Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Paul Randall, CSM Houston City Director, has faithfully served with us in that city for 11 years. This fall, he will be transitioning to a new position as Associate Pastor for his church, Ecclesia. We are beyond grateful for his years of service to CSM, for loving on the city of Houston so well, and for the pastoral heart he's shared with countless folks passing through the doors of CSM Houston this past decade. Thank you, Paul!

As I look back over my time with CSM, I am filled with gratitude. 

My predecessor at CSM, Stacey Emmick, mentioned to me a decade ago that “we get to work with the best people in Houston.” That has certainly been my experience. Our ministry site partners are truly saints. There is Margo, the retired school teacher who offered to help tutor homeless friends with their resumes and wound up directing a multi-faceted homeless outreach program for more than a decade; and Ruthie, who is a clown by weekend and provides thousands of meals for hungry children by day. Then there are Scottie, Fred and Becky, who left behind comfortable lives in the suburbs to move into a very low-income apartment complex in order to minister to the families there; and Tre’ Voy, a sharp young man who is mentoring and pouring into needy kids in another apartment complex, just to name a few. I could go on and on describing the lives of my friends who are changing other’s lives for the better every day in the city of Houston.
Through CSM I have had the privilege of introducing these saints to hundreds of students who come to the city to love Jesus and love people. Building these bridges leads to remarkable transformation in the lives of our participants. This is a reflection from a college student who served with us this spring:
"Throughout high school and my first semester in college, I was always very actively involved in service. I was given a heart for the hurt and suffering, but I always found this heart broken with an overwhelming sense of discouragement each time I volunteered. I saw so much pain, so much sorrow, so many deep problems for which I could not fathom a humanly possible solution.

It wasn't until two weeks ago when I spent five days at CSM Houston serving such beautiful, unique individuals that I finally saw the all encompassing solution to all these worldly problems: the Lord's amazing love. I saw in our homeless friends a light and a joy that was brighter than any darkness in their lives. And that light was Christ's love and the love of Christ. These individuals were living testimonies to the transformative power of the Lord in our lives. The fact that all of us are sinners and equal before the eyes of God and yet He loves us all the same, giving us hope and strength even in our most difficult times. Because of His perfect and merciful love for me, I realized that I am called to love in just the same way."

It is beautiful to me to see how God continues to use CSM to reveal His transformative love to our participants and those we serve.  I am happy to report that we hired this student to serve as one of our City Hosts this summer!
This brings me to another facet of CSM for which I am deeply grateful: the opportunity to hire, train and mentor over 70 seasonal City Hosts and Apprentices. These college-age students and recent graduates are passionate about Jesus and about justice, and about introducing youth to what God is doing in the city. Journeying with them through their time in the city has been a deep blessing for me.
I have also been blessed with five different Associate Directors who have each been very important to me and to my family. Lauren (Aulbert) White, Megan Breed, Britani Wade, Mike Stevenson, and most recently, Rebekah McKinney, have each been gifted, faithful partners who have made my life much easier. Without each of their unique gifts and their hearts for Jesus and the city, CSM Houston would not be what it is today. I am most grateful for each of them.
Despite nearly eleven years serving in this capacity, I am still amazed and humbled by the donations, both small and large, which have come in to support me and CSM Houston. I know that countless prayers have been offered to undergird and uphold us. A great many of you have given selflessly of your hearts and your treasure. Thank you for participating with us in what God is doing in the city.
Your prayers and your donations constitute full-fledged partnership in this effort. You, alongside our group participants, our ministry site partners, our housing site partners, and our restaurant partners, are a vital part of the web which is CSM. You have helped us all to see the Kingdom of God more clearly in the midst of the brokenness of the city. You have helped us to build bridges, to break down stereotypes, to seek justice, and to see numerous lives transformed by the power of God’s love. Typing these words, I can feel deep emotion welling up within me. Thank you. From the depths of my heart, I thank you.

- Paul Randall, CSM Houston City Director

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My summer in the mountains.

Days like today remind me that I am way more sentimental and nostalgic than the average person, and I guess I'm okay with that until I realize that I'm struggling to say goodbye to a ROOM I know I won't ever see again. The night before I moved out of my apartment and home for a week before coming to Denver I wrote about how I was having a hard time leaving the four walls I had called home for two years, but how, in a sense, I was ready to leave. When chapters end or pages turn I am normally ready for them, but not this time, I am not ready and I've been praying big prayers that God would make me ready before I leave this city on Tuesday morning.  What was it about this summer that makes it so hard to leave a place I had never visited before March?  What was it about this summer that makes it so hard to say goodbye to seven people I did not know existed 2 and a half months ago?  What was it about this summer that makes water gather in my eyes when I drive down Colfax knowing that the days of driving down that street are coming to an end?  

