Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finding Direction in the Unexpected

Going into week three of city hosting, I was extremely confident. After some extreme conflict with my map during staff training, I felt we had resolved some major issues and a summer love had started to bloom. Directions were starting to become really fun for me. Oh, Map 54 K-1 to Map 58 B-2 you say? Challenge accepted. I also felt like I had been doing an exceptional job being able to connect with each of the two unique groups I had the previous weeks. To top it all off, I was having so much fun serving alongside my groups at all the different ministry sites. So as week three was approaching, I was on my high horse. I was made for this job. It couldn’t be easier for me. Little did I know.

This would be an interesting week, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Like I said, I was made for this job. I had it down.  I can handle challenges presented by other people. I’m flexible. I’m available. I can be teachable.  Definitely F.A.T.

Come Thursday, I realized that I was the most challenging part of the week. The students and leaders were needing to be F.A.T. for me and not the other way around. I had misread the schedule and thought we weren’t supposed to be at our next site until 1, not the actual time we were supposed to be there, 12:30, and currently, I had led our group to I have no idea, New Jersey. We miraculously arrived but 45 minutes late. When we got there I escaped to the bathroom and sat in a stall crying. I had officially given myself the “World’s Worst Host” title. I know what you’re thinking. Overreaction. Late one day? It happens. But did I mention we had arrived 30 minutes late to our site the previous day courtesy of , you guessed it, me? I like to blame it on the vortex of what is the Ben Franklin Parkway of Philly, but if I am being real, I just use that as a means to not dent my pride.

My students were starting to notice. When students start to notice, it is not a good sign. And they started to only remember all the times I got them lost, and not the times I actually got them places in a timely manner and with no wrong turns. Those times outweighed our lost times, but they didn’t remember that. I had to finish strong. I had to prove that I knew where I was going. It was Friday. If I finished this day without messing up, then they would only remember that last day. A good day. Our first site that day was 30 minutes outside Philly. Okay, that’s fine. I have directions. We missed one turn, and we immediately got back on track, but the kids didn’t miss that wrong turn for a second. We got back to the city fine for the most part. They got to explore the city on their own for a few hours that afternoon. I only had one major place left to get them that night. Our restaurant. It was only 2 main turns from Old City Philly. Easy enough.

“Kathleen, do you know where you’re going?” “Yes.”

15 minutes later we were on the Ben Franklin Bridge to New Jersey. This officially made it the worst week of my life. Really, God? You were supposed to throw me a bone here. Instead, I am now in New Jersey. I was really beginning to hate New Jersey. It gave me nothing but trouble. We eventually joined the groups at dinner. Late. I was so discouraged. I did not want to hand out those CSM evaluations that night. I didn’t want to know what they had to say.

Still super discouraged and with a bruised ego, I reluctantly gave them their CSM evaluations. What I read that night after they were all turned in was not what I expected at all. I can’t tell you how many students wrote how much they appreciated me and my hard work. They noted my directions weren’t perfect, but they still appreciated me. And they still got so much out of all the sites. What? How? It was God’s way of telling me, “Chin up, my dear. You are relying too much on yourself.  There is no way this summer is going to work if you keep that up. No, this week wasn’t perfect. And you messed up a lot. You’re not perfect, but that’s okay because I am. And I will use all of your mistakes for good. And I did. And I will continue.” What started as the most discouraging week of my life ended with so much encouragement. I was so humbled. I fully expect more challenging weeks like this to come. Fortunately, God can use my mistakes as much as my victories.

Now I can look back say, “hey, remember that time I accidentally led a group into New Jersey?” and laugh. I mean somebody had to cross that bridge first (pun intended).

But the group that comes in on Sunday doesn’t have to know about that. Thank God for fresh starts. Never again will I underestimate 2 Corinthians 5:17. The old has gone. The new has come. Because really, the new group is coming, and as far as they are concerned, I am a directions expert. 

- Kathleen, CSM Philadelphia Summer 2012 City Host

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Loving on L.A.

