Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Are Awake


I am overwhelmed as look into the towering skyline of Lower Manhattan & Midtown on my almost everyday commute across the Manhattan Bridge. From where I sit on this train, any human who has ever sat in this exact seat has seen the same view, but perhaps with different eyes. 

Massive skyscrapers effortlessly reaching toward the sky, glistening in the early afternoon sunlight, and a swift flowing East River below. What you can't see from this seat are the millions of people rushing to and fro among the criss-crossing streets. Place to place they wander, many wearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, calloused by the sight of those who reside in the shadows of the buildings that tower above. 

Another day, another commute. As if they were ghosts, I guess. 

I've been in the city for almost three months now and I've seen more of the city than many tourists claim they've seen. I've traded a five-star hotel for a small room in a church with three beds and two roommates. I've traded the expensive chain restaurants for an authentic taste of other cultures. I've traded the 5th avenue dream, full of luxury and cleanliness for an immersion into the broken, abandoned and unclean. I've traded the average surface level small talk and instead have dove deep into conversation with the people I've met, listening to story after story, heart break after heart break. Every day I walk these streets, leading group after group, serving at countless sites; and at the end of the day as I make this commute across the bridge looking into the distant Manhattan skyline I wonder, "is it enough?"

Face after face I pass, each with their own story, baggage, heart cry, longing for something more. As I look out the window on this crowded train I begin thinking to myself, how can a city this size, in all it's resources, still be hurting like this? In a city of 8.4 million people, how have we become so calloused to the sight of those hurting around us? Have we removed ourselves so far from those who are "not like us", that in order to feel better about ourselves we classify them as being "just another culture"? Have we gotten so wrapped up in our own lives that they have become entirely invisible? 

My heart aches and rages all at once at the hurt I cannot "un-see" everyday. Inside, I scream at the fact that we have become so caught up in what the world says is the right thing to do, say, and act, that we are quick to forget whom created this world and the people whom we are called to love. When I look out the window on this train I am overwhelmed, not by the skyscrapers, but at the immensity of the hurt that lies below these tracks. I suddenly feel so small. 

Everyday I make this commute, and as my days here in this city are quickly winding down, I can't help but wonder what happens after this? Just as this life slows down for no one, the city too, doesn't miss a beat. Has all that has been done here this summer enough? When I board my plane to fly home, will all the countless hours serving, sleepless nights, early mornings, prayer tours, conversations, and relationships amount to "enough"? In a country, and city, that thrives on check lists and accomplishments, the answer to that question is: No. Not even close. 

It will never amount to what we know as "enough". My smallness grows ever smaller at this thought and ever smaller still as I am reminded of the truth. God did not call me here to do "enough". In fact, He did not call me to be "enough" - because He is enough. He called me here to love and serve His people who reside in the shadows of the streets I walk each day, to which He says He is enough for them. He called me here to invest in the wreck that overwhelms this city in whatever seemingly small capacity I am able because at the end of the day, He is still enough. 

As I began to embrace my smallness, it was in that moment, I recalled powerful words that were spoken to me just the week before. "It is time to move from the mentality of 'us' and 'them', to 'us' and 'Him'." 

From the observations I've seen this summer, the truth of the matter is that all too often we put on our blinders, refusing to see or acknowledge those around us because they aren't like us. Just like at school, a party, or even youth group, we like to flock to our friends or those we are familiar with. When we look at the life of Jesus though, we find that He did quite the opposite. He could have chosen to only speak to those who were most like Him but instead He sought out those who were in fact not anything like Him. He went directly to those who were broken in spirit, abandoned by those who claimed to love them, the unclean and smelly, the different looking, the hungry, poor, and the powerless. He saw the ones residing in the shadows of the busy streets. He touched the ones who were deemed untouchable by society's for them. 

Now I get it - He's Jesus! You and I cannot even compare! But we can obey. He commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we are obeying and loving God with all we are, as we are, we will find ourselves laying down our pride, selfishness, calloused eyes and cold hearts. We are humbled and broken at the feet of Jesus because what breaks His heart ultimately also breaks ours. While we are not dying for those around us as Christ died to save us, we instead die to ourselves daily because He first loved us. We then choose to seek out those who, according to society's standards, are not worthy of our time or attention. We stop passing by and start stopping by. We suddenly become aware and realize we can no longer pretend we never knew. We are awake. We love because He first loved us.

- Kristyn, CSM New York City Summer 2014 City Host

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If Not Us, Then Who?

Our next subway stop is 161 Street. Yankee Stadium. The Bronx. As a baseball lover and apologist, I know the stadium is a cathedral of sort, where the ghosts of baseball's finest haunt the outfield while the contemporaries attempt to be remembered by the eyes and hearts of young fans. I am no doubt enamored by the view of this modern temple, which comes into clear view as our train comes to a stop. A group consisting of 6 students from Indiana and I are heading to our next serving site.

