Thursday, July 31, 2008

TO Ministry: Church of the Redeemer

As I reflect on Toronto and the ministries here, I begin to think about the book of Ephesians and diversity. In chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul describes believers as the body of Christ (Eph. 4:4). There are different parts to the body and each part has a specific purpose (Eph. 4:11-13). One part is not more important or better than the other. That’s what I think about when I go through the ministries here in Toronto. They are all so different from each other but they are all doing great things for Christ and they are exactly where they need to be. Take, for example, the Church of the Redeemer.
Church of the Redeemer is located on Bloor St, one of the busiest streets in Toronto. It is a small church surrounded by skyscrapers and fancy hotels. Just south is the University of Toronto. Our CSM groups that serve there get to help make and serve meals to guest from the drop-in. We also encourage them to venture outside of the kitchen and visit with the guests. The majority of people in the drop-in would be people from the streets - but not exclusively. Occasionally, they serve university students who can’t afford groceries for that week or people who have homes but not enough income for groceries. The community around them knows who they are and respect what they do. They’re right where they need to be.
Let me share a brief history about how their ministry started. “In the early 1990's, the Church secretary provided sandwiches for street guests who came to the Church looking for a bite to eat. By the mid-1990's, the Outreach committee developed a lunch program to help feed the downtown poor who live in our neighbourhood. Today the program serves approximately 75 meals a day, five days a week. A core of Church volunteers and a roster of 90 University student volunteers help coordinate meal preparation and service. A nurse provides a basic health care clinic two days per week. Haircuts are also offered and referrals are arranged to agencies (detox, mental health etc.) around the city. A part-time outreach worker helps to keep the volunteers coordinated, the meals served and the guests welcomed.”
This is only one ministry here in Toronto and when I think of all of them working together, in harmony, for the same cause, I get goose bumps. It is such an honour to serve our Lord! “From him the whole body, joined and help together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Eph. 4:16
I will leave you with this quote about the Church of the Redeemer from a student from Newmarket, Ontario, “The love shown for these people that need the support and care and food on a daily basis is a perfect way to be God’s hands & feet. The program is designed in such a way to see people on the streets as friends not projects. Us being impacted by them and them being impacted by us. We are all brothers and sisters in need of God’s perfect love.”

-Holly Fledderjohann, CSM Toronto Co-City Director

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

DC Reflection: Some Great Kids

I got to spend the past week with some great kids from Crosspointe Church in Washington D.C. working with the Center for Student Missions organization. Our high school kids took a short term mission trip to our nation’s capital to serve the poor and homeless for a week.
The majority of these kids had never served in this manner before and it was, to say the least, an eye opening experience for them. I would even say that it removed them from their comfort zone of Apex and Cary.
I have had the privilege of being on many short term mission teams but this was the first that I had been on exclusively with students. These kids rocked! I told them on the last night there that I would take them anywhere to serve. Not once in our week there did I hear a complaint and they served with grace and compassion wherever CSM had us serve. Whether it was making beds at a men’s shelter, bagging meals for AIDS and cancer patients or reading to a 6 year old in a summer program at the DC Boys and Girls club, they really stepped up and were the hands and feet of Jesus.
So, thank you guys for pouring yourselves into this week and coming back with a new perspective of life outside our comfort zones.

To Merry, Brianna, Sam, Jenna, Sarah, Jordan, Toni, Stephen, Sammi, Dick and Bailey: you guys are the best. Thanks for giving it all in DC last week.

-Rick, CSM Trip Leader

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Love by Action

Orange buildings, dusty sidewalks, brownish green grass, uneven sidewalks, the cutest kids I've ever seen, tagging, smiles, hugs, cheers, songs, Bible Verses, and soccer. These are the things that come to my mind when I think of Wyvernwood in LA.

I was sitting in the shade against a tree journaling and watching the CSM kids interact with their new found friends. This girl named Jenny (from Wyvernwood) came up to me and asked me if I wanted to see her writing journal from school. I said sure and I began to read. I got to read it for about half an hour because it was pretty in depth.

I got teary eyed as I began to read that Jenny wants to change her family and her neighborhood. Jenny has watched her siblings be involved in gangs and treat her parents badly. But Jenny doesn't want to be like that, instead she wants to write so that someone will hear and understand how bad gangs are and how much they influence families and break them apart. I sat shocked and amazed to see, that right before me stood a 9 year old girl who wanted to change something that she saw as wrong. So she wrote about it so someone else could read it and pass it along.

It's weird because I was one of the people who read it and now I want to pass it along. We go on the prayer tour every week and we talk about the gangs in LA and how they are very prominent and very much their own culture within LA. Yet hearing those statistics and seeing the tagging only goes so far. Yet when I look into the eyes of this 9 year old girl and see the hurt that has come into her family because of gangs a new realization sets in. I start to realize the real practical damage that is going on and I see the world these kids are growing up in, and my heart breaks for them. I just want to hold them in my arms and say, "You are awesome and it's going to be okay." Then I realize that while it's nice to do that, it's also nice to love by example and action, and show them that there is another kind of love. There is something that goes deeper than fighting and hating. There is something that stings more than words. That is love, and the only way sometimes to show the love of Christ is through our actions and simply telling the kids that we care and we think they are great.

