Wednesday, December 30, 2015

City Highlight: Los Angeles

This month we’re heading on over to Los Angeles! Be sure to visit our city’s page for more information about serving with us in the "City of Angels".

News from the Los Angeles Team

The recent terror attacks on Paris and San Bernardino were horrific. Though I was not personally affected by the violence, my heart broke as I watched a country mourn and a city try to make sense of such heinous cruelty. Reactions to the violence of Paris and San Bernardino have been varied. In many ways, people have come together and united in support and encouragement for those affected. However, a more unfortunate outcome of the terror attacks has been a growing fear and division among people here and abroad. There is a growing fear of those in the Islamic refugee community. This fear has begun dividing communities and encouraging a spirit of fragmentation.

As followers of Christ we have been given, by God, the ministry of reconciliation. Where there is violence and hate, we are called to bring peace and hope. In 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, it is said that “all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sings against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation”. We are called to work towards understanding those who are different from us and stand up to the fear seeping into our society. Seeking understanding and educating ourselves is a good first step in the reconciliation process.

Reconciliation is a process that requires learning, understanding, and action. At CSM LA, we hope to build bridges with the diverse communities of Los Angeles. One of the ways we hope to do this is by resourcing our groups with tools to help build cross-cultural relationships. We have a crossing cultures orientation our groups go through at the beginning of their week to prepare them for encountering Los Angeles diverse community. Also in January, we are holding an Urban Intensive called “Bridging Racial Divides: Seeking Justice through Social Work and Education”. During the week-long program, individuals will learn about racial tensions and injustices that play out in Los Angeles. They will discover ways to combat injustices through the social work and educations systems. Through these programs, we hope to educate students about different communities and equip them with resources so they can actively bring about reconciliation in their communities.

Taking action looks different in every community. Seeking reconciliation may look like educating yourself on the different cultures in your community and on the challenges their communities face. It may also look like standing in solidarity with those who are different than you and supporting their causes. Racial reconciliation may look like praying for justice and unity for the different people in your society. Whatever steps God is encouraging us to take, we must be faithful in bridging divides and allying ourselves those who do not have as loud a voice in society as we do.

- Allison Schuh, CSM Los Angeles Associate City Director

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interrupted: Jen

This past year, CSM Chicago posted a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry". We have been so fortunate to have numerous stories that shine light on what Christ has done through our students, leaders and partners of CSM Chicago. 

To conclude our year long series, we are featuring a 10th grade student that came on a trip this past summer with her high school youth group. We’re very grateful that Jen was willing to tell us about how God has used CSM to “interrupt” her thoughts and life: 

"One of the things I liked most about serving in Chicago was the interaction with the people. We talked to and served so many different kinds of people from all over the city. We went to the Boys and Girls club and hung out with kids who loved having us there and were sad to see us go. I also loved serving the people directly like during our Meet a Need activity, at Safe Haven food pantry, and 2 Lil Fishes soup kitchen. Once again I was surprised to see how open and friendly the people were. 

Elizabeth, who was the woman my group met during the Meet a Need activity, started a conversation with us and we ended up talking about some personal things for the next 30 minutes or so. Then at the soup kitchen there was a guy named Mario who talked about everything that was happening in his life and about his family. He was full of joy. 

With all that said, one of the lessons God taught me during the week was that people, no matter who they are, what they look like or even what situation they are in, are still people just like me. Sometimes we get these ideas and generalizations in our heads and we treat people like they are these generalizations. I’ve learned that we shouldn’t do that because we never know what a person has been through or what they need. We need to be open and willing to give what they need…even if it is just a listening ear. 

Ever since I've come home I have really looked at all people differently. While I still have generalizations that I'm working on, I see a clearer picture of who a person really is. This helps me not be intimidated by people I don't know and helps me by more patient as well. I'm no longer so quick to judge as I once was and take into consideration what might be going on in someone's life that is affecting them. Since I have been home I've really wanted to keep serving and building relationships with all sorts of people especially those who are different from me. Surprisingly I've also been starting conversations and opening up to people I come across, hoping they open up to me as well. Lastly I've seen how blessed I am and no longer take for granted what I do have, especially if it's not money or possessions but the more important things like two great parents who love and protect me. 

There are so many ways to serve in Philadelphia (my home city), it's really not that different from Chicago. I hope to keep serving with the organizations we have here, to help all people because we are all important and all made in God's image."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why Oakland?

