Friday, August 31, 2012

2 Months

Today is the 2 month anniversary of me starting my time in Washington, District of Columbia. At first, it seems like it has been a lot longer than that because of the multitude of experiences that I have had the privilege of having while here. But, at the same time it seems like I haven't been here for very long. I think part of that has to do with the pace of the ministry life here, but I'm not quite sure.

There have been moments that have allowed me to be tested in patience, humility, and servanthood. While those moments often came at the most 'inconvenient' time possible for me, I guess that the biggest lesson was to go ahead and never plan anything. Why? Because something is always in store that is unexpected. After reading this morning's headlines, I hate to think that sorrow is often a part of that story.

But, pain is a constant part of the human existence. On a daily basis, I have seen individuals who are struggling with mental instability, homelessness, poverty, injustice, 
discrimination, lack of hope, and a constant cycle of a world that views them as: a blight on their city, a statistic...if they are viewed at all and not just completely forgotten. And, in a city full of organizations that were built on the idea of individuals having dignity and worth it seems unfathomable that it is so visible to the willing observer.

As a student of politics and a Christian, I am disheartened by much of the discourse that goes on (if any) concerning urban politics and society. While it was one of my favorite courses so far in my discipline, God allowing me to see the problems head on was quite a blessing.

Seeing a man dig out of a trashcan just a few blocks from where I reside, seeing a kid not be able to do problems well below their grade level, and seeing the long lines for social services make me (as a hopeful member of government one day) want to explode in rage. As a Christian, I feel that Jesus in the temple overthrowing tables of money changers is completely appropriate in many instances I have found myself in this summer.

The brokenness of communities however, is not a lost cause. Non-profits and especially, churches are doing valuable work trying to take care of their neighbor. Many have been fighting these problems since the 19th century and emancipation here in Washington. Thank God that they have. No longer is DC the murder capital of the nation as it was in the 1990s. But, the problems go far beyond the headlines. The voices of those who can't get a voice in the halls of the federal government, the voices of the immigrant trying to begin life on a fresh start, and the voices of men and women trying to do the will of God by reconciling race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, and political affiliation to see that what unites us is Love.

I have a few weeks left and I can't wait to see what is in store.

- Tim, CSM Washington DC Summer 2012 City Host

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Friday, August 24, 2012

The impact of a t-shirt

Since 2011, CSM has been partnering with Youth Enterprise to print the t-shirts we sell in our cities. Not only do they do a fantastic job, but they also employ urban youth in Minneapolis to print their tees. They are able to provide great job training, life skills, and opportunities to discuss faith issues and experience the love of Jesus. Their heart and vision for transforming their city is inspiring!

We just got a great email from the Youth Enterprise folks to update us on all that's been going on over there in MN:

"We opened up a 4th print shop (for girls) just recently which gives us two guy and two girl shops. Your support over the past two years has been instrumental in the opening of this shop and its ability to impact youth in the city."

Amazing! What an honor it is to partner with them and see how God's using this ministry to impact their community.

Did you purchase t-shirts when you served with CSM this summer? THANK YOU! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The District

As I flew in flight
arriving for my first night
I wondered of the things to come
and the word of God to be done
wondering why He had chosen me
“Really God, I am to help Thee?”

I guess that first meal in my new place
helped me see that this Summer would not be measured in time or space
for God wanted to show me his face
and that beautiful thing we translate as Grace
in the chaotic and fast paced place

And, so we met as a staff

little did we know how much we would laugh
little did we know how much we would struggle
little did we know how much we would encounter
little did we know how much we would grow

I guess that goes to show
that with God life is a constant and reassuring ebb and flow
and that trying to know
what he has planned for us to show

those that we meet
those that we greet
that we may in essence, wash their feet
and, in this Holy Place meet

In some way
In some form
We realized yet again,
why we were born.