I may never be able to fix Jenny's world but I can encourage her to pursue her writing dreams and to tell people about the things she's been through that she doesn't want other people to go through. Life is about the small things, about the moments we take to show love when we just don't understand why we can't solve all of the problems. It's about being Jesus in our actions and our smiles and our words. My prayer is for these kids to see Jesus this summer, so that they can understand true love that will prevail over these problems that they are going through. So that they can see that there is another option.

God is working and it's amazing because God is good all the time!

-Mandi, CSM Los Angeles City Host Summer 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Homelessness in Houston

Homelessness declining in Houston? An emphasis on long-term assistance is the new trend around the city. Check out a recent article from the Houston Chronicle...

Friday, July 25, 2008

New book aims at keeping kids out of gangs

Ralph Burgess is the author of a book series for young readers aimed to keep them out of gangs. "Cool Calvin's No Bandanas for Me: Staying Gang Free" is the second of this growing series that Burgess hopes to use as a tool to show students the reality of gang life. Police departments and schools across the nation are having to deal with younger and younger kids searching for acceptance and finding it in the false sense of security gangs offer.
Check out a recent article about Burgess' new book...
You can also hear Burgess read a section of "Cool Calvin's No Bandanas for Me"!

Thursday, July 24, 2008


“If you look up the word “love” in the dictionary, there’s a v. next to it meaning it’s a verb. That means you can tell me you love me all you want but if you don’t show me, it don’t mean a thing.”
(A man from Isaiah 58, a ministry site in Nashville where groups help serve lunch)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lessons from Toronto

It seems like just yesterday I arrived in Toronto as a bright-eyed, innocent North Carolinian ready to serve the inner-city as a CSM city host. Time is flying by, and now I have less than a month before I get back on that jet plane to fly home. I've only hosted four groups so far with CSM Toronto, but I've learned more about God and the way God moves within me and within those around me than I have in the past 4 years of university. This summer is quickly becoming much more than I expected it to be. Sure, I'm meeting some amazing people from various places and churches who come to serve God's people here in the heart of Toronto. Sure, I'm meeting some interesting people who are homeless, poor, downtrodden, and outcast by society because of their unfortunate socioeconomic situations. And sure, I'm continuing to learn about God and God's plan for the urban jungle that is Toronto.

But, I'm learning so much more...

Before I came to Toronto, I told myself that I really wanted this summer as a city host to confirm the fact that I am truly called into full-time ministry (I'm starting seminary in the fall to work on a Master of Divinity in Urban and Social Ministry) or confirm the fact that I am not called into full-time ministry. I prayed openly and honestly that God would guide me this summer as I make important decisions that will affect the rest of my adult life. As I got to Toronto, and as I started serving the people of the downtown core, all I saw around me was poverty, despair, brokenness, judgment, prejudice, and unlove. My heart constantly broke for the people that the police, fire department, and emergency personnel ignored because of their circumstance as homeless. I fell to my knees in pain for those who hungered or thirst outside of restaurants where people with money dined on fancy china and eat exquisite meals. As a host, I constantly talked about my groups becoming the light that could cast out the shadows that plagued the city, but personally all I could see was the darkness. I started to think that this experience was showing me that I could not be a minister. What could a minister do? How is a minister supposed to effect real, tangible change for the people whom society ignores? I slowly began to run away from my calling.

I soon realized though - through the groups I hosted, people I talked to at my anchor site, and situations back home and at school - that no matter how hard and fast I tried to run away from God and God's calling for me, God continued to run faster and chase harder after me. People were put in my path at perfect times in order to inspire and encourage me. Groups came at the perfect time to teach me once again to laugh amidst the tears. Stories were shared at the perfect time to remind me of the importance of prayer, faith, and dancing with God. People advocated on my behalf at the perfect time to show me that God is moving and working in my life to prepare the way for me. Scholarships were given to me at the perfect time to show me that God is providing for me at seminary and beyond. Things began to add up. God was beginning to show me the way - clearly and confidently. The initial prayer that I had (that this summer would show me the true direction of my life) was beginning to be answered.

I have described my faith journey as a boat lost in the fog. The boat is out to sea, but is trying to return to shore. There's a lighthouse out there guiding vessels back to land, but the fog is obstructing the view of the light. The water is rough at times and calm at others. The boat floats by day and rocks by night.