I now believe L.A. is a heavenly place.  6 years ago when I first came to L.A. to work for CSM and go to seminary, I would beg to differ.  Similar to Jennifer Cavalluzzi Wolfe's CNN article, it took me about a year to fall in love with this city, but once I did, I never looked back.  I now consider Los Angeles home and hope to be here the rest of my life.  One of the most heavenly aspects of Los Angeles that Wolfe only slightly touches on is the diversity of people.   Los Angeles has the second largest concentration of Japanese, Taiwanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Armenians, Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexicans outside of their native homelands.  Central and South Americans fill the streets along with those from every other continent.  This diversity of people allows me to see a little glimpse of what heaven will look like and the creativity of our God.  Even in the midst of poverty, homelessness, gang violence, etc, God has opened my eyes and heart to how heaven has infultrated this incredible city. 

Rebekah Bolin, CSM Los Angeles Associate City Director

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Keeping Your Eyes Open

They say that at the end of the week a heat wave is about to hit Philadelphia.  It's been pretty cool for a while now, but summer will officially start tomorrow, and the heat isn't messing around.  And neither is our summer staff.

We're in the middle of Week 3 right now, our largest week yet, and our staff is confident and excited.  I just got to meet with one of the hosts who told me that her favorite part of hosting is getting to hear how the students process there time here at CSM.

"One kid had never seen a homeless person before," she told me.  "And I got to hear him experience that."

She also told me that she was enjoying getting to build relationships with the people at the ministry sites she went to every week.  Another host told me that building relationships is her favorite part of ministry and meeting all the new groups gets her even more excited each week.

One student described what they hope to continue when they got home as "not closing your eyes at Christ," and I think that our hosts are doing just that.  They approach each week with eyes wide open and help groups to do the same.

As the summer stretches on, I know that the hosts will dig deeper into their relationships with the ministry sites, the groups, and each other.  And as the summer rolls along, I know that the students and the hosts will come home with more awesome stories like the homeless man they met at a rehab program who is working through addiction or the cute kid who always made them laugh.

To the groups, thanks for sharing your experiences of Christ with us.  And to all the hosts, thanks for keeping your eyes open.

-Nicole Engelhardt, CSM Philadelphia City Staff

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Friday, June 08, 2012

The students are coming!

Here ends the second and final week of training.  On Sunday evening, I will meet my first group of students and will officially begin my hosting duties.  In general, I am excited to finally get to spend time with students and plug them into ministries in the city.  I learned this week that I will mainly be working at By the Hand – Cabrini Green, an afterschool and summertime program for students in first grade through high school.  BTH invests in its students holistically over time – mind, body, and soul.  By providing tutoring and extra academic help, issuing prescription glasses to students who do not pass eye examinations, and helping students form a relationship with Jesus through Bible studies and worship, BTH works toward a goal of getting all of their students into college and developing competent adults.  My location in Cabrini Green is a very low income neighborhood, which was once marked by public housing high-rise towers, but is now marked with homelessness (thanks to the Plan for Transformation – I’ll explain in the next paragraph.)  I will primarily help with the summer programming at BTH during the day, as well as take my groups to various homeless shelters and food pantries in the evenings.  Here is a video that paints a picture of what BTH does: 

I have spend a lot of time this week practicing giving my prayer tour.  Basically, a prayer tour is a tour of a part of Chicago in a van which features a city host (me) describing the history of the area while the students pray for the area.  The tour I lead is in the South side of the city – an area that is predominantly black.  Chicago used to use discriminatory policies to keep blacks in certain areas, and we can still see those effects today.  The South was also home to many of the largest housing projects in the city.  Now, most of the projects have been torn down because of The Plan for Transformation, a city policy aimed at spreading out poverty.  However, the city’s plan to build new low-income housing after tearing down the projects failed when it ran out of money.  Despite this, public housing continued to be torn down and in doing so, left 25,000 people out of homes (that is a figure from just ONE of the many, many projects, the James Taylor Homes.)  The South side is not all low-income, though.  In fact, there are a lot of really nice areas on the the South side.  On my tour, I pass Barack Obama’s house and Jessie Jackson’s office.  We also go through Chinatown and Bronseville, the former Black metropolis of Chicago and home to famous jazz artists, Bessie Coleman and Louis Armstrong.
All of the emails, comments, thoughts, and prayers and very encouraging!  I am definitely being energized in Chicago; God is teaching me a lot and making my heart break for some of the things that break His heart.
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