Tuesday, September 30, 2008

God of the City

"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
Jeremiah 29:7

Monday, September 29, 2008

To Escape Gangs and Violence, Kids Often Turn to Sports

So many young lives have been taken way too early because of gang violence. Urban centers throughout North America have become home of thousands of gangs (Los Angeles County is home to more than 150,000 gang members LA Almanac, 2002). Sports Illustrated recently wrote an article about how many kids are looking for escape routes - sports being one of those. These alternatives provide a sense of community that many youth seek. Please pray that more kids would find shelter in local churches, sports and other safe havens.

Learn more how you can serve these urban centers with CSM!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for Victims of Human Trafficking Begins Today

Back in August we had posted a blog about The Salvation Army hosting a Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for Victims of Human Trafficking. Today's the official start date, but if you didn't get a chance to register - fear not! Here are some resources for you (all listed on Salvation Army's website as well):

Learn how you can serve in the city with CSM!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rising Above

Francesca Thomas isn't your average teenager - she's intelligent, a photographer and homeless. Check out this neat video about her talent and struggles.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

CSM Toronto: Handing It Over

I wish there was an all-encompassing way that I could summarize this past week and all its challenges. To be perfectly honest, it's difficult for me to conjure up the usual mountains overcome, strongholds breeched, or battles won. From a strictly earthly perspective, it probably looked like a lot of disorder, confusion, and lack of communication. I think I probably made more mistakes this week than any other. If there's a Santa Claus of CSM, he's probably put my name on the "Bad Host" list this week.
But as a very wise person once said to me, "We're all human and we all basically suck in one way or another." The truth is, I will mess up. It was inevitable. The specific mistakes I make probably could have been prevented, but the fact remains that whenever I attempt to stand up for Jesus, my unlimited inadequacies will always become all the more visible. It's a learning process. It's part of the journey. It's why you cover more ground when you fall flat on your face than you would if you just took one step.
It's about this point that the unknowable plans of God become so real, for He is a good of the unexpected. He is capable, even when I am not. I may wonder about the hearts of the students in my group and about the lives of the people they interacted with and see nothing but a lot of missed opportunity, but it's still something that needs to be surrendered back to God. Maybe he has done and is doing a lot more than I perceive. He seems to enjoy being glorified through weakness and foolishness.
For now however, I have the joy (and I do mean joy!) of accepting what has happened and doing everything I can to grow from it. To drastically paraphrase St. Paul in Philippians 3:12-14, "Life is a highway, but I wanna drive it all night long!" We still got a lot of ground to cover, but wow, do we have one awesome navigator! Stay laughing and keep your eyes on the horizon!

- Jake, CSM Toronto City Host Summer 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

CSM Houston Cleans Up from Hurricane Ike

By now many of you have heard of the damage CSM Houston sustained at the hands of Hurricane Ike. I was in Austin for 5 days after the storm, so was not able to see it until Thursday of last week. Thankfully, we had two great crews of friends who answered my last-minute pleas and came out to help us clean up. On Friday we emptied out the staff housing rooms and on Saturday we hauled all the detritus to the dumpster and also cleaned up some minor damage to the group rooms in the Children's Building. We lost about 6 mattresses in 2 group rooms due to roof leaks. In the Staff Housing, we lost everything that was soft--7 mattresses, 3 couches, cushions, pillows, etc. We were able to save a lot of wooden items--dressers, bed frames, coffee tables, etc. We will let the electronics dry out and then see if they still work (microwave, mini-fridge, vacuum cleaner).

We are grateful for the many prayers offered on our behalf and for all those who came out to help:

Meg & Marcus Asby
Sol & Jonathan Edwards (and their friend JD)
Berkeley Glass
Kyle Barry
Jessica Sedeno
Zach Meeks

The rebuilding and re-configuration of the gym building is still to come and Servants of Christ Methodist (our host church) has a long road ahead with insurance claims, etc. I'll try to keep you posted as that progresses.

Please continue to pray for the people of the Gulf Coast, especially Houston and Galveston, as our recovery continues.
With Gratitude,
Paul, CSM Houston City Director

Friday, September 19, 2008

Teens take a stand against human trafficking

A group of teens from Minnesota are taking a stand against human trafficking. An article from The Daily Planet shares their message about being impacted by modern day slavery and acting on it! These young people have organized the End Slavery Now conference which is geared towards educating their peers about the atrocities of human trafficking and recognizing it's happening in their own backyard.
Has God given you a passion to fight for justice? How are you answering His call?
Learn where God can use you for His Kingdom by serving on a short-term mission trip with CSM!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hard Lessons from the Streets of Toronto