I'm the boat. The lighthouse is God. The shore is certainty, calling, faith, dance, prayer, affirmation, love, hope. The ocean is my life, my dreams, my fears, my family, my friends, my paths. The day is all things good - laughter, joy, etc. The night is all things not so good - poverty, hunger, pain, suffering. The fog is my doubt, my concerns, my inhibitions, my rationality, my intellectual curiosity.

At times, the fog is thick and doesn't allow the light from the lighthouse to be seen at all. The waves crash back and forth against me, and I move closer to shore, further away from shore, closer to shore, back out again, so on and so on. For most of my life, I've only caught glimpses of the shoreline, but I've never been able to see it clearly nor reach it fully. Now - through the experiences I'm having in Toronto, the people I'm meeting, and the things God is putting into my life - the fog is beginning to lift. I'm starting to see the lighthouse. The shore is still not completely visible, but I'm beginning to be confident in the direction I should go. I'm getting closer. And, that's exciting.

So, all that's to say that God is working in powerful ways this summer - in me, in the city, in the groups I host, and in the people I meet. CSM is truly a blessing on my life, and the people who come through CSM are a part of that blessing. All I can say is thank you.

- Jason, CSM Toronto 2008 Summer City Host

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Serving Jesus in the Bay Area

I spent the past week in San Francisco with a group from my church serving with an organization called CSM (Center for Student Missions). It was quite enjoyable. The end. Haha, but seriously, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I am so thankful that I had such a wonderful opportunity to serve others. The trip truly opened my eyes (both physically and spiritually) to a whole new world and I can't lie, I love it! San Francisco is a very unique city, and we were very fortunate to experience it in a way most people don't get a chance to. We were also very lucky with CSM; the staff and particularly our leader McKenzie were so filled with faith and shared our goals on this trip. Below is a day by day description of our ministry in the city...
Day 1 (Monday, June 30)
Our first whole day in the city was spent at the Salvation Army Mission Corp (a.k.a. a kid's camp in the Mission district of San Fran). The morning started off with a kick; I dressed up as Cooper the Dog! The second poor Cooper stepped onto the stage, he was mobbed by excited children. After nearly having his tail ripped off, Cooper danced around nervously. Soon after he walked around blindly (the suit greatly restricted my vision) delivering high-5s to the screaming crowd. Unfortunately, one child was able to peer up into the suit, discovering that Cooper was "a fake!" Before I knew it the excited children turned into a dangerous riot, demanding that the impostor be revealed! It took several long minutes to calm the kids down before Cooper and his gang were able to deliver the closing prayer...
We spent the late morning and afternoon at Dolores Park a few blocks away with the kids. On the way there, a young man at the ripe age of six be-friended. Isaac was his name, and he attends the camp every day. What surprised me the most was his maturity and wisdom... Sure he enjoyed everything that every six year old does, swinging, etc. But his understanding of social problems was far more complex than that of any other six year old I had met. On several occasions he stopped walking, and pointed out a homeless man or other struggling person and asked if we could say a prayer for them. I was amazed that he felt so much true compassion for those less fortunate than him; which was amplified by his own poor economic condition. On a lighter note, we enjoyed some delicious thai food that evening....
Day 2 (July 1)
The second day of our glorious journey began at St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Oakland, just across the bay. We helped to serve lunch for the local homeless folk, my job was handing out milk! People were allowed to come through the line three times during the two hour period, but that wasn't always enforced very well... A man in a plum jump suit came through at least six times, each time getting several chocolate milks. He liked singing very much, and was very personable to say the least... Fran, a volunteer at the center was also very personable sharing jokes every few seconds. We got the chance to eat lunch with some of the people we were serving, so I sat down next to a middle aged man who was enjoying his chocolate cake very much. We swapped our hometowns, and for the rest of the meal he questioned me about the Great Salt Lake. What does it smell like? My buddy tells me you can float 'cause of the salt, is that true? So you can't float? Dang it, I want to float! Are you sure? Are the fish good? No fish?!
After lunch we drove over to Berkeley to do an activity CSM likes to call "Meet a Need" Essentially, we are given twenty dollars as a group to meet a need of one or more persons in the area. So, we went to People's Park and started to talk to some of the people living in the park about needs in the area. During this time we handed out five dollar gift cards to Subway that we had brought with us. This was so rewarding; the looks of surprise and deep gratitude along with the priceless stories we heard from these people were truly touching. During this activity, we came across a man named Ken who had lived in the park for two years after he became diagnosed with AIDS. He had served in the Air Force for several years in the seventies, and had loads of interesting stories. He shared with us that he would love to go to a movie, just to get inside for a few hours for a change, so we bought him two movie tickets with the twenty dollars. As tears were pouring out of his eyes he told has that he was so blessed by the Lord to have met us and couldn't word his gratitude. The Lord blessed me in several ways through this experience as well. Prior to this trip I viewed the homeless as a bunch of druggies sitting in a park. I am deeply ashamed that I felt something so horrible, and I am so thankful that my eyes have been opened. Each person we met was overflowing with love and stories, and even if though some of them did drugs in the past or present, it didn't make them any less of a person. Secondly, I saw how much my little actions can affect others... Just sitting there and being present with Ken brought tears to his eyes; as human beings I believe we have a responsibility to be with others in their time of need.
After leaving the park we walked around the UC Berkeley campus, it was so beautiful, and seemed like a great institution... That night we finished up at delicious Indian restaurant, and filled our bellies with curry in preparation for another day in the city by the bay...
Day 3 (July 2)
On the 2nd we went to a church/food-giving out place in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin is a neighborhood in downtown SF, and is considered the most dangerous place in the Bay Area due to the prevalence of drugs. Even so, it was a great experience, and I didn't feel threatened or in danger at all. Well, unless you count bacteria and mold as dangerous. The kitchen was FILTHY!! Unfortunately things weren't quite so organized at this site, and things were messy, and the staff had questionable practices.... Still, they were helping out the community, and had their hearts in their work. That night we had a few hours to do whatever we liked, so that meant CHOCOLATE BABY!!!
Day 4 (July 3)
We went to the Alameda County Food Bank in Oakland to help with food processing, it was very, er, entertaining. For about three hours we bagged four four TONS of oranges. Four tons. Think of a 15'x5'x10' room filled to the brim with oranges. Trust me, its a lot. But once again, it was very pleasurable to help out the food bank, the staff were excellent and very informative. That afternoon we traveled around lower SF to experience a half-day of homelessness. We had two dollars a piece to but lunch, then we had to get from downtown to our church... It was very challenging, but it definitely showed us how difficult it is to be homeless, and yet we found many making the best of their situation.
Day 5 (July 4!)
On the fourth of July, we went to Laguana Honda Hospital to help with the dementia ward. The elderly we served were so funny, and surprisingly good at dancing! Turn on a little music and they would spring out of their chairs! But the highlight of the day was bingo... These people LOVE bingo. LOVE it. Apparently we were taking to long to set up, so they started yelling at us to "Speed up!" Finally Eryn fired up the bingo machine and soon the hall was filled with cries of joy and competition... For lunch we went to a high up on a hill to try to escape the fog, but we just ended up with this cool picture.
Due to the intense fog, we were unable to watch fireworks. So instead, we went to Chinatown! Very patriotic, eh?
-Brad, CSM San Fran Bay Area trip participant