We are late, coming from a food pantry which we quickly grew to love. The invitation to serve those who need the most basic provisions is welcomed among us. And so we joined - in part - with the seasoned volunteers and staff of a Harlem food pantry to provide for our fellow humans, not fully knowing we are too the ones in need.

We rush off the crowded train. Immediately we join the buzzing of the electricity created from the fans going to the game. As we zip through the crowd to our next stop, a feeling of nervousness hits. In the shadows of the stadium lies a soup kitchen and food pantry: The Momentum Project. This particular organization provides resources for people living with HIV/AIDS. Often, these individuals are pushed to the brink of society. These neighbors are what the gospels would consider a 'least of these.'

A dynamic analogy from the gospels would be the lepers and outcasts which Jesus took the time to eat dinner with and shared in the breaking of the bread. He risked his reputation and his social status to help them feel their own humanity. As we serve the HIV/AIDS patients chicken and rice, our hope is that they can find pieces of their humanity in our smiles, greetings, and love. As we hand them vegetables, canned food, and cartons of dry milk that make up their food pantry bags, we quickly forget the stigmas surrounding those people; for they are now fellow brothers and sisters, friend and neighbor.

If not us, I think to myself while walking back to the subway station, then who will serve these people? This is not a question of arrogance, as if the Church is the only institution capable of serving. No, this is a question reflecting the nature of the gospel. If we, as believers, do not pour ourselves and step into the shadows of modern temples and urban structures, embracing the darkness with the light then the gospel is nothing more than a self-help philosophy. The written Gospels' collective testimony proclaims the needs of the poor, downtrodden, mistreated, and oppressed are to be met by those who believe in the Christ. If not Us - if the Church is not fighting for the rights of the "often-forgotten", risking its popularity for the sake of being the hands and feet, and breaking bread with overlooked and lonely people - then who will?

- Kieffer, NYC Summer 2014 City Host

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Come serve with us in Motown!

Big things have been brewing here at the Center for Student Missions! There have been murmurings and whispers of a new member making its way into the CSM family. After much thought, prayer and the combined efforts of many, we are excited to announce that we are moving forward with a year-round, full-time site in the city of Detroit, Michigan! We are so excited to welcome Detroit to the family. It took some time, but through God’s grace and blessings, we can now get to work in “Motor City!”

“CSM never goes where we are not invited by indigenous leaders,” says Dan Reeve, President of CSM. “Honestly, so many ministries asked us to come serve with them that it felt like the Apostle’s call in Acts 16:9: ‘come over to Macedonia and help us!”

Emily Hoffman, a native to the city, will be CSM Detroit’s founding City Director. Hoffman helped to facilitate three separate CSM service trips this past summer and will now continue to do so long-term.

“CSM has proved to be great fit for Detroit,” says Hoffman. “Connections with ministry partners have been God-orchestrated and mutually beneficial to both our groups and their organizations. I’m excited about establishing relationships with even more ministries in the city and seeing future CSM groups make an even greater kingdom impact!”

CSM will begin accepting registrations immediately for Detroit trips booked as soon as October 2014 and beyond! Groups as small as seven total people can serve as short as 24 hours.

“Detroit and its many ministries really do need you to serve alongside them in bringing Shalom to this needy city,” says Reeve.

Come serve with us in Motown, and let’s see what God’s doing!

For more information or to learn how your group can serve with CSM in Detroit, please visit, call 267-928-2620 or email

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Opening Ears (and Hearts)

Ever since I was a little boy I always thought that being a pastor must be one of the hardest jobs to have. Spending a whole week in preparation for one hour of speaking, reading and re-reading the Bible, and meeting with a lot of people. I had no idea how it could be done.

I had never thought about the fact we have a God who speaks to us and likes to do so. Now, I knew that God spoke to us, but I had thought I pretty much knew what He had to say to me. “Be a good person, serve, love, ...” so at one point I stopped listening in church. I went through the motions and then I would go out and serve without getting filled back up. That was one system that was not really working for me.

Something was different this Sunday at church, though. I decided I was going to be focused about what the pastor had to say. It was amazing. Listening to what God was saying to him about a verse was different than what God was saying to me about the verse.

That is when it clicked for me. We are always learning because our God is a LIVING God who teaches us things all the time. We just have to be open to listening to what He has to say. When I make the choice to open up to what God has to say it makes my week and life so much more enjoyable.

So as this summer is drawing near to a close, I encourage you to be open to what God can teach in the few weeks that we have left. 

It will be life changing.

