Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Being a Bridge

bridge –noun. a structure spanning and providing passage over a river, chasm, road, or the like.

I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of being a bridge builder. So much of what we do here at CSM is centered on connecting people. As full-time staff, we value building long lasting relationships in the city. Then our participants come – mostly from suburban and rural communities - and they’re connected to our friends in the city across lines of race, language, and socioeconomic status. As they work in shelters, kids’ clubs, senior centers and the like, they make connections that they never expected.

It’s interesting to me, though, that as we make these connections we’re ultimately connecting more with God. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40) As we connect with people and serve the city, we are connecting to God in a tangible and real way.

I encounter many chasms as I work in the city – language barriers, fear, prejudice, stereotypes. I find, though, that as we bridge those gaps we’re also bridging the gap that is between us and God. As we serve, we somehow draw closer to him.

-Megan Breed, CSM Houston Associate City Director

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From $70K to Food Bank, One Family's Struggle

In these days of financial anguish, it's amazing to see the hope that continues to shine through debt, worry and tears. Families across the nation have been hit hard these last few months. Women and children continue to be the fastest growing section of homeless individuals.
It's the little things that count. Take a look at this recent CNN article about a family that went from living on $70,000 a year to needing to utilize their local food bank. It can be life-altering for someone to come to the point of needing help, but what a beautiful reflection of God's grace - when people step up and give of themselves to bless others in need. Whether it means volunteering at a food bank, offering to pay for somebody's utility bill that month or just spending time with someone who is lonely. There are countless ways for you to reach out.
How will you be Jesus' hands and feet today?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Toronto Group touched by Ministry Partner

Ellen is a women who was in a terrible accident, which left her in constant pain and unable to perform daily tasks. She is extremely allergic to dust but cannot clean her apartment herself. Our CSM groups go in as often as we can and attempt to dust, clean, rearrange and organize her small apartment. She is so thankful for the help and usually has a list as long as a house of the things that need to be done. Ellen has been an inspiration to our groups because of her positive attitude on life (despite her condition) and is constantly trying to move forward. The doctors told her she would be wheelchair bound for the rest of her life but she walks (not very far but nevertheless). She is convinced that she can get healthier if she can just get her apartment in order and get exercising again. Ellen is constantly praying for people to come and help her.
One of the weekends in April, we had a group come to serve in Toronto. Stacey came as a fill in leader at the last minute. She didn't know the group very well but had a big heart and was willing to serve whenever and wherever. She was chosen to lead a small group to Ellen's and had no idea that God would use her in ways she never imagined.
As soon as we arrived at Ellen's house, Ellen began to make a list of all the things she wanted us to do from running errands, dusting and reorganizing things. Stacey took two of the youth out to help pick up groceries, get the mail and find organizational items at Canadian Tire, and I stayed behind with the rest of the youth to help clean. The group worked as hard as they possibly could, but still felt they didn't make a dent in what needed to be done. Stacey was particularly burdened by the fact that they left Ellen with still so much to do.
Stacey decided to come back, on her own time, with another group, just to help Ellen make her apartment more of a home and more organized. Again, the group worked really hard and were able to make a huge difference in Ellen's apartment and life. I want to add that Stacey came back even though she was feeling quite ill and later had to go to the doctor's. Ellen was truly blessed by God through Stacey and her groups. I too would say that I have been blessed to meet Stacey. To me, Stacey lived out scripture, not only the weekend she served with CSM, but in her own everyday life and choosing to come back and help someone in need. Matthew 25:40 "Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me."

-Holly Fledderjohann, CSM Toronto Co-City Director

Friday, April 25, 2008

leave good notes...

One of the "tasks" of a host is to read those tricky evaluations right? Well I LOVE feedback as long as it's constructive, therefore this is my favorite past-time in between groups. A couple of weeks ago we had some very thoughtful comments come through and one in particular stuck out to me. After going to the Harbor Light Salvation Army, one youth took away an invaluable memory. She notes that one of the members “Amos, is a cook and goes to work everyday to provide for people that are homeless. Amos really just had God. I know that sounds weird but something about him just screamed ‘I have Jesus, let me show you him.’”
Although not all of the evaluations I come across contain descriptions like this one, the richness and beauty of this one makes them all worthwhile.
-Adrienne, CSM Houston Spring City Host

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Don’t Make Assumptions: Tom @ Charlie’s Place

It was my eighth mission trip into Washington, D.C. Every time I go God teaches me something new. During our “urban immersion weekends” our team serves those in need through various aid programs. Some are Christ-centered, some are not.