Monday, July 21, 2008

LA Times Article: "Without a name, former 'South Central' L.A. has become almost invisible"

This is a good article on the identity of South LA. Because of the lack of identity a the community of "South LA" being such a big area, it is hard for this area to get resources. I think that we have experienced this as well being down here. Many ministries and organizations in South LA have a harder time accepting volunteers because help is so scarce in this area. We're praying for more resources in this area as well.

-Jon Vales, CSM Los Angeles Associate City Director

Friday, July 18, 2008

San Fran Bay Area Reflection: Bingo, Manicures & Papusa

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.

These words are from a parable in Matthew 25 that our team has been dwelling on this week. It has to do with the "sheep and the goats," making allusion to a final judgment. Helping his listeners understand what is meant by following him, Jesus says that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." There's something about Jesus' attitude towards those who are forgotten, marginalized, mistreated, overlooked, disregarded, and often unloved. Those have been the people we have focused on this week. Today was no different. Here's how our three teams participated in the Kingdom of Heaven today. We...

made Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches and passed them out along with Capri Suns to the homeless in United Nations Park;

painted benches at a Salvation Army center to help beautify the area and make it more welcoming to those in need;

sorted craft beads for a Vacation Bible School at a Salvation Army center;

played the word-guessing game Taboo with dementia patients at an assisted-living facility;

played guitar with Sonny and read cat books to Phoebe at the assisted-living facility;

gave manicures, played bingo & pokeno, helped walk and talk with patients, sang karaoke, cleaned the farm animals used for therapy, and played balloon volleyball with residents of a long-term care hospital for mentally and physically disabled adults;

walked around parts of the city and learned to associate with the homeless, providing them some dignity by having simple conversations showing that we care;

and, packed food boxes at the San Francisco food bank to be handed out to those in need.

That's just a snippet of the ways God used us. Again, be prepared to ask for details to all these stories. Our students are growing and being challenged in wonderful ways.

Thursday seemed a long way's off when we first arrived on Sunday, but the week has gone by quickly. Can't believe we're already heading to the end of things. But the day was full of good moments. Like when I sang an old hymn today that I haven't heard in a while:

When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be...
When we all see Jesus,
we'll sing and shout the victory.

Those are powerful words.

Words of hope.

Especially for the forgotten, marginalized, mistreated, overlooked, disregarded, and unloved.

May that be reality.


CSM Trip Leader

Read Brenton's entire blog about his group's CSM trip to the San Fran Bay Area...