- Logan, CSM Nashville Summer 2014 City Host

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 Ways to Get Students Excited about Missions

Going on a mission trip can create life long changes in the hearts, minds and lives of students. Here are 5 ways you can get them excited even before they head out!

1. Pray together!

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…” Colossians 4:2

Missions should always start with prayer. Get your students excited by setting up time to pray as a group. Pray intentionally for your trip. Have students partner up and pray for one another. When you encourage honest, intentional prayer with one another, you are cementing the bond between members of your group. Encourage them to share their worries and concerns with one another but also the joys they hope to experience through going on a trip. Pray for the city you are going to; that God would continue to work and move. Pray and give thanks that God has allowed you all to be a part of what He is doing in our world. Prayer gets students excited and prepares their minds for what is ahead!

2. Build together!
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-12

It is amazing what you can discover about yourself and your team when you take the time to do team building activities. I always find it extremely exciting to work as a team and see what each others strengths are. This is a great way to get students excited about the work ahead. Help them learn about their own gifting and the gifting of their teammates. Through organizing team building activities, your students will have an opportunity to problem-solve, brainstorm and debrief, which are all essential to doing missions.

3. Share stories together!

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:16

Do you have students who have done missions before? How about leaders? What stories could they share with the group? What encouragements could they give? This is a great way to get your new students excited! Maybe they have fears or worries about the trip that can be calmed by others sharing their own experiences.

4. Fundraise together!

Fundraising can also be used as team building as you are preparing for your trip. Get your students excited by setting up fundraising activities. This will also give them the opportunity to tell others about what they are preparing to do!

Need some fundraising ideas? Here you go...

5. Serve together!

"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40

Do you have a local soup kitchen or food pantry that could use some volunteers? Are there kids in your neighborhood that you could organize a backyard bible club for? Get your students excited about missions by...doing MISSIONS! One of the biggest things you will be encouraged to do by the CSM staff is to take what you have seen and learned and do it locally. You don’t have to wait until you get back. Get your students excited by starting now!

As you can see, all of these suggestions are things that should be done as a team. It is so important to have your students bond before, during, and after your trip. It creates meaningful memories and depth for all when you focus on community with one another. Most of the testimonies I have heard from trip participants haven’t been so much about the actual work done as it has been about the relationships that have been built within their team and how it translates to building relationships with people they are serving. What’s more exciting than that?!
- Marquita Farmer, CSM New York City Director

How does YOUR group prepare to serve in the city?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Make Your Mission Trip Last: 4 Ways to Take It Home

We’ve all been there: the “camp high.” We come off of an incredible experience - a week at camp, a retreat weekend, a mission trip - feeling like a new person. We commit to new ways of thinking, of acting, of treating others, of relating to God. These commitments typically last a couple of weeks and almost inevitable go by the wayside within a month. 

So how can you and your group take your mission trip home with you and make those commitments last? Here are four suggestions:

1. Pick one thing. You may have lots of commitments you want to make, and that’s great! But it’s hard to keep track of too many things, and you’re more likely to lose track of all of them. Pick one thing you most want to commit to and make that your focus. Be sure to make it specific so you can easily track your progress and stay committed (“Spend 4 hours per week doing volunteer work” or “Learn the name of the homeless man I walk by on my way to work every day and spend a few minutes talking with him each day” are better than “Serve more” or “Treat people better”). If it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing, make a list and work on one per month. This way, you can work on building habits and add onto those habits each month.

2. Talk about it. Share your experiences with people back home. Talk about the people you met, the service you did, and the things you learned. Talk about the changes you plan to make in your life. Tell as many people as you can! You might even want to have the group share about the things they’ve learned and the commitments they’ve made in church when you return. Sharing with as many people as will listen creates a huge network of people who will be able to hold you accountable, and increases the chances that you’ll stay committed. To take it one step further, pick a few people - close friends, family, mentors, etc. - and ask them to follow up with you every now and then.

3. Pray about it. No matter how hard we strive, we can’t do our best work on our own. We need God’s help to make lasting and meaningful change in our lives and the lives of those around us. Pray continually about the things you’ve learned and the commitment you’ve made. When you feel like you’re doing well, pray about it. When you feel yourself struggling or slipping, pray about it. When you’re reminiscing about your trip, pray about it. When you don’t know what else to do, pray about it. Accept that you need God’s help, and ask for it daily.

4. Keep a journal. This one requires a bit of forethought, but it’s worth it! Bring a journal with you on your mission trip and take some time to journal each day. Write about what you did, who you met, what you learned. Write about the good and the bad. Write about the things that impacted you and the things you want to remember. Then, when you get home, you’ll have something to look back on when you need a reminder.

- Jessie Palmatier, CSM San Francisco Bay Area Apprentice