divided up into smaller groups of 4-5. The mission given to us was to go out and find a homeless person, offer to buy them a meal, and to eat and talk with them. Reading this in black and white, this task may not sound too difficult. But let me give you a little insight into our group. During our trip from WA to L.A. one of our vans broke down (what youth mission trip worth its salt doesn't involve a broken down van somewhere along the way?). This resulted in major changes in our travel plans and in a major delay. Instead of arriving to CSM on Sunday at 5pm, we arrived Monday morning at 4am having driven all through the night. By the time we hit the streets for the City Search a few hours later on Monday morning, our group was already exhausted and feeling as if they were being thrown into the fire of urban ministry with little orientation.

God was with us in the fire. In the City Search the group of students I was with encountered a lady lying on the street outside of a McDonalds. As the rule of thumb is 'guys talk to guys and girls talk to girls', it was up to two of our young female students to initiate conversation with this lady. And so they did. Two nervous, shy, clean, and tired junior girls lowered themselves to the dirty sidewalk, sat and talked to this lady. Physically, the lady was a wreck. Her body was bruised and worn and it was obvious that she had not felt the touch of a shower in a long, long time. A Filet of Fish was requested and so a meal was broken and eaten there on the sidewalk of Broadway. Yet the lady was not so interested in the food as much as the conversation. She talked and talked and talked, maybe being thrilled just to have someone to listen to her talking. And then she reached to touch one of our girls. She grabbed a hand, shook it and squeezed it, maybe being thrilled just to have someone touch her.

Two things stood out for me in this experience. The first was how amazingly proud I was of our students. They had never done anything like this before. They were thrown into the fire and they came out better than before on the other side. As they sat and talked, their nervousness slowly melted away into compassion. Since coming back home, our youth group has made a regular habit of going into Portland to serve there in the city. How cool it is to see these same students interact with the homeless here, not with much nervousness, but with a confidence and compassion that was gained in L.A.

The second thing that stood out to me was the faces of the people that passed by us we sat on the sidewalk conversing with this lady. Stares of disbelief. Stares of wonder. Heads that turned backwards even after passing by, wondering, "why are these nice looking white kids sitting on the ground talking to her?". Afterwards I couldn't help but think of Jesus and how he must have experienced something similar. Jesus, a good, religious, respected Jew touching lepers and other people deemed unclean. How the crowds must have stared at Jesus in disbelief. And they did. How countercultural for Jesus. And for us. But this is the power of the gospel: God lowering Himself down to us in our uncleanness and making us clean...His followers authentically doing the same for others.

-Brent, Youth Pastor from Vancouver, WA

Monday, October 09, 2006

Changes in LA's Skid Row

Over the past six months, the city of Los Angeles has been trying to address the problem of Skid Row (a 10X10 block area where 15,000 homeless people live). They have taken many steps in the past few months to do so. Most recently the LAPD has decided to have 50 police officers on the streets of Skid Row to help control drug trafficking and robberies in the neighborhood. This has been a really good thing for Skid Row because there has been less crime in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, though there are good things going on, the police have also been under some criticism because of some of the unjust measures they are taking to crack down on some of the problems in Skid Row.

Currently the city of Los Angeles has laws that prevent the homeless from sleeping on the streets and the LAPD have been arresting some of those people sleeping on the streets. The American Civil Liberties Union has been standing up for the homeless and recently filed a lawsuit against the city because there aren't enough shelter beds or resources to help the homeless that sleep on the streets. So, the city is still trying to address the homeless problem in Los Angeles and Skid Row, but not always justly. Pray for the LAPD and the city council to develop plans that are just and that give the homeless a voice. Also, pray for the homeless who sleep on the streets everyday, that they may eventually be able to have to have shelter and place to live.

- Jon Vales, CSM LA co-City Director

Read an article from the LA Times about the latest on Skid Row.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Where do you see God working?

Where do you see God working?
(reflection written by group leader from Kansas)

Through the comforting of a crying child at VBS. She was hurting and many of us provided a shoulder to cry on and a hug. She needed the healing touch and God provided it through our group.

Through the testimony of Joe* at the Harbor Lights Salvation Army. His willingness to share all aspects of his bad choices and the effects of those choices and God working on him through others and when he turned his life around was spirit-filled and full of hope.

