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