In 2007, CSM observed that many short-term missionaries were coming to San Francisco (SF) each Summer to serve and hardly anyone coming to Oakland.  There were approximately 30 missionaries per week in Oakland, compared to about 300 in SF.  It’s well known throughout the county that there is need in SF, as well as it being an attractive vacation destination spot.  SF is still a beautiful destination spot with huge needs.  

Oakland was the forgotten land, in the shadow of “The City” that you passed on your way to SF.  CSM decided it was time to expand into the East Bay and put down roots in the under-served and overlooked Oakland. 

We created a prayer tour to highlight both the needs of Oakland and how God is very much at work in this city.  There are incredible organizations we have come alongside to serve in this overlooked area up and down the East Bay.    

Oakland  is also gaining much popularity as a place to visit.  It has become a dinning hotspot and was ranked in the top 10 US destinations in 2015 by Lonely Planet travel guide 2015.  Also in 2015 Oakland saw the greatest increase in housing prices in the nation as its popularity has increased.  Our Apprentice Micah Wilson wrote the following poem in reflection on living in Oakland during her time working with CSM:

Often times I hear that perception is reality
And sometimes
Knowing that people think this way troubles me
Love and laughter burst through the seams of my city
Although that's not what most outsiders choose to see
Nevertheless, here I found a sense of community
      Friday night food trucks
      Farmer's markets at the lake
      The small relief of catching BART home after a long day
      Jack London and art shows, Steph Curry with the three
Despite perception, these things are home and this is my reality. 

There is huge need in the Bay Area for service and sharing the gospel.  CSM is thrilled to be part of connecting people who want to serve and make a difference with established organizations and churches throughout SF and the East Bay.  

Come help us influence the Church and community and honor Christ not only in San Francisco, but also in Oakland and the East Bay.

- Jason and Kim Foster, CSM San Francisco Bay Area City Directors

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

34 Days In

The following is an update from CSM Los Angeles' 2015-2016 Apprentice, Lilian. Please be sure to follow her journey and consider giving towards CSM's Apprenticeship Program.
34 days in.
The first month of my apprenticeship program has gone by. I’m still in awe of how God works - placing me all the way on the other side of the United States in Los Angeles.
Spent the first month getting settled into a new season (no longer a CSM host but an apprentice now). Hosted a California and then an Arizona group. Virtually met the other eight CSM apprentices (New York City, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco Bay area) and apprentice coordinator. Met with my ministry site volunteer coordinator to discuss my involvement with their organization for the next ten months. Boy, was I excited to hear that I get to shadow almost every position they have to see how their organization work and learn how they are equipping families to stay out of the cycle of homelessness. Entered into a mentoring relationship with my directors where we talked about my goals for the next ten months, my responsibilities as an apprentice (a bunch of fun stuff), and finalized on my personal mission statement.
For the last nine summers (plus some spring and fall seasons), I have been a part of my home church’s vacation bible school and after school ministry. So it was easy to jump right into Door of Hope’s after school program last week- helping with students’ homework, facilitating free time, and building a relationship with each child.
Just thinking about the possibility of what tomorrow or the next week or the next month holds for me, I am super excited to wake up and get right to it!
Enjoy these photos and I hope to be TAKING and posting more photos in the following weeks:
Served with a CSM group at Los Angeles Regional Food Bank where we sorted through a ton of food that will be donated to non-profit organizations around LA.
A morning activity with a previous CSM group called “Pastries in the Park” where the group gets to interact with people experiencing homelessness and share pastries and a word of God.
Me biking at Hermosa Beach with the little biking skills I have from growing up in a metropolis.
My ministry partner for the next ten months, Door of Hope in Pasadena.
Snacks ready to be eaten by the children at the after school program.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Urban Farm Sprouting in Oakland

Elaine Brown has created something both promising and powerful. By generating farming jobs in a forgotten community for those who people consider a loss cause, Elaine has sent hope and health to West Oakland. I love her project and what it means for West Oakland, it is both inspiring and affordable. She is teaching the people in the community the importance of healthy and fresh eating, while giving second chances to prisoners. Elaine’s project is transforming West Oakland and reestablishing it so that the world can be reminded of the beauty and family neighborhood feel that it was once known for.  

I am hopeful and praying for success for this project, based on the potential I already see so far. Elaine Brown saw a problem in her community and found a way to bring forth a solution that helps reestablish and reintegrate ex-prisoners, as well as positively impact the health of the neighborhood residents. For this, I am fortunate enough to witness this as a CSM Bay Area Apprentice, and hope that we maybe able to partner with them one day in the future.