Through the spirit of helping of our FirstLight group not only to those we served at ministry sites, but between those in our group. The willingness to share resources, serving each other as we got out of the van….offering an ear / shoulder or prayers to those who needed it any anytime. We practiced what we ministered to each other.

I saw God continue to work through our group long after we left Houston. None of us were willing to go back ‘to the way it was’ before the trip. All of us are looking for ways to continue God’s mission in Gardner, the Kansas City area and the world. We were all forever changed by this experience and we plan to continue this here in Kansas and globally.

*name changed for privacy

Monday, September 25, 2006

Oh those wonderful days of summer...

"I went to NYC with CSM this summer. I had such a great time seeing God
work through me and the mission team I went with. Our group was
fortunate to get two awesome CSM leaders who gave us an awsome
oppurtunity to serve God and others. The main thing that I learned
while I was in NYC is that most homeless have a beautiful soul they
just want to be listened to and know that there opinions counts."
-Katie, Summer trip participant

"I am from Springfield, Ohio, and i worked the team in Chicago this summer. My group had the opportunity to work with Cornerstone Community Outreach, doing a Bible school for the kids there. They were simply amazing. To see the way they cared for their siblings, and to see how interested they were in learning about the Bible was amazing. God truly taught me this summer what a child-like faith looked like, and how to have it for my own. Thank you so much for the work that you guys do to change peoples lives. You are truly a lifeboat for God in a dying world."
-Rick, Summer trip participant

"This summer I went to Chicago with my youth group. It was AMAZING! It was my first mission and definitely not my last! Every morning we worked at Carol Robertson Learning Center with the head start program. Ever since I was a little girl I have always wanted to be a veterinarian when I grow up. But my week in Chicago changed that. Working with those kids was an experience I will never forget. It even changed my career path. I am now going to be an elementary school teacher. After working with those kids for a few hours for five days I got extremely attached to them. It was very hard leaving on the last day without crying. I just recently got the pictures developed and the only things I have pictures of is those kids. I almost cry every time I look at them because I miss them so much! You guys are doing a great job with your mission work. You have changed my life and I'm sure many more."
-Becca, Summer trip participant

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Being a homegirl is what it's all about...

Our group was scheduled to serve at an after-school tutoring program in a Watts neighborhood (in South Central Los Angeles). As we pulled off the highway exit and drove towards our destination, I could tell that our group had just entered an unknown world - filled with gangs, drugs, prostitution. The van got silent and all the students (and adults) just took in the scenery of this wartorn community as I explained how we'd be serving. We were headed to the heart of the chaos - to a church that is swimming against the current. In a community where 30% of all students graduate and 100% are affected by gang violence, they provide tutoring and a safe haven for children and teens.
After an afternoon full of shy "hello"s, timid group members trying to help kids their own age with their homework, and eventually some crazy playtime (with 2 pools and a bounce house!) - the pastor sat our group down to explain their ministry and the challenges they face. The adults and students (actually from the LA area) were able to peer into this world that literally existed in their own backyard.
We returned each afternoon to dozens of smiling faces, ready to learn and play. On our last afternoon there 3 of us group members were sitting with 2 of the boys from the program - trying to help them with their worksheet on counting money. One of the boys (we'll call him "Eddie") turns to us and says (with his million dollar smile) "Who's your friend?" We each ponder the question and say "You are! Why, 'Eddie' - who's yours?" He smiles again and begins to point to different kids in the room "He's my friend...she's my friend....she's my friend...he's my friend...she's my friend...and're my homegirl!" (as he puts his short 6 yr-old arm around one of the girls from our team next to him). It was in that instant that the two worlds became connected, the bridge was built, a relationship was formed and hope was discovered. These kids needed their hard outer shells, but they were just that - kids - on the inside still. They made the statistics we had heard real and the hope of a life changed ever more critical. Our students left not just being more knowledgable about the neighborhood with its pain and hurt, but also knowing that they did and can continue to take a part in giving these kids a future (homeboy "Eddie" included!)

-Sarah, City Host in Los Angeles

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Trip Experiences

In our last CSM Email Announcements we asked readers to email us with their experiences. You can do the same! Send us your stories!

