Thursday, April 29, 2010

Free Clinic Overflows with Need

With the growing the debate about how health care is affecting our country, L.A. is having a free clinic this week. Their goal was to see 1,200 people but with fewer people signing up to volunteer to see patients, they can only see about 750, essentially turning the rest. Read the full LA Times article...
-Breanne McLendon, CSM Los Angeles Associate City Director

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NY Trip Participant Reflection - Immersion Experience

East Village-Lower East Side Immersion

The purpose of this exercise was to explore a neighborhood that has experienced great cultural change in recent years and to consider the effects on the less affluent who now or formerly lived there.

Our CSM leader, Jessica, left our group at Grand Central Station with instructions and a list of questions for us to answer. Our destination was the Lower East Side and included a visit to Tompkins Square Park.

We were supposed to ask people on the street and in stores questions about the neighborhood. We learned:
-Housing is very expensive. A 2BR apt is $2,000-2,300; a 3BR apt is $3,500. Few apts are for sale, but prices average $1000 per sq ft, or $350,000 for a small studio!
-One church in the area provides a soup kitchen and food pantry several times a week, and some other services. We saw countless churches, mosques, and temples of all ethnicities, but no others advertised services to the needy.
-We also learned about changes to the area. The neighborhood used to be Eastern European, then African-American and Hispanic. Recently affluent Caucasians have moved in. Stores come and go. In the 1980’s the homeless occupied the park and drug use was rampant. The police removed the addicts and homeless and rioting occurred.
The park was closed and eventually restored. It is now a wonderful place with a dog park, swimming pool, basketball courts and more.
-On a lighter note, we were asked to collect menus from restaurants from each continent. There seemed to be restaurants from every place imaginable, but we couldn’t find Australia. We also had to count taxis—Mario counted 80 in 15 minutes.
-Our final challenge was to buy ourselves dinner on a budget of $2 each (no chain restaurants!) and ask a person in the park to join us for dinner. A piece of pizza at a nearby take-out place cost 99 cents per slice. It was humbling to realize how many people must decide on a daily basis whether to buy 2 slices of pizza or 1 slice and a soda. We shared our pizza with a gentleman named Raymond on a bench in the park. A former taxi driver, Raymond lives on disability in Queens, and shares his apartment with a woman with AIDS who receives no benefits. After much thought, Raymond recalled visiting Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey once. His real passion is writing poetry. We took a sheet of his poetry and it reflected the joy and happiness on the faces of people using the park in this beautiful neighborhood. Raymond’s caring for others was an inspiration to us.

Learn how YOU can serve in New York City with CSM!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Good Neighbors

This fall I moved into a new neighborhood, so I‘ve been asking myself lately how I can be a good neighbor. My new neighbors on my block have set the standard high – they were so welcoming when my roommates and I moved in, giving us chairs, coffee makers, benches, internet, and great hospitality. The Bible has a lot to say about how we treat our neighbors, from in the law (“Love your neighbor as yourself” Leviticus 19:18 ) to the prophets (“In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty” Zechariah 3:10) to the gospels (the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37). Like the expert in the law, I wonder what is required of me when I am commanded to “love my neighbor.” I am challenged by Jesus’ response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" which calls us to move from ignorance, inaction, and neglect to knowledge, action, and love. I am challenged to think outside my typical concept of neighbor (friends, family, the people next-door).
This fall we had the pleasure of hosting two local adult groups – one for a weekend and the other for just a day. The first was a group of seven men from Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, which is about 30 minutes outside of DC. The second group was comprised of about 50 working professionals who are a part of the C.S. Lewis Institute‘s Fellows Program in Northern Virginia. Hosting both of these groups was an exciting change for me, especially since most of our groups are usually students from out of town. Because these were adults from the community (the neighborhood, if you will), we had the opportunity to potentially connect people and local ministries in a more permanent way.
During their trips, the men from IBC installed bookshelves at Ms. Hawkins‘ after-school program in Anacostia, and I took about a dozen women from the C.S. Lewis Institute to spend the morning with Dawnielle in a Christian community and non-profit called Casa Chirilagua in Northern Virginia. While the IBC men met a tangible need for Ms. Hawkins, Dawnielle showed us her neighborhood and told us stories of her neighbors – mostly Latino immigrants. Ms. Hawkins has worked to support and love the children in her own neighborhood for decades, and Dawnielle advocates for her neighbors in many tangible and practical ways.
However, the people the groups served weren‘t just neighbors for Ms. Hawkins and Dawnielle or neighbors from a few states over, but were in-my-own-backyard neighbors for many of the local trip participants. Their stories and struggles and joys take on a new meaning when we know of their presence and needs, we take action to meet those needs, and we allow our-selves to love and be loved in return. This is a spiritual kind of moving into the neighborhood – as we allow our-selves to be good neighbors and also allow ourselves to receive good neighboring. It was so exciting to hear the men identify more needs of Ms. Hawkins and talk about when they could return, and hear the women discuss how they could help out Casa Chirilagua on a more regular basis. Talk about being good neighbors! I love when I can see the fruit of what God does through CSM!
Isn’t it awesome that we serve a God who modeled how to be a good neighbor for us? In John 1:14, as interpreted by the Message Bible, it says that, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
What a profound thought! I pray that all of you would encounter God‘s glory, generosity and truth as we feel his presence in our lives and neighborhoods, and as he continues to widen our view of our neighborhood.

