Friday, July 27, 2007

CSM DC in the News!!

Our DC City Director, Mark Harmon, was recently interviewed by Relevant Magazine for a piece entitled "Homelessness and Hope in the Capitol"...

"The story of Washington, D.C., tells a tale of two cities. One of them is an epicenter of wealth and power, the seat of the most powerful government in the world. It is a tourist hotspot that attracts millions to the National Mall to marvel at monuments to past presidents and soldiers. It is a hub of education, boasting the Smithsonian museums and several major universities.

The other is a small Southern city, wrought with fascinating history and populated by individuals who fled north following the Civil War. Being in the shadow of the Capitol has not spared it the plights that have plagued other major urban areas. It’s now speckled with construction cranes that attest to renewed efforts to revitalize a once economically dragging metropolitan area.
Gentrification is the cure, and new Starbucks and high-rise condos are the medicine. As wealthy professionals have moved back into the city, murder rates have fallen from 482 in 1991, an all-time high and a figure that briefly bestowed the city the title of “Murder capital of the United States,” to fewer than 200 in 2005. Violent crime, assault and robbery have seen similar drops per capita. Urban renewal is not without its drawbacks—unseating established neighborhoods and causing property values to skyrocket out of reach for many families. Some have been forced into inadequate or overcrowded living conditions. And the city continues to suffer from a burgeoning homeless population and one of the highest-spending, poorest-performing public school systems in the country.

Mark Harmon has seen much transition in the city. Harmon has been in the area for 27 years, and runs the Washington branch of the Center for Student Missions (CSM), an organization that brings groups into the city to work with various ministries and agencies in hopes of educating the participants about social problems while strengthening their faith and solidifying their groups. CSM maintains a permanent presence in Washington as well as eight other large cities across the country..."

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Monday, July 23, 2007

First Congregational Church Serves San Fran

Day 1 - San Francisco

Sunday, July 1

Our morning started off early as we met at the church at 6:15am to check in before leaving for the Boston Airport. Several Elders came to pray for us, along with family and friends. Thank you to those who came early to send us off.

The flight was uneventful. It was a 6 hours trip from Boston to San Francisco. The in-flight movie was less than exciting, Blades of Glory, but the company was great. We were seated all together in the middle of the plane.

During the flight we completed our devotions for the first day. Today’s theme was, “I Am a Servant First” based on 1 Tim 1:12-17.

After landing, we quickly got our luggage and got into our 5 rental mini vans, we are a group of 27, to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped near the bridge to enjoy scenery, stretch our legs and take some pictures before heading off to the Center for Student Missions (CSM) for check-in at 5pm.

We are staying in a church in two large rooms, one for the guys and one for the girls. We are sleeping on bunk beds and everyone has a mattress.

After settling in and having a brief orientation we headed out to supper to a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant. The food was outstanding and we all had to eat with chop sticks.

After dinner we headed out in our vans for a prayer tour of the city. This was a combination prayer time and information session. We learned tons about the city and the people who live here….both the wealthy and the poor.

We prayed individually and in groups but mostly our eyes were opened to the plight of the poorest of the poor. As we looked out over the lights of the city we were challenged to be light to the world for Christ. The final question posed by our guild as we completed the tour was, “where would Jesus be hanging out if he were in the city tonight?”

Our evening ended with a debrief of our day’s devotions and the prayer tour. Matt sent us off to bed at 11pm (2am Boston time) with a worship song and we all quickly fell asleep after a long day of travel, anxious for the day ahead and hopeful of the week ahead.

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GREAT BIG thanks to First Congregational Church of Hopkinton, MA for serving the people of San Francisco. You, too, can serve in the city - learn how!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Elaina's Story

Elaina* doesn't speak English, and doesn't understand it very well either. Her step-mother abuses her and she doesn't know what happened to her real mom. She tries very hard in school and is doing fairly well, but a lot of the other children shun her because she doesn't speak English. I asked her what her favorite thing to eat was, and she told me she didn’t really care as long as she had food. This little girl was by far the greatest blessing of my summer thus far, and my interaction with her was truly of God's making. I struggle with Spanish and foreign languages in general. Through a power that I know was not my own, I found myself recalling Spanish that I never thought I would remember. I found myself actually conversing with her in Spanish. It was somewhat broken, and our conversation was limited by the small number of verbs I know, but what I remembered was exactly what I needed. She tried to give me a dollar. What broke my heart was when she told me that she thought she needed to pay me to be her friend. After a long conversation, slowed by my slow memory, I was able to explain to her that she didn't need to give me money for me to like her. I finally got her to put the money back in her bag and I was able to get a big hug before I left for the day. The world she lives in is so different from my own, yet somehow we found each other. God in His grace allowed me to befriend her, and even more graciously allowed me to be embraced by her tiny little arms.