This summer I served with CSM in New York. It was a great experience for me. I grew spiritually and the Lord showed me a lot of things. I faced some of my fears and with the Lord's help I overcame them. I grew in my relationship with God and with my peers. I saw the Lord's mercy in the city and It was very exciting to see so much hope.
-Student from Miami, FL

I had such a great time in New York. I loved the prayer tour (though it was
very long) it was very inspiring and a great way to start the trip. I also
found it very interesting going to soup kitchens and food distribution sites
to help out and actually interact with the people we serve. I also loved the
experience of eating new foods everyday! My favorite was the Polish food. I
will never forget the sour cream and applesauce mixture. :) I had a really
amazing time and I can't wait to go on another trip next year!
-Student from Victorville, CA

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reflecting on NYC

Okay, so my feet kinda hurt, I'm tired, we have been on about 1,000,000 different dirty subways, our church has no air conditioning, and it feels like 150 degrees outside. But surprisingly this has been one of the best trips I have been on. It isn't just the fact that we're in NYC, it's the people that make up the Burroughs of NYC. We have visited areas from Harlem to 5th Ave, and have shopped and volunteered. Shopping is fun, but speaking to the people of New York in soup kitchens, the parks, and the streets I have learned so much. These kids and adults have impacted my life in BIG ways. We can ease someone's suffering just by slowing down and asking about their day and their life. It's pretty much the best two weeks of my life and the trip will only get better!
-CSM Trip Participant, 10th grader from OK

Click here to read more amazing reflections from a group that just returned from serving with CSM in New York City!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Video from Nashville!

Check out this video about "Momma Mac", a woman at one of our Nashville ministry sites (Adult Day Services). If you serve with us in Nashville you just may be able to meet her :)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Changes for Homeless in Los Angeles

We recently came across a great story from National Public Radio on the latest changes for LA's homeless population. The Union Rescue Mission (URM) is a ministry site that CSM groups work with. It's a dynamic Christian mission based in the heart of Skid Row in LA. Click here to find out how you can serve with CSM in Los Angeles!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

Why My Job Is Worth It

Ministry with the homeless was not something I've chosen to do. Not that I don't think it's good, it's just never crossed my mind before. Now I don't know why, but for this summer God told me to go reach the homeless and so by coincidence I ended up working at CSM. Being hit with so many things alien to me, I have to reconsider many presuppositions and the like that I have. With a job with little sleep, working with a bunch of teens that are whiny at time, having the stress of dealing with leaders and still trying to keep up friendships with the staff, I was forced to consider: is my job really worth it? For one who is used to going out all gung ho for straight preaching evangelism and seeing souls saved (and getting really excited about it!!), is going out there and doing petty work like framing ministry sites and folding beds and talking about random issues with homeless people really worth it? For three reasons I can answer the question with a yes and another YES. First, this summer has been an eye opener and a learning experience for me and it did challenge me to think differently about the gospel. Second, we've had youths who came to CSM and it completely changed their lives. In one account, a student told his group that he did not want to be a Christian before the trip because he liked the party and drugs lifestyle. He decided to go home and get baptized. On another occasion a girl who was just entering college for Biology major decided instead to go into full time ministry. Finally, this summer I anchor at a soup kitchen called St. Felix Center. Here I make lunch for the homeless and have a chance to build some relationships. Here is where I met Lana, a very nice, sweet Vietnamese lady. One day she told me this: "Thank you so much Lindsay for being so kind. It is because of people like you that life is worth living." Yes, my job is worth all the trouble. It is for moments like these that my job is completely worth it. It is seeing the gospel unfold in front of my eyes and seeing Jesus being glorified that makes my job completely, absolutely worth it.
-Lindsay Tsang, Toronto CSM City Host Summer 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Peak at CSM Nashville

Summer is going by so quickly! It's becoming a normal thing for me to meet amazing people and hear mind boggling stories everyday. I meet walking miracles on a regular basis. It still amazes me that this is my job-- discovering life and listening to people!
Last week we were at Adult Day Services, a ministry that takes care of elderly people during the day while their families are at work. I was touched by the activities coordinator there. She is one of the most upbeat people I have ever met, and she always finds something to laugh about. Her goal there is just to make people happy, and the people there aren't always very responsive to her entertainment, or to a lot of things. Yet she's so persistent in her efforts and she never loses her joy, or her perspective. It's inspiring to see that kind of dedication and its clear that she relies on God to sustain her and fill her with joy.