Big thanks to Brenton and the rest of his team from Brea North Hills Church for serving the people of the Bay Area and sharing their experiences!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Glimmers of His Radiance

As you know, part of the experience of hosting is to lead your debrief after each day of service.

With one particular group, I was having a hard time coming up with a debrief that would fit their needs in order to grow spiritually and be challenging enough.

As I was praying about what it was they needed to understand, I glanced up at the night sky. Where I am from you can see millions of star. Well, sometimes in the inner city you have to search really hard to find a star the shines bright enough to be able to see it over the fluorescent city lights that light up the night sky.

I began searching the sky for stars, a need to feel at home, a need to feel at peace. A twinkle finally caught my eye, which led me to another and another and another. Once I searched hard enough for the one, my eye was trained to catch the several other glimmers.

Man, was God speaking to me. My group that week was having a little bit of a difficult time finding the hope in the people they were interacting with. They were having a hard time seeing the face of Christ in His people. In a world so full on sin, sometimes it is hard to see the glimmer of hope, but once you find it and can put a person with the face of Christ on it, you begin to seek it out even harder until finally you are able to see with Christ's eyes, glimmers of hope everywhere.

My hope for the city, my hope for the youth that I am interacting with is that each and everyone (myself included) would be able to see with the eyes of Christ and catch those glimmers of His radiance. Then we may understand how deep, how wide, how perfect His love truly is.

-Julie, CSM Chicago City Host Summer 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Washington Post Article: "Churches Retool Mission Trips"

Fairfax Presbyterian Church has faithfully served with CSM for years. It has been a joy to serve side by side with them. We praise God for their vision and passion for urban ministry.


Not long ago, the families of Fairfax Presbyterian Church spent thousands of dollars to fly their teens to Mexico for eight days of doing good. They helped build homes and refurbish churches as part of an army of more than 1 million mostly Christians who annually go on short-term international mission trips to work and evangelize in poverty-stricken lands.

Yet even as those trips have increased in popularity, they have come under increased scrutiny. A growing body of research questions the value of the trips abroad, which are supposed to bring hope and Christianity to the needy of the world, while offering American participants an opportunity to work in disadvantaged communities, develop relationships and charge up their faith.

Keep on reading...

Learn how you, too, can serve your very own backyard with CSM...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Center For Student Missions Names New President and CEO

The Center for Student Missions, headquartered in Dana Point, CA, has appointed Dan Reeve as its third president and CEO. A year ago, current president, Noel Becchetti and his wife, Kyle, vice president of operations at CSM, announced that they were sensing God’s prompting to leave CSM in September, 2008 to pursue God’s next call to a new ministry. In order to ensure a smooth and effective transition, the board immediately began a search process that recently concluded with the hiring of Reeve. He will begin his new assignment on September 1, 2008.
In his new role, Reeve will lead CSM into its third decade of vibrant, urban ministry where the mission remains central:
To provide an effective urban ministry experience that transforms lives,
influences churches and communities, and honors Christ.

Reeve joins CSM from Brooklyn, NY where he serves as Director of Urban and Holistic Mission for the Urban Intercultural Mission, a ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of America. Reeve has over 30+ years of urban ministry experience. Among many other factors that clearly led the board to unanimously sense Reeve was the right choice are his strong interest and experience in mentoring and coaching staff, his imaginative partnering with urban ministries and his commitment to building young urban leaders.
Reeve has an M. Div. degree in Urban Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL and is also pursuing Doctoral Studies in Transformational Leadership for an Urban World at the Bakke Graduate School in Seattle, WA.
About CSM – Serving middle school, high school and college students, primarily, and increasingly hosting small groups of adults, CSM currently offers an urban ministry experience in nine cities throughout North America. Whether a full week or just 24 hours, CSM offers a robust and intentional living, serving and learning experience in the city. Opportunities for full, part-time staff and internships in these cities provide further training for the next generation of ministry leaders.
Visit CSM on the Web at

Monday, July 14, 2008

I've Been Thinking

I've been thinking all day about whether or not our society has become completely blinded by injustice. It is something I feel that we may have become accustomed to. Being at CSM this summer has really opened my mind to that possibility. It almost seems at times that we only see what we want to even after we've been exposed to it, served in it, lived in it, and been educated about it. So I guess my question is how do we not become immune to such a massive systemic issue? How do we expose teens to something that doesn't make them feel guilty and get stuck in the guilt? It's okay to feel guilty but to get stuck there is not okay.

Sometimes I get distracted and lost in guilt myself. After hosting day after day and seeing the same problems happening to the same people, you get a little lost and feel a little hopeless. BUT there's hope! There is hope in the smiles of people walking through the lines at Midnight Mission, hope in the smiles of the kids at Central City, when I see Oscar, Vanessa, Tatiana, Keylou, Devante, Jaevoni, and the others my heart breaks for them. I know that God's heart breaks for these kids, and I'm starting to understand some of the things that really do break God's heart. As I pray more and more to be exposed to the things that break God's heart, I realize more and more how blinded I am by my own situations.