-Kristen Erbelding, CSM Washington DC Associate City Director

Monday, April 26, 2010

Washington DC Reflection: "Sunday"

Sunday I went to church @ the church we are staying at. It’s a COGIC church and I must say it was quite beautiful. There were mad older women EVERYWHERE (Titus 2) baybee. It just happened to be women’s day too, so one of the wise older ladies was supposed to "preach" but she really just got up there and told us some truth LOL about life. She was coming from Hebrews and talking about faith. She just talked to us about her life, and led us back to faith. She talked about Jesus, admonished us towards Jesus, and pointed to Jesus. It was lovely and refreshing.

Then we had prayer and they called folk up to the aisles to be prayed over by some of the older ladies, and I went. And am happy I went. I got prayed over by a wise older lady and I was so hype!! lol They were the bomb, and very seasoned and know Jesus personally. It was so obvious. Very encouraging testimonies went forth, and some cute lil 4 year girl insisted she hug me lol, that was cute cuz in her little teeny tiny voice she was like "Wait..mommy I wanna hug her..." LOL! Adorable. Church was dope.

IN addition I got unfortunate news about some other church related things back convinced that Jesus is Lord and he uses ALL of our humanness to get his glory. And He will. I’m excited to see what He will do with this one, though it hurts for a moment.

Then back to the lab, we had staff meeting to debrief for what we were gonna do the rest of the day. The group we were hosting was starting that night. We got with them, had a meeting and gave them the rules, and a schedule. Then we went to Addis Ababa Restaurant which is an Ethiopian spot. (shout outs to Jenetta!) It was great, I tried know how I am so...yea. It was ok but I didn’t chew it enough to really TRY it 'cause it was scary lol. A lot of the college students from the group had never really been in D.C. and none of them ever tried Ethiopian food. The important fact is that they were willing.

Then we started our Prayer Tour. What that is, is a tour through the various neighborhoods and parts of D.C., and we get out at 2 or 3 locations but for the most part we drive through and give background information, statistics, and history on each part. We began at the Capital Mall...and then continued throughout to SE etc...we ended on "Church Row". Each spot we explained etc, we prayed for particular things, like the Christians in government whenever we passed a major government building, the neighborhoods going through gentrification, the areas that had more fast food and carryouts than grocery stores, on K street where one of the highest rates of sex trafficking is present, the areas of DC where someone making minimum wage has to work 3 jobs in order to afford a 2 bedroom apartment because property taxes went up, the cost of living and how vouchers for public housing are minimal, and people are being displaced from their neighborhoods, how Anacostia is "East of the River" and is isolated from the rest of D.C. And how it just so happens that all of the things a major city wouldn’t want in its major parts is in Anacostia, like the sewage plants, Saint Elizabeth’s psych ward etc. But it is def. people who live over there. D.C. didn’t even start out as a place of living, it started out as just a political/government center. Later it was transformed into a living place.