- Tim, CSM Washington DC Summer 2012 City Host

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Mi familia

Working at CSM has allowed me to have so many relationships with people in all different walks of life. It is almost to end of my summer season and I am struggling with the thought of leaving. The idea of saying “Goodbye” has always weighed on my heart. When I was younger I struggled with saying “Goodbye” because there was such a finality to it. I began saying “See You Later” in a effort to be positive and not focusing on the idea that at that moment it might be the last time I ever see that person ever again.
Truth of the matter is at the end of summer I will have to say “SEE YOU LATER.” 
Las Familias will be the hardest to say “S.Y.L.” A place so dear to my heart that I come to tears just thinking about saying “S.Y.L.” I have liked children but I have never loved children, if that makes sense. I disliked working with little children because I was always scared about hurting them or hearing them say the darnest things but God has shattered that wall in my heart. In that tiny playground their laughter, tears, and spirits can be heard from busy 7th Street to Skid Row. Their names have been cemented in my heart and I will treasure them forever. I can truly say that I love these kids.
When the idea of leaving comes to mind, people might back off and go into cruise control relenting the original excitement and intensity. I have done that in the past and have been sorry for doing so because of the weeks or days that I could have spent loving on people were wasted. 
The joy exuded in their voices and on the kids faces make the world go away. I have forgotten of struggles and problems in an instant walking through the wooden doors to the playground and the kids begin screaming, “Watch me! Watch me!” to the chanting of “King Topher.” The days that I thought I am just going to hang out and maybe take a nap, God “Jesus Slaps” me, and those are the most rigorous but also fulfilling days spent with the children.
I pray that these kids are protected from all evils, I pray that these kids receive the love that they deserve, I pray for their hearts to be strong, I pray for Alice and Eva and the teachers to continue loving and teaching these kids, I pray to God that I will be able to love Mi Familias and give everything in the summer, I pray that I will not dwell on the day where “S.Y.L.” will have to be said, I pray for CSM groups to come to love on these kids, I pray for for Las Familias financially to continue their outstanding work, I pray for perseverance and strength. I pray for love. 
The day to say “S.Y.L.” will come. That day will be sad but joyful. I will have loved them with all that I possibly could. I will pray for them. I will love them. I will continue to pray for them and love them even if not in person.
Because they are “Mi Familia.” 
Topher, CSM Los Angeles Summer 2012 City Host
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Where else would I rather be?

This is my last blog post of the summer.  I sent off my final group back to Fort Wayne, Indiana on Saturday morning (yes, I hosted a group from my hometown during my last week, and it was a blast!)  Now, I am spending a few days in the city to say final goodbyes, tie up loose ends, and reflect upon my summer.
Seeing God do work in the city is kind of like a drug.  Once I got a small high from it, I found it irresistible.  Tasting its flavor is addictive; nothing else can provide the same kind of satisfaction.  God’s love emits from every hopeful smile I see on the face of a person who, according to the world, should be hopeless.  That hope draws me in and keeps me lingering in God’s kingdom.  Where else would I rather be?
Before coming to Chicago, upon passing a homeless person on the sidewalk, I might have thought to myself, “I really should start a non-profit organization to help pull people like this out of their bad situations.”  God has undoubtedly blessed me with an administrative personality, and I am learning every day how to use it better for His purpose.  However, God refined me in Chicago.  Now when I pass a homeless person on the sidewalk, my thought is more like this: “I should take that person out to lunch and listen to his/her story.”  A relational side to my personality has started to move to the surface, and it is manifest in the way I see the world around me.  People are more special than ever, each one holding a unique story and some kind of profound wisdom. Every “hello” is the passport to a potential adventure of discovery and an opportunity to see God living the hearts of His people.  Creation is beautiful, and in the midst of chaos, it is hopeful.
As my heart broke for Chicago this summer, I could not help but let my heart also break for my home in Indiana.  I got to see the world’s injustices in this big city, but they reminded me of the injustices I’ve seen elsewhere.  However, every ounce of pain I saw was paired with the hope of an image of God’s coming kingdom.  The wonderful thing about the Kingdom of God is that it is everywhere: Fort Wayne, Goshen, Chicago, Peru.  His kingdom is in the hearts of my homeless brothers and sisters on the streets of Chicago, in the housing projects of Cabrini Green, in my Downtown at 808 church in Goshen, in the conversations shared at the coffee shops of southwest Fort Wayne.  I do not have to be in Chicago to see God at work; my Creator is renewing His creation everywhere on Earth.  Within the Kingdom of God, heaven on Earth, the reign of God – that is where I want to be.
Thank you to everyone who followed my summer journey in Chicago through this blog.  Your love, support, and prayers were not unnoticed.  Peace, love, and grace to you all.
- Quinn, CSM Chicago Summer 2012 City Host

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Balancing Act

In lieu of the Olympics, I title this blog “A Balancing Act”. Not because as a City Host we do back flips off a 4 inch beam, but because we are forced to balance our life here as hosts making hard decisions on the fly, as well as our personal lives back at home. And as many have probably heard, my great state of Colorado has not been doing so well this summer.