We've talked about this as a staff a hundred and one times, but what a summer of serving with CSM does to you is impossible to explain and that's where I am stuck.  I cannot explain how cool it was to hear my students use the word "gentrification" in casual conversation.  I don't know how to put into words the joy my heart was given when I sat down at Senior Support Services to have a conversation with my friends James and John.  Then I try to describe why such a big smile gets brought to my face when a street friend hugs me after I serve them a meal.  It was more than just a summer of serving the Lord and being excited about it, it was a summer of realizing that I absolutely love and adore and want to be in relation with people who are not loved, adored or in relation with anyone.  I just want to be all of their friends and I want to encourage them and let them know that they are just as treasured and loved by the King as I am. 

I knew I had an adventurous spirit, but this summer has inspired me to take life by the hand and just run with anything and everything.  I have discovered a new side of a myself and being surrounded by people with incredibly adventurous spirits encouraged me to dig inside of the person I am still becoming and decide that it's okay that I don't exactly who I am yet.  People bring out different sides of me and working alongside Keysha, Jay, Drew, Jordan, Chris, Lexi and Brittany all summer helped me discover a side to myself that loves deeper and cares more intentionally.  When you're thrown into a group of people and forced to be with them every waking second for two and a half months straight you create a bond that is unique.  We served together, saw hearts change together, experienced belly aching laugh attacks together, but beyond all of that we had an unspoken understanding for each other and that is harder to describe than anything.  My heart was transformed and softened in the presence of these people and I had no other choice but to turn to them in times of stress or frustration.  When we would try to describe how we were feeling and couldn't, we would just know and that's probably the second hardest part of leaving; I'm REALLY going to miss these people. 

The absolute hardest part is leaving all of the people I've built relationships with at ministry sites.  I've seen people improve, I've seen people relapse, I've seen people commit their lives to Christ, I've seen people enter into life changing programs, I've seen people refuse help and I've prayed with completely plastered people along Colfax in hopes that something I said would stick.  I know what state I am leaving the people I've met this summer in.  I do not know where they are going to end up and coming to grips with the fact that I may never know where they end up is tough.  However, I have complete confidence that God used me in the conversations He made available and I believe that He has placed His sovereign hand over those people.  God is bigger than their addictions, He is bigger than the label society has placed on them, He is bigger than mental illness and stories of failure after failure after failure.  My prayer is that my friends understand those things too.   

Every group that I got to work with this summer inspired me in one way or another.  It was such an encouragement to see them on Sunday after the prayer tour all nervous and not willing to talk or pray and then to have them super pumped and excited about talking to anyone they see or praying with someone they just met by Friday.  Their willingness and the way they all embraced me was beautiful and it was a HUGE honor to get to work with each of them.  

I'm convinced that I'm never really going to find my place in the world and that's because God is always going to pull either a new desire, a new dream, a new passion, a new place or a new person to the surface of my heart and responding to those things will put me somewhere new and those things will completely change me.  I'm more than okay with this.  I don't ever want to stop growing; I want to continue to find who I am through adventures and building relationships with people.   

People need to be loved and encouraged and pushed.  People need to be told that they are beautiful and wonderful and desired.  I am convinced it is my job to intercede on the Lord's behalf to remind people of these things.  I would like my life to be filled with compassion, love and adventure, where those things are not, is where my work lies.  

- Heather, CSM Denver Summer 2013 City Host

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Words of Encouragement

We received the following, beautiful email from a CSM Boston ministry partner. What an honor it is to partner with them in serving the community!

"One of my pet projects has always been intergenerational programming and this collaboration is a perfect example.

Today, I had 15 delightful, honest, well-mannered and more importantly, respectful, teenagers help one of our seniors pack his home.  I was beyond thrilled with the care and compassion they demonstrated and their ability to respect his extremely valuable antiques, possessions and art work. Not to mention the precise folding of all his clothing.

He was so overwhelmed with the generosity he received, he was moved to tears!  Without you orchestrating this, he would have been unable to make this life transition.  Before you stepped in to help, he had already resigned himself to having to "give away to anyone that wants it" most of his things. 

So that you can further appreciate this, he is an artist.  He taught high school art for 35 years, because he felt that was where it was needed even at the expense of turning down many financially lucrative career opportunities.  Throughout his lifetime he has acquired art from masters, colleagues and students, many of whom are renowned today.  His home is like a museum and the thought that he would have to get rid priceless pieces was devastating to him.

On behalf of myself and our client, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH for all you do!!!!  I am so glad I had this chance to be included in a group volunteer project.  It is affirming to know that we can affect positive change, if even only one person at a time."