AshleySan Francisco Bay Area Apprentice

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Reflecting on Summer Highlights in the Bay Area

CSM San Francisco Bay Area City Directors, Apprentice, and Summer Staff
Dan Reeve, the President of CSM, came to meet this past summer's staff and help with training for a couple of days. One of the highlights from training was hearing him say, “This job, CSM, is not your life. Christ is your life.” (Colossians 3:1-4) Later in the week, one of our staff was still in awe that the president would come to meet them and say that. His visit made a big impact on our team and “Christ is your life” became our unofficial theme for the entire summer.
We did a lot of praying this summer and every week at the beginning of our staff meetings we shared what God had been teaching us over the last week.  It was a rich time of connecting before being sent out to minister and host groups. We look forward to hearing about where God leads each of the “hosts” beyond their season with CSM.  They are a dynamic group wanting to follow Christ and minister to others.  

Another highlight from this last season, has been what has developed  from a desire of Jason’s heart. For a few years now, he's wanted to find churches to partner with and prayer walk in their communities. This became a reality this summer through a church called SF Mission with Brent Kompelien.  The idea was sparked for Kim at our Winter Training in Nashville when a local man shared about the beginnings of the ministry “we” started… “We being just me and the Holy Spirit because there was no one else with us.”  

When we returned home, we heard an update at our church, Solano Community, from Brent who moved to SF a year ago with his wife (Sarah) to plant a church.  He finished, sat down and Jason said, “We need to pray with him.”  Between that and the Barna article recognizing the San Francisco Bay Area is the least churched area in the country, God solidified for Kim that CSM SF Bay Area needs to be partnering with more churches to build the Kingdom of God HERE to have a lasting impact for eternity.  

Brent led 2 hour prayer walks each week, through different neighborhoods around the city, praying for people.  He taught students to prayer walk, stopping to ask what God was drawing to their attention and saw them grow even during this short activity.  SF Mission’s hope is for “a new gospel-centered ‘simple church’ in every neighborhood, within walking distance of every resident of San Francisco.”  

Please pray for SF Mission and for people to come to Christ and live for Jesus in the Bay Area. 

- Kim and Jason Foster, CSM San Francisco Bay Area City Directors

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Life Remembered through Empowering Others

In July 2013, 12 year-old Lydia Kizziar served on a week-long mission trip with CSM Houston alongside her youth group from Carrollton, TX. Her parents, Max and Diane shared:
“Lydia had an amazing week. This was the first time she had done something like this, and she delighted in every minute of it. The balance of various service opportunities from serving food to ministering to children was so rewarding to her. She also loved the teachings and times of worship with the leadership. She returned changed forever. It was like she came back with a real understanding of the importance of her own relationship with the Lord and a desire to serve Him as well as a sense of the great need for it.”
Tragically, Lydia became ill with the H1N1 virus six months after her trip and was received into the arms of her Savior on January 4, 2014, just four months after her 13th birthday. Many gave to her memorial fund and, as “a last act of parenting”, Max and Diane Kizziar sought to honor her memory by directing these funds to ministries that represented their daughter’s values and her heart.
CSM was honored to be a recipient of this fund and hopes to continue honoring Lydia’s beautiful memory by continuing the scholarship to enable junior-high students to serve on a CSM mission trip each year who, financially, would not be able to do so otherwise.
If you would like to give a gift towards the continuation of this fund, please donate here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Interrupted: Josh Larson

CSM Chicago will be posting a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry".  If you have a story about how God interrupted your life through a CSM trip, please email it to!

Often when we look back at our lives, we can see ways in which God has been preparing to lead us in very unexpected directions long before we had a hint of where we may end up. Josh Larson would say that he never expected that he would be working in Englewood, which is known as one of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods, at a Christian after-school program called By The Hand Club For Kids. But, it is very apparent as you listen to Josh’s story, that God has been preparing him for this role long before he even heard of By The Hand.

God has very obviously been giving Josh experiences that have prepared him for this role for many years. It started back when he was finishing his sophomore year of high school. One of his best friends encouraged Josh to work for the summer at a day camp. The camp reached kids from a rougher and lower income part of town than he had grown up in. Josh initially blew off the idea since he had other plans for the summer, but when those plans fell through and his friend’s dad called him up he decided to take the job. That summer he absolutely fell in love with the job and the kids that he was serving. He wound up spending the next six summers at the camp. It was there that God began working in Josh’s heart and giving him a passion for serving kids who may be more difficult to love and lacking people who will invest in their lives long-term.