Most of the people who work in D.C. are commuters from Maryland and VA. In certain neighborhoods, metro stations are scarce but the bus routes still run. D.C. has the largest homeless shelter in the Nation that has about 1300 beds in it. There are plenty of Christian organizations killing it for the public school, to provide supplies, tutoring, bible studies etc. for D.C. public’s schools. People are losing faith in the public school system and resorting to Charter Schools instead. Christian churches are also feeding MAD homeless people, and buying up apartment building (NICE ones) and providing low rent for people who can’t afford other spots in D.C. It's A LOT I can say but it was def sobering and encouraging knowing that there are believers out there fighting for the city and praying for its city. Like Mrs. Hawkins who lives in Anacostia and opened that spot for the kids of the neighborhood. She feeds them hot meals every day faithfully that she cooked. She gets private donations but no government funding. She cleaned that place up. Jesus has graced her with everything she needs to take care of these kids and be a Haven for them. Amen. We prayed for the city last night. We went to the church "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" last night. They are located at the top of Morris St. and we prayed. It’s the 2nd best view of D.C. in the city. It was GORGEOUS! We prayed.

Later we went back to the dorms and got ready for the next day.

In the midst of our tour I also received AMAZING news that Lid and Melissa won this competition that didn’t go into thinking they’d win. It really blessed my soul for the rest of the night. I am tremendously and indescribably proud of them for going into this thing with the mind to glorify Jesus more than themselves. Practicing and laboring to the glory of our King and not for their own namesake. That ministers to me.

It's only been a week or so since I’ve been gone from Philly. SO MUCH has happened it feels like a month. I can’t imagine how 2 weeks will feel.


-Monielle, CSM Washington DC Spring 2010 City Host

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sweatshops - Not a Thing of the Past!

Most people think that sweatshops are from an era gone-by, a page out of our history books. We think that sweatshops were phased out by child labor laws. Or we picture sweatshops in the overseas garment industry. The truth is that sweatshops are still rampant in the U.S. American companies are still guilty of exploiting workers, especially those who are most vulnerable. Check out this (not-so-recent, but still relevant) study on sweatshops in Chicago to learn more.

-Kelly Reed, Chicago Co-City Director

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who's story will you tell?

What an inspiration! Who's story will you tell??

Learn how YOU can serve with CSM in Chicago and other urban centers!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Simple Compassion

“I’ve never felt more alive.” This is what one of our students said during an evening debriefing session about his day in the city. I couldn’t agree more. We had just finished serving at one of our new ministry sites - Mean Street Ministries. This ministry has a simple focus: love people, and meet them right where they are. I like to call it fringe ministry. Up and down Colfax Avenue, a street notorious for crime and prostitution, there is block after block of cheap motels. These run down rooms are where many of Denver’s poor call home for weeks, months or even years.

Our task was simple. Divide up into teams of three and go door to door offering burritos, pastries and resource guides. As we pulled the van into the first motel parking lot, my heart was beating fast with anticipation and questions. What would we find waiting for us behind the door? Would people really want to open their doors and talk to us?

At first, the faces behind the doors reminded me of the rooms where they lived; tired, neglected and worn out from a hard life. After a while I heard the Lord saying to me, “these people are special to me, show them my love.”

I wasn’t really sure how best to do this, but I watched Jerry, one of my teammates who had been doing this for years, and it was like behind each door held a new or old friend for him to meet.

Each story was just as unique as the individual behind the door and God loves each one of them beyond measure. A few times we were able to listen, share and pray for people. Other times, we just shared a simple hello, a smile and a burrito.

The streets can be a mean, dark and lonely place. My time with Mean Street Ministries that night reminded me of the beginning of a poem we read to students during our prayer tour.

O Brother Man
O Brother Man, fold to thy heart thy brother: Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there; to worship rightly is to love each other, each smile a hymn, each kindly word a prayer.
~John Greenleaf Whittier

The ministry of Mean Street is simple. They connect with people right where they are and with kindness. I believe that on Monday and Tuesday nights when the Mean Street vans are out that Colfax isn’t as dark and lonely because of their light and kindness.

-Keysha Boggess, CSM Denver City Director

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Restore-ing New York's Modern-Day Slaves

Check out this fantastic article about RestoreNYC's founder, Faith Huckel. Faith started Restore to reach human trafficking victims in New York City after she found out that slavery still exists!