I cried this week. For the first time since my hosting experience commenced, I unabashedly let water collect in my eyes as my voice cracked awkwardly, then as I tried to speak through the tears I just let go and cried. This happened during our Final Challenge, a beautiful Friday night of reflection, discussion, and praise for each other’s gifts. I did not cry out of desperation or sorrow, but out of overwhelming joy and pleasure in seeing the spiritual growth and love that transpired over the week. I cried because I am finally getting it: there is no joy greater than the delight in the Lord, and to be united under the cause of Christ and to tap into his power for change together as Christians is the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of. I’m finally asking myself, “Why would you ever do anything else?”
For some reason, God chose to reveal more burdensome encounters to this group than to any of my other groups combined, from an alcoholic screaming in agony that he wants to die, to a prostitute waiting on a corner. Through it all, the students and leaders took God’s hand and pressed on, allowing themselves to be immersed in the filth of the city while simultaneously hunting for God’s fingerprints as beacons of hope and solace. I overheard them comparing the CSM Toronto trip to their past mission trips in Mexico where they just “built stuff.” It was hilarious to me when Marc Porpilia, their leader, playfully remarked “Yeah, this whole people thing is pretty weird, huh?”
The amazing thing was when this group from Pittsford Community Church in Rochester, NY really got it. By the end of the week, they weren’t praying for God to end homelessness or prostitution or drugs or violence or gentrification or any of the “it,” they were praying for the people. We discussed how the more you truly abide in God and “dig for gold in the scriptures rather than rake for leaves,” (John Piper, Desiring God), the easier it is to have a loving heart for people in the city. We all learned that the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is not just about the negative of killing your own self love, but about restoring yourself to a new kind of love—“a charity and gratitude for all selves, including your own” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters).
This week showed me that it is always the best policy to pledge allegiance to God, especially when you don’t know what this will mean. Most likely, it will mean immense joy and growth, and maybe you will cry. I did. And through it all, I am learning that God commands we find joy in loving people: “[Let] the one who does acts of mercy [do so] with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:8).
-Jennifer, CSM Toronto City Host Summer 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Olympians Once, New Yorkers Always

This is a neat NY Times article about two locals that had the life-changing opportunity to compete in the Olympics. Their hearts shine through these narrated photo essays!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

CSM Houston: Hurricane Ike Update

Hurricane Ike swept through Houston this past weekend, leaving quite a destructive impact on it's way out.
CSM has three full-time staffers in Houston, many partner ministry sites, and countless individuals we love very much. Greg Pennington (CSM Vice President) weathered the storm with his family and is now living at his church and helping to reach the surrounding community as it wakes up in shock at the damage. Here's a quick update from him:
"No power for most of the city. We are staying at our church, which has power (AC!), showers, and a working kitchen. We are cooking/sharing meals with several members of our church and having a real New Testament church experience here! Doing the yard and street clean up "thing", and doing that at our church, as well. Not many gas stations open so very long lines. Grocery stores are opening up and limiting purchases and having long lines. All of us here at the church just brought our refrigerator/freezer and pantry stuff up to the church to share - multiplying the loaves and fishes. We are going to start feeding the neighborhood this afternoon with whatever we can put together. Keep us and the city in your prayers!"

CSM's Houston City Director, Paul Randall, evacuated to a friend's house in Austin. Here's an update from him:
"I just got a call from one of the ladies at our housing site - apparently the roof of the gym came off in the hurricane and water "poured in" down through our staff housing area to the first floor. I'll update once again when I am able to get over there and scope it out. We continue to appreciate your prayers for our community."

Please be praying for those affected by this storm. We'll be sure to update you with any news.

Learn how you can serve the city of Houston with CSM!

Monday, September 15, 2008

NPR: Strangers Bring Us Closer to God

All Things Considered, May 5, 2008
by Sara Miles

Until recently, I thought being a Christian was all about belief. I didn't know any Christians, but I considered them people who believed in the virgin birth, for example, the way I believed in photosynthesis or germs.

But then, in an experience I still can't logically explain, I walked into a church and a stranger handed me a chunk of bread. Suddenly, I knew that it was made out of real flour and water and yeast — yet I also knew that God, named Jesus, was alive and in my mouth.

Keep reading or listen to the broadcast...

Learn how you can serve people in the inner-city with CSM...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ministry Spotlight: New York City Relief Bus

My favorite ministry site of the summer was the New York City Relief Bus. The reason I love this site is because it does a good job of allowing the students to both serve and to build relationships. Many times sites can focus on one in particular but it's pretty rare to find a place that is able to do both. I've only been to the Relief Bus maybe four times, but all four of those were amazing times. This week our experience there was particularly amazing and I believe that God arranged divine appointments that day.