I've also had the blessing of getting to talk occasionally with a homeless man who goes by the name of Isaac. Every time I talk to Isaac, he is quoting Scripture left and right, and connecting life to the Bible and stories from the Bible to other stories and parables. He's always got 50 million things to share about God and his blessings. Last week he caught me off guard and just asked me to share what God had been delivering me from lately. Surprised at the question, I gave it some thought, but I felt uncomfortable and unsure and I didn't really come up with anything to tell him. In the most gentle, loving way, he reminded me that God is always teaching me things, and just getting to spend time with Him is a blessing. He quoted the verse from 1 Peter 3:15 about always being ready to give an answer for the hope that you have, and we prayed, and he went about his day. But from Isaac's humility, combined with the truth of Scripture, I felt convicted and humbled. I hope I will always have something to say about God's goodness when I'm asked, and I love that I am able to be ministered to by the same people I am serving.

- Sara Kandt, CSM Nashville City Host Summer 2006

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006

Ministry of Listening

The ministry site that I go to most of the weeks is St. Francis Table. It is there that we as volunteers help prepare the meal as well as act as waiters and waitresses to wait on the cilents that come in. This week I saw one lady come in who was telling me her hands hurt. I gave her my sympathies and moved on because I had other work to do. As the dinner rush went on I noticed that this lady did not leave. She was talking to everyone who sat at her table - some were listening, others were not. When I was finished working and had my break I noticed that this lady was still at her table. I went up to her and started talking. I found out her name was Patricia and she had grown up in an orphanage. She continued to apologize for taking so long, but it was clear to me that she just needed someone to talk to and I was happy to lend an ear. When she left I felt bad. As she went outside and started walking, my heart went out to her. As I was feeling low I looked up and saw my group working hard at their jobs. I felt bad for Patricia who needed somone to talk to, but it made me feel good that there are places like St. Francis who are full of volunteers who are willing to help so that people can get a meal and so that people like Patricia can have someone to listen to them.
-Josh McClement, CSM Toronto City Host Summer 2006

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reflecting on this Summer's First Group

This past week we had our first group of the summer come up. They were from Jacksonville, Florida. It was a challenging, yet amazing experience. We finally were put to the test of learning the streets of Toronto, as well as all of the information about the sites and the city. Thanks goodness for our handy staff manuals!
This week I had 12 people in my group, which was the largest, the other staff had 6. But it was awesome. We went to the Good Shepherd every morning, which is a shelter and drop-in. The kids in the group were able to step out of their comfort zones and talk to some of the men who come to the Good Shepherd. Some even talked to the same people everyday and were able to build relationships. By the end of the week, our group had become extremely close and had some sweet times. During the final challenge on Thursday night we had an encouragement circle. As we moved around the circle, one of the boys shared that he had grown up in a church and Christian family his entire life but had never had any interest in God or a relationship with him. He told us about the things he did with his friends on the weekends and how that was more important to him. Then he said that after this week with the group, he wanted to commit his life to Christ and be baptized when he got home. It was so cool. God does so many amazing things.
-Karleigh Heim,
Toronto CSM City Host Summer 2006

Monday, June 26, 2006

Moving Beyond First Impressions

This past week we had two different groups, one was from Michigan and the other from Illinois. There were a few members of the teams with some misconceptions about the homeless. I would like to share a story about a member from the Illinois group and how this person was able to move past some of the barriers and step outside their comfort zone. This member went to a drop-in center every other day during the week they were in Toronto. On the first day they saw a guy who looked kinda '"shady" and began to give some mean looks and refused to talked to him. The next time they came to the drop-in some of the other team members were playing cards with the guy who looked "shady". This member decided that since the other group members were playing with him, that they too would attempt to go against the first impression and talk to this guy. Not too long into the conversation this team member realized how their first impression was incorrect and they began to have an incredible time simply getting to know this man. This member was stretched throughout the week and responded amazingly to experiencing God through different people.
-Holly Fledderjohann,
Toronto CSM City Host Summer 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lessons of Humility