June 25th: The Waldo Canyon Fire was started about 15 minutes from my family’s house in Southern Colorado Springs. I heard this news while spending a weekend with my grandparents in Lancaster, PA just before starting my fourth week of groups at CSM Philly. Beginning a week not knowing what was going to be happening to my family, my home, my city, or my life back home was frightening. It was so vital to completely trust in God through this. The power of prayer was utilized to the maximum capacity here at CSM. We had groups pray for Colorado Springs and the families there. As the fire began to take route, it was comforting to know that it was moving north, away from my house, yet devastating to know that in an instant my city could be burned to the ground. However, it was such comforting news to ease my mind, and to get me focused on the group that was here and still help them have the very best week possible in the amazing city of Philadelphia.  For the next few weeks, I would still hear the stories of neighborhoods being engulfed by flame and people missing, and that stayed on the backburner of my mind. Thank the Lord, July 10th the fire had been completely contained.

July 20th: Friday morning I woke up to hear the devastating news that a man in Aurora, Colorado set off a canister of tear gas and open fired in a movie theater in the early hours of the morning at the new Batman Movie Dark Night Rises, killing 15 innocent people and injuring 58 others. This happened only an hour from my home, and only a few minutes from Columbine High School, which had encountered a similar experience 13 years ago.

For a while there, I was ashamed to say I was from Colorado. People came to me and told me, “It’s so nice to meet someone who isn’t evil from Colorado”. Through that, however, God taught me a HUGE lesson. Colorado isn’t evil,GOD isn’t evil--man is evil. Because Eve took that forbidden fruit thousands of years ago, sin entered the heart of man, and that has affected the entire outcome of the world thus far. God is almighty and victorious. He has ultimate control and power over all situations. It is devastating what has happened in Colorado, and its heart-wrenching that I am unable to be there and comfort those who have lost everything, but life is a balancing act, and only through the power of Jesus Christ, can we win the Gold medal. My prayer continues to go out to all of the victims that have lost something in Colorado this summer, whether it was their house or a loved one. I also pray for the CSM Denver staff as they are forced to deal with these issues so close to their ministry-- that them being in the city will offer a light and bring hope to a city that may seem disillusioned to what has taken place.

Matt, CSM Philadelphia Summer 2012 City Host

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Jesus Comes to Us in the Poor

"What finally counts is not whether we know Jesus and his words but whether we live our lives in the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of Love. Jesus himself makes this clear when he speaks about the last judgment. There people will ask: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” and Jesus will answer: “In so far as you did this to one of the least … of mine, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37, 40).
This is our great challenge and consolation. Jesus comes to us in the poor, the sick, the dying, the prisoners, the lonely, the disabled, the rejected. There we meet him, and there the door to God’s house is opened for us."
- Henri Nouwen

Friday, August 03, 2012

Come on, man!

Last night, the CSM staff went to the Grand Lux Café for an end of the summer dress-up-nice-and-smile-for-the-camera kind of celebratory outing. It is hard to believe that I am almost done working in Chicago. After I host a group this week, I will spend few days in the city before going home for the rest of the summer. Part of me is excited to have a break before school starts, but I am nonetheless sad about leaving such an awesome place and moving away from new friendships. God has used this summer to open my eyes to the hurting in Chicago and break my heart for people here and all over the world. This week, I have a feeling that I will be spending a lot of time thinking about how I can bring my experience home with me.
One of the things that God has taught me this summer through spending time with kids at By The Hand is how to jump into life without reservations. Apparently it only takes a few kids saying “come on, man” to convince me that I should go down a slip-n-slide before using public transportation to return home wet or dive into Lake Michigan while still wearing all of my clothes. If I held onto my hesitation, the kids would have had a less cool day (because doing anything with a big kid automatically makes a kid’s day super cool) and I probably would have gone home regretting not jumping in. And in the end, it was a lot of fun.
Doing that – jumping in – is not always easy. Sometime between kindergarten and high school graduation, I was taught that nonsense of the sort should be contained in a controlled, planned out environment, where no one would get hurt (or wet.) I am a product of my own conditioning, but sometimes God calls me out of that routine. He is the master of pushing my buttons; it seems like God always burdens my heart to do exactly what I do not want to do. Perhaps life is a giant slip-n-slide. Sloshing water slightly pushes us to either side of the long tarp, but if we only keep our balance steady and let the forces of momentum and gravity guide us, we will reach our goal of hitting the puddle at the end. Once we are all-skin-on-tarp, we can only smile and trust that a holy Physics will keep us from rolling into the grass. The hardest part, though, is jumping in – taking that first running start, and letting our bodies collide with the tarp. I do not know which slip-n-slide God will be sending me down next, but I pray that I will hear a divine spirit saying “come on, man” and that I will have the faith to jump in.
-Quinn, CSM Chicago Summer 2012 City Host
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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

“Good Works” and “Good News”

For the past five weeks,  I have been trying to deal with the theological and Biblical topic of how doing good works should join hands with inviting people into life with Christ.