Learn how YOU can serve with CSM in Boston!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Blessing in Disguise

Yesterday, while my group was serving at one of our ministries (Hands of Hope), I was struggling with being tired, sore, and ready to curl up at home. It had just been one of those days. After Hands of Hope, however, they decided that they wanted to go to Rita's to grab some water ice. In that moment part of me was against the idea - Rita's was across the city and I was not feeling well. God seemed to have had a different plan, so we ended up driving across the city. When we got there the only parking spot for the fifteen passenger van was a loading zone. Not having another place to park, it was decided to stop there since we would only be a minute. 

As we made our way out of the car, I noticed a man sitting on the pavement with a sign asking for help. After briefly talking to him I found out that he was a fan of chocolate water ice and was able to get some for him. I stooped down to hand it to him just before I noticed the parking authority was walking by. When I quickly went to explain to the man that we would soon be moving the van he said, "Don't worry about it. God's gonna bless you for that," as he pointed to the man on the sidewalk.

That night I was blessed. I got to hear a bit of Ryan's story as we ate our water ice. He told me about his being homeless, not having an I.D. to stay in shelters, and about living life out on the streets. I heard about the hardships that had crossed his path and even got to share with him some of my experiences with CSM this summer. Conversation carried on to cover a variety of topics from his friends to life in Philly to how he'd been sick recently. Towards the end I was able to pray with him asking God to intervene with the trials that he faced. As I was leaving, Ryan encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing and thanked me. My heart was full. That night Ryan blessed me with much more than I could have done for him.

It's funny how quickly God can turn around a situation and change your heart. While I had been so anxious to get home, the opportunity could have been missed for something much more precious than accomplishing my own goals. It wasn't until after I talked with Ryan that I realized I had been in the right place after all. It may have been a long day, but God's plan was so much bigger than my petty one to go home. He used this little detour on our trip home to not only bring me encouragement, but also the chance to give encouragement. God is working even in our most difficult days. He is growing and changing my heart with the simplest of interactions, bringing me one small step closer to what it means to actually look on the city with love. Even when the road seems rough God might just provide a miracle.

- Bridget, CSM Philadelphia Summer 2013 City Host

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Seeds of Prayer

I would like to tell you a story about a friend I made here in Denver. For the sake of the story, I am going to call him Ralph.

I first met Ralph at a motel on the infamous Colfax Avenue. Many people who are homeless in Denver end up staying in grungy motels on Colfax, as it is better than the street, yet only require payment for one night at a time. Ralph was homeless, and he had come to the motel for a few nights rest. He wasn’t your stereotypical homeless man at all. When I met him, Ralph was sitting on a chair outside of his room reading a book. He was completely sober, carried great conversation, and was very educated. He was probably in his late 20’s and wore khaki pants and a button-up shirt. He told us a little bit about himself, and how he was trying so hard to find a job to get off the streets and out of the motels. A job for him wasn't coming easy, and he seemed a little demoralized about it. He told me that most of the time he slept at the Denver Rescue Mission. We listened, empathized, and prayed with him, truly believing that God could find him a job. You could tell he was a little bit ashamed of his situation, and weary of what we were doing there, but still grateful for the prayer and burritos that we were able to offer him.

The next Monday I went to volunteer at the Rescue Mission downtown. As I was handing out meals, I saw a man that looked strikingly familiar, but I just couldn’t figure out from where. We stared at each other awkwardly for a few seconds, and eventually he said, “hey, you’re the guy that I met on Colfax!” I suddenly realized that our paths had crossed again. For the next 6 or 7 weeks, I saw Ralph at the rescue mission every time I was there. Always looking clean and sober, quite happy to stand in line for a meal in one of the toughest parts of the city. 

Last Thursday, Ralph walked through the line to get breakfast as he always did. This time, however, he looked different. Ralph was wearing a suit! A really nice pinstriped grey suit, with a new shiny white shirt. He was cleanly shaven, with a sophisticated haircut and a new confidence about him. Slightly taken back, I asked him why he looked so spiffy that day. “I got a job!!” he exclaimed. "A great job working with clients of a steel manufacturing company." He was so happy, satisfied, and ready to take on the world, so different from the man who I had met just weeks before. 

It is an incredible thing to see prayers answered. As far as I know, Ralph isn’t even a Christian.

I can only continue to pray for Ralph, and hope that the friendship, prayer and love that I have been able to show him over the last few months will somehow speak of the love that Christ has for him. I hope and pray that after I leave Denver in a few weeks, someone else may enter his life; someone who continually tells him about Jesus and prays for him. Someone that will have the joy of hearing him talk about that time that God provided him with a job, and a strange guy with dreads befriended him at a motel on Colfax Avenue.

- Jordan, CSM Denver Summer 2013 City Host

Learn how YOU can serve with CSM in Denver!