At the beginning of this summer, I was reading the book "Humility" by Andrew Murray. It convinced me that the #1 virtue is humility, because only with humility could God work through you and with God comes all good virtues. And so, I thought, this summer will be the perfect way to learn such a thing as humility. The weeks went by, and yes, God did use many situations and stories to break me down and to build in me a compassion for the folks I serve. Not only that, I have been trying to look at them as more significant than myself (Phillipians 2:3) and realizing that they may have things to teach me and ways to serve me no others could.
Now there is a struggle with an old virtue I seek very much and having the mind to be humble. The old virtue is to be authentic. Now sometimes I don't feel authentic while trying to be humble. With this inauthenticity comes barriers between people I interact with. I can't seem to connect well! So I decided to drop the faces and just act like myself. As I got to really connect with everybody, confidence built. With confidence, slight arrogance (an old lurking sin in my life) start appearing. What a battle!! It's so hard to keep balance, EH!? So how on earth is God going to humble me this summer? He always has His ways. This week, the potty got clogged and overflowed. Take a guess at who's assigned to clean the washroom? I had to suck it up and be a servant and do something I had no desire to do. God always has His ways. Keep it real. Keep it humble. They can come hand in hand.
-Lindsay Tsang, Toronto CSM City Host Summer 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006

Seminary on the Streets

I start at Fuller Theological Seminary in nine days. But for the last year, my seminary has been the streets, and my professors have included the homeless. Some have been my greatest teachers. Three people in particular have taught me the meaning of gratitude.

I first met Bruce & Sheri on a roasting hot summer day in the historic district of Philadelphia. The sun was blazing, and the temperature was soaring well over 100 degrees. As I walked down the sidewalk, I saw Bruce sitting on the sidewalk holding a cardboard sign that asked for money and food. His wife Sheri was across the street also hoping for generosity from tourists. It was already afternoon, yet their day’s accumulation had yet to be enough to buy any water, let alone food. Needless to say, they were both quite weak and dehydrated. As we ate Philly pretzels and chugged down water, our friendship began. Bruce, Sheri, and I hung out a lot that summer. As their trust in me grew, they opened up their lives to me. Bruce and Sheri were in their young thirties. Originally from York, Bruce lost his roofing job because he made an ethical stance to not join a union. They had recently moved to Philadelphia in hopes of finding more work. Bruce also was diagnosed with Leukemia. There were days when Bruce’s radiation therapy, coupled with the intense summer heat, caused him to be so weak that Sheri and I would have to carry him to an air-conditioned restaurant and feed him.

One night in August, I was helping take a CSM youth group around to feed and talk with the homeless. We had two meals left, and so I asked if we could visit Bruce and Sheri. When we arrived, Sheri had just finished meticulously laying out her cardboard and blanket for the night. She told me that Bruce had gotten lucky that day. He had waited with the other day laborers in line for a job. Unlike most days, today he was hired to help with roofing. As we talked with Sheri, Bruce suddenly appeared in the distance. He barely had enough energy to walk. Once he staggered to us, he collapsed onto his bed. Bruce had been roofing all day in the intense heat. He was burned bright red. The contractors only paid Bruce $20, so in order to save money, he decided to walk the five miles home instead of taking the bus. What can one say in the face of such suffering and injustice? Thankfully, Sheri interrupted the silence by asking us to pray for them. With his lasts words before falling asleep, Bruce prayed, "Lord, we will not worry about tomorrow. Thank you for helping Sheri and I make it through today."

I have discovered this kind of radical gratitude amongst numerous people who endure great suffering. For example, fast-forward eight months and across the country. I now found myself sitting on a park bench in Santa Monica, near the beach. I was observing how two different worlds—those with no home and those with multiple—could live so close together yet never see each other. As the homeless set up their beds for the night in the park, I looked across the street at the booming night life. Sports cars, jaguars, and Rolls Royces were pulling up to valet parkers. The night clubs had bouncers and lines out the door. While deep in thought, suddenly a rat ran by my foot. That was enough motivation for me to leave the park and cross the street…the invisible wall that separated these two worlds. As I walked down a busy shopping promenade, I noticed an elderly, Irish lady who, like Bruce, was holding a sign asking for help. Typically when people ask me for help, I’m down to my last dollar and already running late to my next appointment. But this particular night, I had the time, a friend had just given me some money with which to bless others, she seemed polite, and there was an inexpensive Irish restaurant (McDonalds) just next to her. Feeling confident, I approached her and asked if she wanted to get a late dinner together. "Oh no," she gently yet passionately responded. Seeing my confusion she continued, "I’ve been so thirsty, and so a few minutes ago I closed my eyes and prayed to God for some water. And when I opened my eyes look at what was at my feet!" I quickly lowered my eyes from her radiant smile to her feet. I could not believe my eyes! There must have been at least 20 water bottles in two grocery bags. "Do you want to celebrate God’s faithfulness with some ice cream?" I inquired. "Oh no! I can’t go anywhere. I haven’t finished thanking God yet."