I had never served at Charlie’s Place before. It was in the basement of a church. We were told that we’d arrive early and help set up, work in the kitchen preparing and serving breakfast, and then we could visit with the guests. It was a relaxing setting. Many of the men who came, and it was mainly all men, brought their newspaper to read. Several were friends and chatted it up while they waited for breakfast to be served.

There was a short blessing given and the meal was served. I noted that there was nothing said about God or Christ in the blessing. Maybe there would be some kind of evangelical message later I thought. I enjoyed talking to some of the men. I also visited with the women who provided a “clinic” table in the corner. They had aspirin and first aid items to provide to the guests.

When we were cleaning up and getting ready to leave, I asked our host, Tom, what was done to encourage these men in their walk with God as a result of being at this breakfast in this church. Tom looked a bit puzzled by my question and simply stated that the breakfast had no faith basis and he himself was not a Christian. He was working there under a grant program managing this feeding program.

I was stunned. Here I was serving breakfast in a church and assuming we were all on the same page - ministering to folks in God’s name and for His glory. I then discover my host didn’t believe in God. He was just there feeding people, that’s it. At first I was upset by the assumptions I had made based on my past experiences. Upon reflection, I felt God nudging me to look at the situation through His eyes. His people were being fed. They were given a wonderful setting to relax and fellowship. God’s name was not spoken but His presence was there.

And, finally, God compelled me to remember what my dear inner city host of ten years, Mark Harmon of Center for Student Missions, has always said to me when we serve in secular settings --- we might be the only light of Christ these “institutions” ever see. And when they see us, maybe they see something different in us that compels them to explore who God is and maybe, just maybe make a decision for Christ some day. Mark said that in serving where God isn’t apparent we’re doing what Jesus did. He did not hang out in a “holy huddle” but rather engaged ALL of the world around him during his time on this earth.

As I left Charlie’s Place I lifted a prayer to God and thanked Him for reminding me that He is present in every place. I am called to be faithful, to serve as His light and share him whenever and wherever I can. I also said a prayer for Tom, and I still do on occasion to this day, that he would find God in his life.

Since our trip there last May, there is now a team serving regularly at Charlie’s Place from Fourth Presbyterian Church who went with us on the immersion trip. There is also a small team of us who have moved on to Miriam’s Kitchen, another breakfast program offered daily in the basement of another church. God is not mentioned there either but He is present! Maybe in serving faithfully in these settings we can build relationships not only with those we serve, but the ones we serve alongside as well. God could use that to reveal Himself to those who don’t know Him, including Tom.

Lessons learned:

  • Wrong assumptions can teach you a lot! I learned to not categorize people, their motives for serving, or how God works in meeting the needs of others

  • God is at work everywhere - even if it isn’t readily apparent

  • Remember that some of the greatest opportunities to share Christ could be in a setting where His name is not spoken

-DeeDee Collins, CSM Group Leader (and friend)

Learn how YOU can serve in Washington, D.C.!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why is it that people who have so little, are so willing to give so much?

Why is it that people who have so little, are so willing to give so much?

Take Mikael and Yyeta from the Salt and Sea Mission. An older Russian couple who has lived in Coney Island for the last 14 years, I met them last week at a ministry that hands out food pantry bags to those who attend a worship service before opening to the public. Probably in their 80s, Mikael and Yyeta have been modestly (but warmly!) dressed in the same clothes both times I met them.

** SIDE NOTE: Scratch that, Yyeta was wearing a different hat both times, and asked me repeatedly how I liked the purple one she was wearing that first day. I thought that purple was a great color on her, and it really brought out the blue of her amazing eyes. Today I complimented her rainbow hat as soon as she walked in the door and then she kissed me.**

Mikael danced during each song we sang as a group, and "hit" me with the maraca every chance he got. Vibrant and passionate about life, I enjoyed our shaky attempt at a conversation through the Russian accents and Mikael's limited English.

This is a couple very obviously in love, but almost as obviously struggling to make ends meet. Even though they are together, they each collect food separately when the food pantry opens and volunteers pass out items. The funny thing though, is that they ALWAYS give away the second item and walk out with one item for the two of them.

Last week Mikael gave me a small comb with a goat on it made out of white stone.

Take Liev, a vibrant Ukrainian immigrant who also lives in Coney Island. This is my second time meeting him as well, and both times he has tried to share his food pantry items with me. Today he offered me his can of orange juice and box of cereal. Last week he would have given me his entire bag had I let him.