This week has been interesting because I have had a small taste of finally understanding what breaks God's heart. But I also realize that once I realize some of the things that break God's heart, I have to begin to think about what to do with it. I have had a good group this week that's really challenged me to think a lot. The leaders have been asking deep questions which has been awesome. So after thinking through some of those I have really begun to wonder what is our place in the midst of injustice? What have we been called to do? The more I think about this the more I find the answer in our talk at the City Hall stop in our prayer tour in LA, when we talk about how small things make a big difference in the life of broken people. I am reminded of Mother Theresa who says, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Sometimes when I get lost in guilt and hopelessness I feel as though I can do nothing and make absolutely no difference. I fail to remember conversations from the day, smiles, laughter, time spent with kids, and opportunities to watch groups grow. I fail to take into account that God has been working in the midst of those things. It's equally as hard to watch groups become hopeless but to be able to remind them that they are driven by the love of Christ is awesome.

My group has been at Central City Community Church this week in skid row. They have been working with kids who live in skid row to help them with reading, math, and other school work. Sometimes it was really frustrating for them because the kids at Central City have a harder time with school work. So we've talked a lot about how this is a place where encouragement, love, and "I believe in yous" is really important. The kids at Central City live in a place where they more commonly hear "I can't" "You can't" "Your not smart enough," ect. What they don't hear as much is "You are smart" "You can do this," and "I believe in you." So this week I have really been encouraging my group to be the extra ounce of encouragement in the lives of these children. I have really seen God at work here. My groups has gone from frustration to sorrow, to 100% love, and to just really laying encouragement on the kids @ Central City. It is truly a beautiful thing when God is at work.

I feel as though we get to the point where the limit of what we can do is to expose and to educate. Beyond that every person has a choice to ignore what they've seen, acknowledge it but stay stagnate, or see it and join what I like to call the hiking team. Allow me to explain the hiking team concept. My fellow host and friend Kendra likes to get really active with a story about a waterfall. I'll give you the idea of it and hopefully one day you can hear her tell it. Right now we are at the point of being at the bottom of the waterfall. There are bodies falling into the water beside us. They just keep falling and falling. We now have a choice to make. We can stand there watching the bodies fall next to us or we can climb to the top of the waterfall to see who or what is up there throwing them off. This is much like injustice. To join the hiking team means to begin to climb up through the system to be able to understand what is happening to these people. Injustice is not caused by just one thing, it is very much a systemic issue. The way I see it we've been given a choice to climb the waterfall or stay at the bottom and watch the bodies fall. With God on our side we have the strength to climb but it is our choice to make.

Injustice surrounds us, it's what we do with our knowledge, and what we do in the midst of our surrounding that make the difference. We can expose our groups and educate them, it's what they take with them, implement in their lives, and in the places that they live that makes the difference. The question becomes, "What do I do with what I know, and what I've seen?"

I'll leave you to decide that...

-Mandi, CSM Los Angeles City Host Summer 2008

Friday, July 11, 2008

Reflection from Toronto

As I was sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Toronto during our final debrief, I was warmed by how evident God's presence was in the week. I suppose that the fact we all survived the first week as Summer Hosts without any major tragedy was testimony enough to the power of a loving God. Our training had been intense and the days before the groups arrived, we were filled with excitement and nervousness at what was to come.
Pretty much from the moment the groups began arriving we were continually on the go. Taking my seat in the van and giving my first directions out of the parking lot marked the beginning of many adventures that tested my passion, discipline, memory, and more often than not, my attitude.
There is something wonderful about watching a group arrive feeling excited and uncertain, yet willing to step out for their God. I sometimes feel a bit spoiled knowing that I get to work with willing spirits that have had countless hours of ministry poured into them. I was curious to see how my group would handle once the reality of city ministry hit them. In actuality, they took it like professionals. I can remember so many times where my people would accept new tasks, or patiently endure my many wrong directions, all without complaining. I'm a little biased on this topic. I think that a big part of spiritual growth is more about submission to the unpleasant. Outward serving is amazing, but when I see character development, I know there is something that's going to stick!
One thing I found really interesting was that I knew God was working hard in my own heart along the way. I don't think there was ever a time during this past week where I failed to see that I was as here to learn as much as anyone. I can also testify that I loved being a host to the students and leaders who came. Know, at the end of the week I can proudly stand under the words passed onto me, which I passed on to others. "We come to serve willingly. Even if it means we leave with more questions than answers. The more we learn, the less we know, and the bigger God becomes."
Well, I guess that wraps up week one. Let's see what God can do in us with a few more!
Stay strong,
Jake, CSM Toronto City Host Summer 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Direction Reflection

It's funny how things can be so simple, but if you don't look closely miss them. One such example comes with the FedEx logo. This was pointed out to me not too long ago, and I've never been able to look at the logo the same way since! Be forewarned, this may alter the viewing of this logo for you too. Next time you see one, check the white space between the E and the x. You'll notice an arrow that is pointing to the right! If you're like me and never knew that existed, you've just had your perspective changed. Such was the case for me during our debriefing session last Wednesday.