I walked away humbled. I too quickly move from thanking God for providing my needs today to nervously praying that He’ll do the same with tomorrow’s challenges. I am slowly learning the wisdom Jesus taught in Matthew 6:34. "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

-Jason Porterfield, CSM LA City Host Spring 2006

Friday, June 02, 2006

I <3 NY

Check out a City Host's perspective on living and serving in New York City this summer...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Anyone leave their heart in Chicago??

I stumbled upon the following reflection from a past CSM participant - what an encouragement it is to hear how lives are changed and a passion for the city is developed....
Don't forget that if you've gone on a trip and have stories to share we'd love to hear them! Go to the CSM Experiences Forum.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Faces of Homelessness

Our Toronto Associate City Director, Tara, ran across this great site:
It's a photography project designed to put a face on homelessness. Too often we become numb to problems when just look at statistics. Take a moment to read these people's stories and let us know what you think!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

CSM LA Gets "Group of the Year" Award

Our site in Los Angeles has been serving alongside Project Angel Food for over 3 years now. They help the local non-profit prepare and deliver nutritious meals to terminally ill individuals. The organization recently awarded CSM their "Group of the Year" award. Check out the article by CSM LA co-City Director, Kelly Reed!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Following the Example of Momma T

Los Angeles County has an estimated 91,000 homeless. Orange County-a bordering, affluent county-has an even higher percentage of homeless. As I pray to not be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of poverty in my community, I have sought to embrace Mother Teresa's wisdom: "I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one."
A local Orange County youth group recently came on their annual CSM-LA weekend trip. One morning, in seeking to live out Momma T's wisdom, they were given a few dollars to take a homeless person out for breakfast. Christie and her son were with the group who enjoyed a scrumptious Irish meal (McDonalds) with Charles. Charles was an older man who was dressed in ratty clothes and female flip flops that were half his foot-size. After breakfast, Christie helped Charles pick out an entire new wardrobe from clothes collected at her church.
But the thought of Charles' sandals never left her mind. She cried out to God for him all weekend. When her group left on Sunday, Christie told me that she was going to collect shoes and socks (which are like gold to the homeless) from her friends. Three days later, Christie and her sister loaded their Expedition up with the donations, and made their way back to downtown LA. She called me to ask for directions and to tell me that she had been praying all week for God to help her find Charles. I was touched by her act of compassion, but realized that finding Charles within downtown's sea of homeless people was like searching for a needle in a haystack.
As Christie exited the freeway and began entering downtown, she saw a homeless man standing by the traffic light. At first she thought he was barefoot, but as she drove closer she quickly realized that this man was wearing size six female flip-flops! Charles was given new socks and shoes; Christie and her sister were blessed to eat another meal with Charles; and I learned a valuable lesson in the power of prayer.
-Jason Porterfield, City Host, CSM LA

Monday, April 17, 2006

Youth Leader Reflects on Homeless in Toronto

The following is a poem written by a youth leader who recently brought a group to our Toronto site. We thank him for his insight and for sharing his heart with us.

John Doe

There on the street they huddle.
The cold is not so bad
if you're watching from a heated van
anticipating a warm, soft bed.

But to walk with empty pockets,
no money and no I.D.
Well - a toonie you might be hording.
From past abuse you might be free.

But the night stretches before you
so endless, cold and dark.
The new life you have dreamed of fades
'gainst realities so stark.

The streetlights glare with a cold, cruel light
casting shadows all around.
Your courage shrinks as terrors creep
from each outline on the ground.

You hate the one who forced you
to finally run away.
You hate your helplessness and fear
of this night and coming day.

You cry to God. But you don't believe
that he hears you - or he cares.
For painful years have led to this.
When has he heard your prayers?

And the toonie in your pocket
might ease your hunger's pain.
But you can't yet bear to spend it
so you shuffle on again.

Still the smells from the hotdog vender
are a torture you've never known.
They force your memories to look back
on the good you once called home.

But that good was stained by a trust betrayed.
Pain's an overflowing well
that rises, stirring up the murk
of shame - flushed straight from hell.
You can't go back! You WON'T go back!
You swear it once again.
But your empty belly mocks you
on this dark night full of shame.