Darryl, a recovering drug addict who is trying to secure work, yearns to pour his life into everyone he meets. Today he told me his story and how turning his life around has given his siblings the motivation to change their own lives.

So again, I ask, how is it that people who have so little, have no reservations about giving so much? I am hard-pressed to separate myself from the luxuries of this world, and take so much for granted. But these people struggle to make ends meet, and are willing to bless perfect strangers without batting an eye. They literally empty their pockets in sacrifice when the offering plate comes around, and I struggle to part with even just my excess.

-Katie, CSM NY City Host Spring 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Back on My Feet" Philadelphia Homeless Ministry

Check out this unique homeless ministry based in Philadelphia! Back on My Feet was started by Anne Mahlum as a way for homeless individuals to reclaim their lives. This CNN article and videos shows how running 3 mornings a week has led to lives being completely changed.

What passions, gifts or talents could you use in a unique way to minister to others?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Seattle Man Evicted from Treehouse

Check out this really interesting CNN video about a Seattle man being kicked out of his makeshift treehouse.
What is the best way to help this man? It's obvious he is doing the best with what he's been given. We must agree that there are too many problems with letting him stay in the tree house, but simply evicting him and not helping him is not the best answer. What do we do? How would you want to be treated if you were in his place?
Here's a follow up article...
-Tim Reed, CSM Chicago Co-City Director

Monday, April 14, 2008

Moving on Up

The general idea of relocating in Los Angeles is that you want to move to where the street numbers are smaller, north of Sunset is even better. Last December, CSM-LA moved from our old location on West 20th street down to 55th and Long Beach Ave. We are accepting Christ’s call to downward mobility. Moving to South Los Angeles has opened my eyes to whole parts of Los Angeles that are completely overlooked. Daily, we see how the same forces that make it hard for the middle-class to survive in Southern Califonia, hit even harder on working poor families.
My interns have been living here since January. As outsiders, they have worked to adopt this community as their own: getting to know their neighbors; attending classes at the local community center; befriending the 18-year-old girl who works at the liquor store on the corner.
I have been most humbled by the gracious support we have received from ministry partners and friends. Moving a house for one family is hard enough. Moving the housing site for 100 visitors, an office for three and permanent housing for 7 interns just isn’t possible on your own. Only from the expertise of our ministry partners would we learn that many of the families in Florence-Firestone, near where we live, are the same people who work in sweat shops. They have been priced out of East LA and Boyle Heights, a usual entry point for Latino immigrants.
A great joy for me to see everyday is the mural that now graces one whole wall of our new common room, pictured on the front page. Clairfoster Josiah Browne is an intern for us this spring. He is also a talented artist. We first lured him into CSM, by asking him to design and paint a graffiti mural for our new place, pictured above. I love how he combines the diverse highlights of LA’s tourist attractions with the faces of those that come to serve. Now CJ leads group to live the beauty of this mural.
Through all the difficulties of moving housing sites, I have seen how God plants seeds of hope in unlikely places. We continue to put our groups and ourselves in places where we look to see God come through. Only his peace can overcome the needs of our cities. Thanks to each of you for supporting me through this tough transition. He is growing CSM-LA and those we influence into a true planting of his righteousness.

-Rachel Hamilton, CSM Los Angeles City Director

Friday, April 11, 2008

CHA considers term limits on residents

Chicago's Housing Authority (CHA) was recently featured in this Chicago Tribune article. CHA is looking to adjust term lengths for residents - creating quite and uproar in the community.

What do you think? Would enforcing term limits be a good idea?

Learn how you can serve the people of Chicago with CSM!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Storytelling in the Big Apple

Yesterday, I set out bright and early with half of Michael's Michiganders to help sort clothes and serve at a Lutheran Parish soup kitchen.

After hanging and folding hundreds of garments of clothing, we spent the rest of the day handing out plates brimming with food to weary men and women from the midtown area of NYC. I've never felt so genuinely appreciated... maybe its because yesterday was warmer, and maybe it was because the environment was smaller and a little more intimate. And maybe, just maybe, it was because I managed to take the time and look people in the eyes before I slapped a greasy piece of meat onto their plates. I don't know... they say that everyone is a single paycheck away from waiting for a meal in a food line, so why should we look at anyone like they are worth less than ourselves or anyone else? Mistakes, misfortune, or LIFE aside, we are all deserving of that momentary (and all too fleeting) provision of pride and dignity.