The first story is about a man named Jason. Literally 2 minutes after we got out on the street, before I was even assigned my job, Jason had already come up to our information booth. Jason lost his job awhile ago and had been doing drugs for the last 6 months of his life. Sometime that morning he had received a flier for the Relief Bus and when he saw it offered information on drug rehabilitation he decided it was time. He came to us and said he needed help. The Relief Bus staff begin calling up drug rehab centers but can't get a hold of any. Finally one answers but says that he would need to get there that day. Unfortunately there's no way to get Jason there so we were stuck. The Relief Bus staff was saying that unless we can physically bring Jason to the center he probably won't go, that people always say they want help or intend to change, but that things usually tend to happen that prevent them from making it all the way. Then one of our leaders, Chris, takes some of our girls over to a local church to use their bathroom. While there, Chris is talking to the pastor of the church, tells him about the Jason situation, and the pastor tells him that his son can drive Jason over. Jason then leaves the Relief Bus to go pick up the rest of his belongings. So Chris is now waiting around for Jason to return so that we can send him off to the rehab center. An hour and a half pass and Jason has yet to return. At this point Chris has given up and begins to do other things. He begins to wonder how Jason could pass up this opportunity to turn around his life. And then Jason finally returns. And now he's in a rehab center. Furthermore, at some point while they were trying to figure things out, Jason accepted Christ.

The second story is about a man named Martin. Martin was just passing by when he saw the white bus and something simply led him to the bus. Martin is an illegal immigrant and for some reason, I couldn't quite figure out exactly what had happened, he has been separated from his children. But because his children were born in the US and he wasn't he has no legal way of getting his children back. In addition, he has diabetes which has caused damage to his eyes, back and legs and is hereby unable to work. He had a court date to fight for his kids but missed it because his eyes were hurting. Our leader who was talking to him was Laura and afterwards Laura was commenting about how she's used to people telling her their problems but then that she always has some sort of advice to give them. But that when she encountered Martin, there was nothing she could say. The Relief Bus staff was calling all over and eventually said there was nothing they could do for him. Nothing short of a miracle would help this man. So they prayed for him. A couple minutes after they finish praying Martin gets a phone call from his case worker. Laura said she could hear the lady yelling at him for not calling her back. Martin explained that it was because his eyes were so bad he couldn't read her number in order to call. Finally at the end of the conversation, the case worker tells Martin that he can see his kids next week. Martin became ecstatic. He even began saying how his eyes were feeling better, how he had felt the hand of the Lord on his back, and how his back and feet were better as well. He said after this experience he was going to follow the Lord. The Relief Bus staff also put a bible in Martin's bag and when Martin found out about it he pulled it out and kissed it, saying it was the best gift he had ever received.

These two stories were crazy. When you think about it they really had nothing to do with us. We were simply fortunate enough to be at the right place and to have been able to be used by God in order for God to minister to two of his children. For Jason it was pretty crazy for him to receive a simple flier and to decide that he now wanted to turn his life around. And for Martin to have been drawn to the bus was interesting as well. The story with Martin is even crazier because he couldn't speak English. Laura had to translate for him the entire time. This is what really makes me believe these were divine appointments. Had we not had Spanish speakers, or individuals who could speak as well as the ones we had could, there was no way we would have had this experience. So not only did God drop two opportunities right in our laps, but he also ensured we had the tools necessary in order to help them. This was one truly amazing experience.

For more information on the bus visit their website.

-Josh, CSM New York City Host Summer 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LA Times: Los Angeles limits ‘mansionization,’ downtown hotel conversions

The (Los Angeles) City Council adopts rules curbing the size of remodeled homes on the flatlands and preserving low-income housing, mostly on skid row, that advocates fear are in danger of becoming lofts.
Read more in the LA Times article...

-Rachel Hamilton, CSM Los Angeles City Director

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Below is a neat letter from Bart Campolo (leader of The Walnut Hills Fellowship, a local ministry in inner city Cincinnati, and founder of Mission Year)

Dear Friends,

I do my best with these letters, but no words can really communicate the essence of what we are doing here. For that, you’d need Smell-O-Vision.

In case you didn’t know, Smell-O-Vision was a system developed in the 1950s that released odors during the projection of a movie so that the viewer could actually smell what was happening onscreen. Thirty years later, cult filmmaker John Waters tried the same thing with scratch and sniff cards. In both case, the idea was to take advantage of the scientific fact that smell is easily the strongest and most vivid of our senses when it comes to processing emotional experiences. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, you know what I’m talking about.

What you may not know, however, is what the scent of urine in a hallway tells you about a low-rent apartment building, or what the combination of cigarette smoke and baby formula on an infant’s blanket tells you about a family, or what cheap liquor on an addict’s early morning breath tells you about the rest of their day, or maybe the rest of their life. These are some of the smells I’m learning these days.

Keep on reading...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Make a Difference!