Our group hauled all 49 members to a bleacher area along the Schuylkill River. This river hosts many regatta races for the local universities, and this spot is one place for bystanders to take in the race. It also provided us with a great view as the sun set over the river. As dusk set in, we spent time in worship and sharing of our experiences from the day. The group from Atlanta, GA gave their kids a chance to share funny moments, things that moved them, or ways they saw Jesus in the city that day.

During one of the worship songs, one of the kids in my group, Trevor, leaned over to me and said, "Do you see the arrow?" I looked where he was pointing and immediately saw what he was referencing. At the angle we were sitting, the bridge created the image of an arrow pointing straight up. Being that it was a clear day, the water of the Schuylkill reflected the image almost perfectly below, pointing in the opposite direction.

What better illustration for the choice we have to follow Jesus? The arrow pointing upward was unwavering, strong, and undoubtedly the original image. The reflection in the water was blurry due to the rippling effect of the water. It was similar to the other arrow, but not nearly as perfect. If you had a choice, would you stand on the bridge, or on the water? The answer might be obvious, but how often do we rely on things that make us feel safe and secure, rather than the solid, unwavering rock we have in our Savior? If one were to attempt to stand on the reflection of the arrow, it would disappear and the person would plunge into the Schuylkill. Such is the same for us should we choose to hold fast to the things of this world. We would quickly begin our plunge into sin and debauchery.

What a blessing it is to know that when we do fall for the reflection and plunge into sin, God provides ways for us to swim out of it! Thanks to Jesus, none of us are forced to suffer the eternal punishment of drowning in our own sin. One must make the choice to swim, however. We all are given the choice not only to swim, but to teach others how as well. We serve a God who walked on water; facing sin and conquering it for us all!

Up or down? Sink or swim? The choices seem pretty easy. It's time to start making them look that way!

-Tim, CSM Philly City Host Summer 2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


So we hear a lot about Hollywood on TV. As a kid I always thought that was the happening, cool place. I went there today to some of our ministry sites that we have there, and I quickly learned the reality of my TV Hollywood. Yeah there are the hundreds of stars for the famous, and the shops, and Capital Records. BUT there are also a lot of poor people in Hollywood. Hollywood is not just the sign we see on the hill, it is a community of living, breathing people.
Sometimes we get so caught up in what we think we know about a place, that we forget to look at the heart of that place. It relates to the story of David in the Bible. In the Bible God says that it is the heart that matters not the outward appearance. I have learned that that verse applies to a lot of places and people.
Sure I wasn't impressed with the Hollywood I saw, but I realized that there are people there with real life stories that we never hear about. There are people there who need Jesus and we should not stop short at the glory and glamour of the city, instead we should go beyond it's walls to the depths of it, and see what often hides behind the grand things and the fame.

-Amanda, CSM Los Angeles City Host Summer 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Lord I’m Amazed!

Every Wed night we have a praise night out on the beach at Coney Island with all of the groups that are here. So we have a time of worship, some testimonies, a time of teaching, and then some small group time

As we were closing the night I was talking to the group about prayer. The verse I read to them, the theme verse for my CSM experience, was Ephesians 3:20, which I’ve talked about before. It reads,
"Now all glory to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask of hope." I also shared this story:

On Monday as we were going on our prayer tour it looked like it was going to rain. So our group prayed for it to stop. And it did. The next day it was getting kind of hot, so one of my kids, Matt, was like, "I wish it would rain" I did. So we blamed him for the rain and since they were supposed to do the immersion that night I told them that we needed sun. He prayed for sun and the rains stopped.
So then the leader, also named Matt, jokes with student Matt saying, "You pray for rain and God answers. You pray for sun and, again, God answers. Why aren't you praying for bigger things?" To this, student Matt responds, "I am."
When I heard this, I was floored. We could either choose to simply discard this as strange New York weather, or we could believe that maybe God really did answer our prayers. So many times we limit what God can do. Or maybe for one reason or another, we're simply afraid of asking him to move. God is huge, but I don't think we are going to really understand how big he is unless we invite him to show us.

With that I challenged the groups to be praying for big things. And that if we give God the opportunity to work, he's going to show us how powerful he actually is. We closed with the song, From the Inside Out (which we've done every single week so far because the other interns always request it and supposedly one of the groups did today as well). That was a truly amazing time of worship. We were all in one giant circle in the middle of the boardwalk with people singing their hearts out, eyes closed, hand lifted up, focused on God. It was so free.

-Josh, CSM New York City Host Summer 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Al agua, patos!!