You'd think that after a fulfilling morning at St. Luke's with an awesome group of students, and an incredible Vietnamese dinner (mmmm, my favorite!!), I'd be geared up and ready for an after dinner ministry site. Instead... I yet again suffered from a human heart - I was tired. I had a headache. It'd been a long day. But there I was, gathering up my 7 Michiganders, and heading over to the Dorcas Center for Chinese Workers to help out with ESL classes. And by help, I mean lead. And by lead, I mean sitting across and next to three women who just smiled and nodded every time I asked a question. I was drained. And unmotivated. And kind of frustrated. And apparently SELFISH.

But after a page of "reading" and "pronunciation," I asked questions and listened and clarified as these three beautiful told me all about their jobs, their children, their homes... I gave them (very willingly after my much-needed change of heart) my undivided attention, and realized - yet again - that this is what so many people are searching for... Attention. Conversation. LOVE. We all have a story to tell and our lives to share, and we want nothing more than someone who will listen and share back with you.

Besides, I also have three separate invites for some authentic, home-cooked Chinese food. Yummmmm. :)

-Katie, CSM NY City Host Spring 2008

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Life Taken Too Soon

ESPN recently featured an article about Jamiel Andre Shaw II (lovingly known as Jas). At 17 he had accomplished more than most - a star athlete, loving brother and son. And even more amazing was that, though his family lives in the heart of Los Angeles, Jas had managed to stay out of gangs, away from drugs and in school. He had overcome so many odds, but that didn't keep him out of harms way.
On the evening of March 1, just 40 yards from the front door of his house, Jas was shot and killed. A senseless loss of life.
Teens in Los Angeles have a hard time getting to age 18 these days. It had become Jas' father's goal for him - the "18 Year Plan".
"Eighteen meant college. Eighteen meant Jas never became a casualty of the streets, that he never found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eighteen meant Jas was relatively lucky. Minority kids in Los Angeles, whether black or brown, need a little luck to make it to 18. Not a ton of luck, but a little luck. Just a smidge. You never know."
Read the entire article at

Want to learn how you can serve the people of Los Angeles and bring hope to that city? Check out CSM's website!

Monday, April 07, 2008

A day in the life of a CSM Houstonian!

The spring break season is over and the intensity has slowed. Everything in Houston went smoothly throughout the past three weeks. Of all of the moments shared in the city, one day distinctly sticks out to me. My group was serving at Open Door Mission which is a Christian based men’s drug/alcohol rehabilitation program. Some of the Jr. High group I was with had previously served there and were ready to “beat” some of the clients at basketball.
After we served breakfast and cut some carrots everyone made their way outside. While we were out there, I met a man named Sean. Sean was having a blast watching everyone play basketball and started to share some of his history with me. I stopped him mid sentence and asked if he would share it with this group. We all gathered and sat down on a grassy area as Sean shared his testimony with us. Although I will not do his story justice because only he can truly describe the trials his past contained, I will attempt to hit the highlights of what he shared with us.
Sean at Open Door Mission was raised in the Catholic Church by a middle class family. At the young age of 11, he started drinking. Shortly after that he moved to marijuana, cocaine, and crack cocaine. Although he started using these strong drugs at such a young age, they did not hold him back from graduating high school. This man was actually an incredible swimmer.
After receiving a full college scholarship, by the age of 21, Sean was ranked 10th in the nation. This achievement is amazing, yet, almost unbelievable to think that at the time, he was a functioning addict. After college, he was a drug dealer and addicted to crack cocaine for 22 years.
His journey now continues with new light at Open Door where he has dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and been sober for three months. He was so excited to tell all of the youth about his new found love.
For me, although testimonies are beautiful and honest, after the 27th of the day, the luster is somewhat lost. I will forever remember Sean because of his ending comment. He asked all of the kids “Do you realize that you were just playing basketball with a bunch of addicts?” A more talkative kid of the group replied “No, we were just playing.” Then Sean added “That’s God.”
When I first started with CSM, I was amazed and enthralled by all of the interesting people that I would meet. It seemed like every new day topped the previous one as I continued on my own journey. I now realize that it’s not the people that are so interesting, it’s they way God is moving through them that keeps me on my toes.
I kind of like being a ballerina.