And the streetlights glare in the bitter cold
casting shadows on the ground.
The darkness seems inside of you.
Hope cannot be found.

Desperate though you are to trust
you can't trust anyone.
You cry inside, though the tears don't spill
as you begin to make a plan.

Your toonie would buy a token,
down to the subway train.
A single step could bring relief;
an end to all your pain.

Your eyes begin that bitter search
and your feet move on as well.
Then you're stumbling down a long, long stair,
descending into - Hell?

But the love of life is still too strong
and you turn and rush away.
Your tears this time you cannot hide
and your pain, they must betray.

So your feet go on their endless tramp.
It doesn't matter where.
You're dead - you're just not lying down.
The passers by just stare.

No one reaches out a hand
or offers just a smile.
Your weary feet still pound the concrete
mile after mile.

The shadows fade. The sun appears.
One endless night is done.
You find a corner free from wind
and stand there in the sun.

You've almost ceased to shiver.
You hardly feel the cold.

It doesn't seem to matter now,
the death of your plans bold.
The sun's soon covered by a cloud.
The cloud spits freezing rain.
Your strength is gone. You half believe
you must deserve this pain.

You cry to God, a wordless cry.
You wonder, does he hear?
You're empty now of bitter rage.
You've almost ceased to fear.
Your knees buckle beneath you.
Head sags against your chest.
One more John Doe, on memorial role
will say - you found your rest.
.. .. ..

There on the street they huddle.
The cold is not so bad
if you're watching from a heated van
anticipating a warm, soft bed.

I drove that van on Toronto's streets.
I saw them huddled there.
My cry to God - a wordless groan
was an anguished, pain-filled prayer.
The memorial plaque with its list of names
in my memory is burned,
and the purplish red of a cold, cold hand
and the help so often spurned . . .

A hot sandwich and hot coffee
there on the freezing street . . .
Is that all I can give them
their needs to somehow meet?

For I the poet - full of words
was dumb there by their side.
And home now in my comfort,
sat with pen in hand, and cried.

Copyright April 10, 2006 Brian Austin

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Why Mission Trips Are a Waste of Time

If you've never read the article "Why Mission Trips Are a Waste of Time" by CSM's President (Noel Becchetti) we encourage you to do so!
"We're going to Ecuador!" The words ring out in a dimly-lit sanctuary. As music pulses, more lights come on and more voices ring out: "We'll be working with our denominational missionaries!" "We're going to repair the roof of their mission house!" "We're going to put on a Bible club for the village children!" The voices? Members of a youth group in a large church in the Pacific Northwest. They were presenting their upcoming mission trip to members of their congregation. Me? I was the guest speaker, brought in to inspire the adults to support their students' summer mission plans. No problem--except that I was in a quandary. What can I honestly say to these people, I thought, when I know that this trip is mostly a waste of everyone's time and money? Read on...

Read what other bloggers have to say...

Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions before going on a short term mission trip! Any thoughts? (Please read the entire article before commenting!)

Friday, March 31, 2006

CSM Experiences!

Look what we've stumbled upon!
"For that past week or so, 19 missioners from our church were sent to serve in downtown Washington, D.C. with the Center for Student Missions. They served in senior adult centers, homeless shelters and kitchens & helped run a day camp WITH the Glorious Church, a small, struggling, all-black congregation (just to name a few of the places)..." Click here to read on!
Anyone else have a good CSM experience they want to share? Email us! We love to hear your stories!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Reflecting on an Inspirational Life

My dad died suddenly at a very young age. Although I don't remember anything about him other than what has been relived through my family, his life taught me one thing that I will never forget. You can't take life for granted because you never know when your last day might be...
click here to continue reading
-Tara McPherson, Toronto Associate City Director

Monday, March 20, 2006

Compassionate Listening

What was the most compassionate thing anyone has ever done for you? The most compassionate times in my life have involved friends staying by my side when I have been heartbroken. I cannot recall any of their advice or sympathy cards. Their presence and listening ears are all I remember.
Here in Los Angeles, there are many people talking about the poor; however, there are few people talking to the poor. Youth groups that come on CSM trips typically have an opportunity to get to know some of the homeless by name. Some groups invite the poor to lunch, others hand out socks and blankets. These are small acts. But they are small acts done with great love!
And this compassionate love is what the poor remember. Last week, Nina, a homeless woman, approached my group and asked, "Are you guys the ones who come to listen to people?" Her comment made me cry. I am so happy that CSM groups are known for their listening ears. When the poor are ignored all day long by passersby, perhaps sitting down and hearing their stories is the most compassionate act we can do. May we continue to be known for small acts done with great love!
-Jason Porterfield, CSM City Host, Los Angeles