So many times when I start thinking about all the hurt and pain in the city I just get over-whelmed. I think, "I'm just one person (and not anyone too special or talented ) what can I do to actually make a difference?" God calls us to not get stuck in that rut - He calls us out to be His hands and feet. The Chicago Tribune ran a series recently about some individuals that have bettered the Chicagoland community. Be inspired - and start praying about where the God of creation will use YOU!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Applying Toronto to North Carolina (and wherever else life takes you)

I've seriously started thinking about how I can apply the lessons I've learned here in Toronto through the people I've met, the places I've been, and the things I've seen to the people, places, and things back home in North Carolina. How can I serve those who need me most in the Raleigh-area? What are the resources available to people who are homeless, poor, "invisible", dying of AIDS, marginalized, or unlovely in my home state? How can I get involved? What can I actively do in order to proclaim my social concerns in a positive way?
Many of the dark things that plague the inner-city of Toronto can be found right in my backyards of rural and suburban communities through my state of North Carolina. There are homeless people in the Raleigh-Durham area. There are poor people living in run-down and inadequate housing throughout the state. There are people who have to choose between paying this month's rent or buying food for their family. There are people living with HIV and dying of AIDS all around us.
One thing that many people think of happening only in the mega-city is human trafficking. Part of CSM's prayer tour is driving down Yonge Street and pointing out the approximately 25 "massage parlors" on the 2nd floor of many buildings. These shops are anything but a massage parlor. In fact, they are brothels where immigrant women are tricked into the sex trade and are forced into prostitution. Many of the women come from third-world countries and are promised a new and better life in Canada. The people making these promises tell the women that they will have all of their paperwork and immigration documents taken care of. When the women (and men as well) arrive in Canada, somehow their paperwork has "fallen through" and they become illegal residents of the country. The seemingly nice and caring people who promised them a better life in Toronto then show their true colors by giving the women two options: 1) be arrested and then deported back to their home countries where war, famine, and oppression rule, or 2) work in a "massage parlor" for the rest of their lives. Because of their situations back home, most make the forced choice to stay in the city and sell themselves against their wills. Everyone knows that the massage parlors are no such thing, but the authorities rarely do anything about it.
Human trafficking can also involve people being forced into workplace slavery - on farms, in sweatshops, and mega-corporations. Basically, human trafficking is modern-day slavery and it happens on a much larger and frequent scale than you may think. And, the sad thing is that it is occurring in our very own state, in our very own communities.
I encourage you to educate yourself on this horrendous act of crime. Because if we - the average citizens - do not care about this heinous industry, then who will? Change starts with you. And, change starts with me.
Check out this video to learn more...

-Jason, CSM Toronto City Host Summer 2008

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ultimate Goal of Missions

"Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory." (Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Last night I came across this passage (Acts 4:23-31). This takes place right after Peter and John were held in prison for preaching about Jesus after they healed a man who had been lame since birth. After the two men are finally released they return to their Christian brothers/sisters and pray to God:

"And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
After their prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, And they preached God's message with boldness.

At CSM NY we take our students on a day-long prayer tour, which we say is about 7-8 miles but in actuality is more like 10 (some of our leaders have had those step-counters). On this prayer tour we go from Battery Park looking out at the Statue of Liberty, to China Town/Little Italy, to Times Square, to Harlem, to the Bronx, to 5th Ave, to the World Trade Center site, and finally to/across the Brooklyn Bridge (a little over a mile alone). The purpose of this prayer tour is to try and see the city with God's eyes and God's heart and to pray for the different things we encounter. And at the same time we are also hitting some of the major touristy sites and so it's a great time for our groups as well.

After reading that passage last night the concept of prayer was really on my heart today. And by the end of the day I had come to realize how in the past few weeks I have definitely been drifting away from prayer. Sometimes I get so caught up in doing what I've been trained to do that I forget to seek God's specific purpose for my every action. On the Prayer Tour, for example, I saw how many times I could get stuck on just giving the groups all the information that I’m supposed to give them or to have the directions all figured out, instead of simply carrying forth what the purpose of the Prayer Tour is--to pray for God's city.
This is something I hope to work on over the rest of my stay here. I want to really pursue God in prayer and to constantly be seeking his will for my life.

To close, I want to give glory to God for the gracious weather he provided us. It was supposed to rain today and it was sprinkling a little in the morning. If the rain got too bad we would have been forced to switch our prayer tour to a not-as-exciting one. The rainy-day one is no fun. So our group prayed for sun. And we got it. The hottest part of the day was at the end of our day as we were crossing the bridge. As we were making that journey some of the kids were joking around asking God to bring back the rains. This, however, was not funny to me. I'm from L.A. man, so you know I can't do rain.

-Josh, CSM New York City Host Summer 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

LA Times Article: Los Angeles park lights send gang activity into the shadows

Sometimes it's hard to see God working with all the attention media gives to gangs. Sometimes it seems hopeless. But, God is bigger than sometimes.

-Jon Liu, CSM Los Angeles City Scheduler

Check out this great LA Times article about one pastor that has a heart for youth driven to gangs...