-Adrienne, CSM Houston Spring 2008 City Host

Friday, April 04, 2008

CSM Toronto City Host's Powerful Testimony

I met a man whose story left a permanent impression on my soul. He grew up in Ontario and found himself in Toronto. He established himself working for a few different banks. He got good at what he did and made it to the top of his field. Life was good. Maybe not exactly as planned, but still good. He worked well into his fifties and then everything changed. Two banks decided to merge. They only needed one person in his job, so they kept the youngest man – the person who they had to pay the least. That’s a hard blow. But this man was still hopeful – he was good at what he did – he could get another job. Or could he? He applied for job after job. He went to employment agencies for help. He was told that jobs in his field are hard to come by because they don’t have a high turnover rate. But my friend still kept looking. Resume after resume he sent out. Nothing. Soon he went through his savings until nothing was left. His landlord had been gracious, but human grace only goes so far. So this man sold all his worldly possessions. He gave all the money he had left to his landlord – a small dent in the back rent he owed, but it was all he could do. And so he set out, with all he owned in a bag on his back, an unexpected twist in his life. One he never could have anticipated. Let me introduce you to my friend Steve.

We are all at different stages in life. And we don’t know what the future will hold. Most of the people on the streets here in Toronto never planned on being there. They didn’t wake up one day and say to themselves “I want to be a street person.” But sometimes life throws unexpected twists our way.

Steve’s story has a happier ending. While on the streets, the Sanctuary community reached out to him. They helped him find housing. They gave him a place to belong. They helped to rebuild him into the person God had intended him to be. When people find themselves on the street, stripped of everything we tend to hold dear in our life, as much as we hate to admit it, our value as a person goes with it. Sanctuary helps people realize – really realize – that no matter how much or how little “things” you have – no matter if you live in a big house or under the stars – everyone – that is everyone – is equal in God’s eyes. They live this out.

Steve is working now – he’s a host for CSM! This spring as groups
have come to serve, it’s been Steve who has been leading them around,
teaching them about life on the streets, and helping them to help others.
He’ll still be around this summer, so I invite you all to bring a group of
people to come help the homeless in Toronto – you’ll meet Steve and he
can share with you first hand the journey that God took him on…. At
least his journey so far!

-Tara McPherson, CSM Toronto Co-City Director

More of Steve's story can be found in the book "The Twenty Piece Shuffle" by Greg Paul, the Executive Director of Sanctuary - available this coming July.

CSM still needs groups to serve in Toronto this summer! Check out our website to learn more about this amazing city! Or get your group registered now!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

CSM Groups Serving at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank Make a Difference!

Center for Student Missions is a valued contributor to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Since 2004 we have sent an average of 3 churches per week to sort food, salvage donations that otherwise wouldn't be used and put together shopping bags that keep an elderly person or a young mother eating healthy food for a week. That is hundreds of churches, thousands of volunteers.

Food shortages are affecting the hungry world-wide.

"The vast majority of the people who use the services of the food bank, they're working poor, both breadwinners husband and wife," said John Knapp, president of the Food Bank of Southern California.

The problem is acute in Los Angeles, where housing and transportation costs, both of which rose sharply over the past year, gobble up much of a low-income family's budget."

Serving with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank turns a $1 donation into $9 of food distributed. CSM is the only group that can send Junior High aged volunteers (under 14) to the food bank and this is because of our excellent record of service. I am happy we can send all our groups to help with such an effective ministry.

-Rachel Hamilton, CSM LA City Director

Read a recent article about the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank from the LA Times.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Just in the Nick of Time

Every December CSM has the amazing opportunity to bless our partner ministries in the city with a tithe. This past year our deliveries were later than usual since our son, Luke, was born December 4. Just before Christmas, I delivered the check and gifts to one of our longtime partners, Kids Meals (formerly KidCare). Ruth Burrell opened the envelope and about fell off her chair. Then she went scrambling about her desk to show me something. As it turns out, that very morning, their administrator, Marguerite, had come to her with a ticker tape showing how much money they needed right away. They had already received a $50something donation that morning. The total amount needed was $807.87. Our check was for $750. I offered her $7 more from my wallet, but she wouldn't take it - she just rejoiced in God's provision in the nick of time. It was such a beautiful moment that I took a picture of it with my phone (see image to the left).

-Paul Randall, CSM Houston City Director

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Redevelopment in DC

This Wasington Post article looks at the redevelopment from the perspective of the effects that is is having on a non-profit organization. We don't work with this particular place, but this is happening to many of the places that we work with as well. The approach they take is really interesting. It doesn't condemn the redevelopment, but it calls into question what more the city could do to help the struggling businesses and non-profits. The article itself is pretty interesting, but the video that goes with it is very good.

-Chris Lyons, Washington DC Associate City Director