Friday, March 10, 2006

Spring Madness in DC

Despite the 8 inches of snow on the ground, we're gearing up for the spring season in DC. We have 1 more weekend group before our own version of March (and April) Madness begins: 42 days straight of groups, from March 3 - April 14. We'll have a brief breather before another 2 weeks of mission trips, one or two groups in May, and then it's on to summer! Before we know it, we'll be training summer staff and searching for mysteriously opened fire hydrants to help cool off.
We've got plenty of work before we get there, though. This spring, we're looking forward to introducing 15 groups from all over the country to our nation's capital. Our summer schedule is fairly regular: groups come in Sunday evening, and depart Saturday morning. The spring, however, is anything but regular. There are variations in arrival days, departures, group age, numbers, the weather, other groups in town, ministry site openings and closings, etc. With all this craziness, it's important that we rely on the Lord to sustain us. Please be in prayer for our hosts & staff (42 days of groups means 42 days without a day off), the ministries we try to serve with consistency, and the groups coming in town: those that arrive in the 6th week are just as important as those that arrive in the 1st week.
Psalm 55:22
-Justin Hormel, Washington, DC City Director

Monday, February 27, 2006

CSM 2006 Summer Theme

Well it's been decided - this summer's theme is officially "Authentic Compassion-Seek God, Serve Others". It's been taken from Luke 10:25-37 and James 2:14-17. Both passages deal with serving others with compassionate hearts (the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke and the verse about faith being dead without works in James). Who is someone you can serve humbly and with compassion today?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

City Highlight - Los Angeles

If you have never been to LA with CSM or you haven't been recently...let me tell you how God has been working! CSM-LA had a record year in 2005 with more groups serving than ever before in our 18 year history. Not only that, but God is opening up new connections with amazing ministries around Los Angeles.

Four new Christian ministries have asked us to bring High School, Junior High and Adults to come and partner with them. And some of our current partners have opened doors to more avenues of ministry for our groups. Now we are able to serve families struggling with AIDS in an amazing transitional living environment. We are bringing crafts and friendship to children and mothers who are homeless on Skid Row. We are working with a relatively new ministry in South LA who has an amazing facility, but not enough staff to run kids programs in all the activity rooms that they have - CSM groups will have the chance to reach a great number of children in the part of Los Angeles hardest hit by poverty and crime. One last ministry I will mention reaches a segment of elderly people desperately in need of prayer, encouragement and conversation. We have the opportunity to help lead a chapel service at a Retirement Home and to meet and pray with people afterwards. God is truly moving to open doors for so many to minister in LA.

When you hear about Los Angeles, you may hear about gangs or crime. These issues plague many neighborhoods, but one of our biggest problems today is homelessness. I could give you more articles than you want about how Los Angeles has the largest homeless population in the United States. But I would rather share a story of hope. We always share with our groups on our Prayer Tour that God's healing touch is a gradual process brought to life by many people caring enough to help. People that we meet who live on the streets are broken and in desperate need of God's healing. Our groups are a part of that when they stop to have a conversation, stay to pray, or just lend a helping hand. For a great example of this kind of powerful love, please read about Nathaniel and how this LA Times reporter has been one of many people helping this mentally disturbed homeless man to take a hold of the healing that God is offering him.

I hope to see some of you soon so that you can see first hand the amazing work that God is doing through humble servants like you here in LA.

Peace in Christ,

Rachel Hamilton

City Director, Los Angeles

Saturday, January 28, 2006

What can the homeless teach us about prayer?

A recent article in Christianity Today by Philip Yancey explores what the homeless of this country have to teach us about prayer and faith. "The Word on the Street" opens with a quote from Yancey's wife:
'"If you're writing a book about prayer, you should hang around the homeless for a while," said my wife, a veteran of inner-city ministry. "Street people pray as a necessity, not a luxury."'
Read the article ( and let us know what you think!