Saludos de Mexico! I am currently sitting in a computer lab in Piedras Negras, Mexico where I am working with Constructores Para Cristo for the week. We are building a house for a young family and their two children. In the midst of this experience, I've come to appreciate a few things a lot more:

1- A shower. Let me tell you, after working with building materials in triple digit temperatures, there is nothing better than hopping in the shower at the end of the day

2- Flip flops. Seems simple, right? Well after wearing steel-toed boots all day, it feels absolutely amazing to take them off and give my feet some air.

3- Siesta. I'm a firm believer that this is a fantastic idea. We work until 12:30. Eat lunch and nap until 3:30. Go back to work until 7:30. Then we eat dinner and are done for the night. The next day starts at 5:45! I'll appreciate them for the rest of the week at least!

On the way to Mexico, I spent quite a large amount of time sleeping. I did, however, manage to stay up long enough to read one of the articles in the Sky Mall magazine. I'm not heavy into reading, but this article hooked me in by the picture of the baby orangutan in the picture. The article's subject matter involved the treatment of endangered species by the zoos in America. They said slowly, but surely, the populations are starting to increase for animals on the endangered species list. Despite spending my summer a few blocks from the Philadelphia Zoo, it wasn't that part of the article that caught my attention most.

One section talked about an orangutan that had to be given a C-section during it's pregnancy. Upon the birth of the baby, the mother wanted nothing to do with it. She didn't want to hold it, feed it, or even be near it. How terrible for the baby! I'm not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that it was an 'unnatural' birth, or if there were other factors that played into the behavior of the mother. Rather than let the baby suffer, the employees at the zoo sprang into action. They cared for the young, but not just in any old fashion. One employee would spend time with the baby wearing a suit that simulated the mother's furry exterior. They fed the baby in a similar manner that the mother would have fed the child. Every detail was covered, to the extent of the child falling asleep at night to the recorded sound of it's parents playing in the background.

After a while, the mother changed her tune. She welcomed the child she once disowned. Now they say that it's impossible to separate the two of them.

The parallels with this story and our Christian walk are pretty plain to see. There are people, friends and family, that reject the idea of Christ and want nothing to do with him. It would be easy to just give up on these people and let them fall through the cracks. As Christians, however, we're called to a higher standard. We are called to show people what Jesus's love is all about, similar to how the zoo employees showed the newborn orangutan the love it needed to survive. Through prayer and persistance, anyone is capable of seeing the Light and changing their ways. The mother eventually saw her child as worthwhile and embraced it. How awesome would it be to have those 'orangutans' in our lives do the same thing with a relationship Jesus?

The title of this blog is Spanish for 'To the water, ducks!' It's a phrase used around here to encourage the mission team to get to work. We all know people like the mother orangutan in our lives. It's about time we started reflecting Christ and letting our actions speak louder than our words. Al agua, patos!!

-Tim, CSM Philly City Host Summer 2008

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Authentic Compassion

I am reading a book that a former staff member blessed me with called: Here and Now by Henri Nouwen. An excerpt out of the book is called "From Competition to Compassion".

"Compassion - which means, literally, 'to suffer with' - is the way to the truth that we are ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same."
"It is not "excelling" but "serving" that makes us most human. It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation."

I have found the purpose of my ministry is to find a place where I am the same as the people I am working with. I may talk to men and women who struggle with addictions either to alcohol, drugs, etc. I may meet children who are lacking material needs. On the outside I may not be struggling with addictions or lack material needs, but just because those addictions are visible and the material needs are visible - does that change the fact that I struggle with internal addictions and internal desires? I struggle with self worth, self reliance, etc. It is an addiction of mine to undermine the worth that He has set for me. I have a common bond of addiction with the men I am speaking with. The love and the compassion that the men or women I meet is the same love and compassion I desire to obtain. I feel sometimes the internal addictions and needs are sometimes harder to overcome than the external. If we create an equal playing ground and obtain the love we need from each other, satisfaction and deeper communion and fellowship are the results.

Last week at a ministry site I was talking to a man named Johnathan, 25 years old. He has been in and out of the Cook County Jail and in and out of prison. He has found redemption through Christ. He used to struggle with anger, and He has been redeemed. A couple years ago I also went through a really angry phase in my life. I began to tell Johnathan how hard it was for me to overcome that anger and how I continue to have to die to myself everyday in order to be freed from the anger. He told me about a verse in the Bible that talks about how when we overcome and addiction or any sort of uncleanliness in our lives, if that unclean spirit is ever let back in, it comes back seven times worse than the first. It really hit me that the verse he read was what my life is looking like to this day. My Lord placed Johnathan in my life in order to speak truth to me.

"Compassion, to be with others when and where they suffer and to willingly enter into a fellowship of the weak, is God's way to justice and peace among people." - Henri Nouwen

-Julie, CSM Chicago City Host Summer 2008