Learn how YOU can serve with CSM in New York City!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"You Turned My Life Around"

Occasionally at CSM, we get to see the fruits of our labor. As many in urban ministry know, it's rare to be able to hear how the Lord is using you in tangible ways, but so awesome when you do!
Check out this recent reflection from a gal named Brigit:
When we first drove up to the housing site, I was freaking out because of the graffiti and the run down look of the neighborhood (and our van could barely fit through the gate), and when we got out, no one could breathe because of the smog in the air. But when we went on the prayer tour with Jon and Heather, I wasn't sad necessarily, just compassionate. I was amazed that just as we went past Skid Row, within minutes everyone in the van including me had completely forgotten about it and moved on to the skyscrapers.

The next day, when we went to Home Depot, I thought it would be so hard handing out pastries (to the day laborers). But I loved it. It was one of my favorite things on the whole trip; the sincere smiles that they gave us when we handed out the food and when we were praying for them, even though they couldn't understand us.

That was everyone's first eye-opener to what LA was really like. When we went to MacArthur Park after that, I was shocked to learn that a place that looked so beautiful on first glance was a battlefield of drugs each night. Right in front of us was where they had filmed "Hotel for Dogs", and right behind us was where gang members shot each other as soon as the sun went down. We were slowly starting to learn that LA was not what we thought it would be.

The next day was another one of my favorite activities. All of us went to the Salvation Army Red Cross Center and helped out with kids. I had a little boy named Richard follow me all afternoon, and I will never forget him.

The next day, Wednesday, was our day for helping out with the Midnight Mission. I think that this was the favorite thing I did, but I can't really say why. I just liked it. As we were cleaning off the tables there, a woman said to me, Where are you guys from? when I said Sacramento, she said, "Wow that's so far. I can't believe kids are taking their own time to help us. Thank you."

Lastly, I loved the walk around where we wandered the streets of LA with five dollars to spend on people. We had an amazing time with that. We met a man who we had prayed for the other night, and we prayed for him again. Then the 8th graders took him out to lunch on their scavenger hunt. I could tell the Lord was with him that week. Me and my group will never forget the people that we prayed for.

Everyone was sad to leave. Everyone had formed incredible bonds that will never break because of our shared memories. Every so often, I text my friends to see if they are continuing to pray for the people in their lives that we talked about needing to pray for. (We did this at a park when Jon shared his story about loving Josh).

I have noticed the change in my friends and especially in myself that came as the impact of our trip. I'm not afraid to sit with the lonely kid at school anymore, and when someone teases me, I just don't care. I know that it's God speaking through me as a result of the life-changing experiences during my spring break LA trip. I have been looking for after school volunteer sites like the Red Shield. Since God has blessed me with writing, I am writing a book about my experiences. I hope to continue mission trips like this one and continue to have God work in my life. Thanks for the amazing experiences and for turning my life around.

Have you served with CSM in the city? Tell us about it - email!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unlikely Tourist Spot

As people visit the beautiful city of San Fransisco, some want to turn the tenderloin district into an attraction. Check out this New York Times article...
-Jonathan Liu, CSM Los Angeles City Director

Friday, April 09, 2010

Increase in Homeless Elderly

Many other cultures revere the elderly. With age comes experience and much wisdom to pass along to younger generations. But American culture values youth and beauty, often leaving aging members of society uncared for. With the elderly population projected to skyrocket in the next decade, how will we respond as Christ followers? Check out out this article on the growing elderly homeless population in the U.S.

-Kelly Reed, CSM Chicago Co-City Director

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Fresh Start

Sometimes urban ministry can feel overwhelming. In those times it's good to be reminded that even small acts of kindness mean something to someone. Check out this story of a woman doing her part to encourage someone else in a fresh start.

-Keysha Boggess, CSM Denver City Director

Thursday, April 01, 2010

An Oasis in a Food Desert

In an area that is still considered by many as a healthy food desert, Fresh and Easy is opening its doors on Central Ave in Los Angeles. The healthy choices given to many is an exciting way to see that people still care deeply for this neighborhood.
Check out this Facebook video...
-Jonathan Liu, CSM Los Angeles City Director