The question I then find myself asking is, “God, why bring me into this little girl’s life when I can’t do anything to solve any of her problems?” I find myself asking this about almost every interaction I have with anyone here in LA. But then again, isn’t that true of any interaction I have with anyone, friend or stranger? I can’t change anyone. I can’t fix things. One person cannot change the world. And I am learning to be okay with that. Every person has a story. We all walk a road. Some believe it is a road of our own choosing. Some believe it is laid out for us before we are born. Some don’t believe anything at all. But differences aside, everyone is on a journey through life, and the collisions we have with one another often shape how we will respond when future collisions come. What do I mean by that? I’m still figuring it out. But this I do know; I collide with people. Every. Single. Day. Whether by my choice or not, I go in and out of people’s stories, their journeys, on a moment by moment basis. I may not be able to fix Elaina’s home situation, but I can show her what love is and maybe give her hope for something more. And maybe, ten years from now, someone else will collide with her and be able to show her what it is she’s been hoping for. And maybe no one will. But all I have is now. This one moment to embrace her with everything I have, even though it means my heart will be broken when I have to say goodbye; this one moment to turn away and leave her believing more than ever that no one loves her, because it’s easier for me. I can’t take myself out of her story; like it or not I’m already in it. So the real question I must face is not “Why God?” but “How God?” “How can I take every moment captive and use it for her benefit and the glory of your kingdom?” Maybe someday I’ll figure out a 12-step working answer for that question. I hope I don’t though. I’d rather just keep loving. Yeah it’s a risk, and sometimes I’ll get burned. But in the words of John Keats, “I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion ; I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion. Love is my religion. I could die for that. I could die for you.” Elaina, it hurts to love you, but I do it anyway. God, give me the courage to love to the point of pain every single day. Like King David, shall I offer what costs me nothing? May it never be.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

-Lisa, 2007 CSM LA City Host

Monday, July 02, 2007

Toronto Reflection

This week in Toronto brought another group from Michigan. Alan and I were co-hosting since the group was of a larger size and we split the team up to go to different ministry sites. During the week, my half served at the Good Shepherd Centre (which provides shelter, food and other services for those in crisis). It is one of my favourite places to serve and it was really exciting to share the experience with my team. At the beginning of the week they were all very shy and reserved but by the end they had all made relationships with different clients at the drop-in.
My team also proved to be very competitive and loved to challenge each other. Part of our time each morning was spent preparing the 91 beds in the shelter. I had never seen those beds made in such record time! At the end of the week two of the girls challenged one of the workers and they raced against each other. It was two against one and whoever could prepare a pair of bunk beds first would be the winner. Well, the girls beat the full-time worker, but only by nine seconds! He even had prizes for them after they won. I was very impressed by the group this week. I believe they were the hardest workers I’ve seen yet. They never complained about the work that was given to them and they focused equally on quality of work.
One thing which really struck the group this week was the strength of the relationships they had built this week. They were shocked to recognize so many of the people from the drop-in as we visited other places throughout the week. One afternoon we handed out water on a particularly hot day and some of them came across a man from the drop-in. He was able to share part of his life with them by letting them help him feed the birds in the park and later on he showed them his portion in the community garden. He tends a small vegetable garden and grows food for himself and his friends during the summer months. It was very special to be able to see him in his own environment and to see other parts of his life.
After seeing the different gifts of groups that come in, it makes me anxious to meet each new one when they arrive. It’s always sad to say goodbye at the end of the week but I truly love watching as God pulls out a group’s talents and uses them in different ways each week.

-Robin, 2007 CSM City Host