However, instead of trying to expound on the philosophy of ministry, let me tell you about an experience I had at one of our Denver ministry partners called Mean Street Ministries, an organization that visits transient motels to provide food, supplies and resources to the people living there.

While serving with Mean Streets Ministries, I asked their founder, Chaplain James Fry, to tell me about these dozens of places on the West Colfax strip. James said they are the last stop before living on the streets. For those who cannot get a lease or find other housing because of joblessness, homelessness, addictions, sickness, mental illness or an abundance of other crises in their lives, these motels are the only option.  According to James, the cost for one of these little, former motel rooms is between $700 and $900 a month, which explains why it’s so transient: it’s the only housing people can get into, but it’s far more than most can afford.
When you look inside these motel rooms, you see a space of maybe ten by fifteen feet with a bathroom.  The carpets seem to be original and are very smelly. The walls may have been painted white at some point, but that was many, many tenants ago.  Everything reeks of tobacco and alcohol, mixed with the musty odors of mildew. 

If you knocked on doors offering burritos, invitations to a local church, a “chaplain’s visit” request card and resource guide for other help as I did, you would be surprised by who answers the door.

I met some folks who were obviously very intoxicated or off of their medications, but on my second knock, I met Mike.  Mike’s door and window were wide open because there was no fan or a/c in the room.  He was lying in bed next to his sleeping wife and he was wearing an oxygen mask when we peeked in. Mike and his wife are both very sick and they are both in their eighties.  There’s no evidence that Mike ever abused alcohol or drugs and he spoke so articulately that you would be surprised by his age.  Mike told me that he worked for the city of Denver for forty-one years until he became sick.  He and his wife had no family and spent their life savings on medical costs.  After being evicted from their last apartment, this was the only place that would take them.

With another knock, I met another Mike. This Mike had just been released from prison and had no other place to go.  Aside from his parole officer, he had no other relationships.  He was eager to take the burrito and asked for a few more.  He had no way to heat them or keep them refrigerated, so he began to devour them as we spoke.

Another knock and Jaime stuck his head out the open window. “I’m two” was little Jaime’s greeting. His mother quickly came to the open door with baby Roy in her arms.  When we asked her what she needed, she said, “You got a fan?  I called the front office about the a/c unit in the wall and they said that it was 50/50 that those things ever work, but no one came to look at it”.

It was 96 degrees that night! I offered to take a look at it and found the knobs, so I got it going for her. This was her first night in this place, just her and the little boys. No explanation was provided for how she got there but you could tell that she just didn’t fit in and she was afraid.

As I was reflecting on our experience with one of the youth leaders the next morning, I started crying because, even though I grew up in poverty and in some awful places, it was never as bad as these motels.  I told this leader that the reason I was crying was because I just don’t know how people end up in awful situations like that while I didn’t.  You know what she said? “Yeah, you do; the difference is Jesus”.

You know she’s right.  I didn’t wind up in that place because when I became a Christian, I found the safety net of a congregation of people who cared about my family in our deepest times of poverty.  When my parents drank and we had to move out of one apartment after another, I found hope in Jesus.  Truthfully, the “Good News” of the Gospel of Jesus is that he has the answer to every human condition.  Jesus saved my dad from alcoholism.  He saves youth from gang life.  He transforms abusers, gamblers, thieves and anyone gripped in life styles of sin and destruction.  That’s why it’s called “good” news.

Thank you, Debbie, for bringing it home to me.  Thanks for helping me with this article, too.  CSM is a “holistic” ministry that cares for the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of people because the way to get off of the street, out of those motels, away from prison and gang violence, to find community and break addictions is still found in Jesus.  It may not be very “correct” to some, but true urban ministry happens when the People of God show up and offer Christ’s invitation: “come to me, all you who are heavy laden”.  That’s why we don’t separate “good news” from “good deeds”.

- Dan Reeve, CSM President 

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