Going into his senior year of college, Josh was unsure of what he wanted to do next. That previous summer, he had this vague idea that after college he wanted to move to Chicago and find a job where he could learn and experience more of the city and the issues that people, and especially kids, were facing in the city. One of his good friends had spent the summer working for CSM Chicago and encouraged Josh to apply to be a city host.

Josh’s summer as a city host was a life-changing experience. Never before had he thought about issues of racism, poverty, segregation, and social justice in such deep ways. Like many others, these issues had been easy for him to brush aside before CSM helped him to understand the ongoing magnitude these issues have on people’s lives. He was deeply impacted and humbled by all that he was learning. That summer Josh served at a VBS in a homeless shelter. The kids he was serving were living with even deeper needs and in more difficult situations than the ones he had worked with at the summer day camp back home. He loved being able to invest deeply in relationships with these kids throughout the summer. As the summer came to a close Josh realized he had developed a deep love for the city, and felt that he was not yet done with Chicago or with CSM so he chose to apply for the apprenticeship.

Near the end of his summer, Josh got to host a week at By The Hand. Hearing about their mission and vision of holistic ministry to kids excited Josh, and he wound up choosing By The Hand Englewood as his ministry partner during his year-long Apprenticeship with CSM. He would say that it was one of the hardest experiences he’s ever had. At first many of the students responded negatively to his presence, but throughout the year as he continued to serve he began to prove to them that he was sticking around. He learned a lot about what it meant to invest long-term in inner-city ministry, and his heart became more deeply broken for the issues these kids were facing daily.

At the end of his Apprenticeship, he was offered a full-time position at By The Hand Englewood where he is currently a 6th grade team leader. This year is proving to be even more challenging than the past one. If it hadn’t been for all that he learned and experienced while at CSM, Josh knows that he would not be nearly as prepared as he is for his new role. Two years ago he had this vague idea that he wanted to serve underprivileged, urban kids, but there is no way that he would have ended up there without God using CSM to change and prepare his heart for ministry. CSM was one part in a long journey God took Josh on to bring him to the place he is now. It is incredible to trace the ways that God uses different experiences to interrupt our lives and lead us into very unexpected places.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Philly Community Rallies Around Family

Normally when a toddler wakes up  in the middle of the night, they are prevented from getting too far by a crib or a bedroom door. Unfortunately, not everyone has these luxuries to keep their family safe.

Angelique and Michael want to provide for their family, but it's hard in Philly right now.  There aren't many shelters where families are able to stay together, and most of them are full.  So they did the best they could by propping up cardboard walls and lining the space under a building in Love Park, located in Center City.

Unfortunately, their son crawled away and was found wandering in the park in the middle of the night. But now that people have heard, the city is banding together to help this struggling family.  Chosen 300 Ministries, a partner of CSM, is launching a campaign to raise $12,000 in 12 days to help secure housing and services for the family for the next year.  In just two days, the city banded together to raise over $7,800.

Sometimes, situations can seem so bleak. And yet, God can step in and provide a chance for a community to come together and express his love for everyone.

- Nicole Engelhardt, CSM Philadelphia City Director

After a rallying effort on behalf of the family from yesterday's blog post, they have found an apartment, furniture, services, and plenty of job offers to get them to a place of stability.  The family couldn't believe how willing people were to support them.

"We are taken care of," says the father of the family.  "Now, what are you going to do for the other people that's out there?"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Summer as a CSM City Host

The following reflection was written by Saundra, author of Choose Joy and former CSM Philadelphia City Host. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
Saundra, front right, shares her experience serving as a City Host with CSM.
I've been back in Missouri for less than two months but it feels like two seconds. Philadelphia has forever changed me. I used to be a fairly unemotional person, one who didn't address difficult situations but I was forced to as a city host. I was broken down again and again but I learned that was because God needs to do that in order to build us back up stronger. The president of CSM came to visit us hosts one week and he asked us how CSM "wrecked" our lives and at first, I was really confused about it but now that I am back in Missouri, I finally understand what he meant. I came back here and nothing felt the same, least of all, me. CSM had taught me what true happiness felt like to me and that was not how I felt at school, so I decided to change it. I quit the sorority that had so graciously poured into me for three years because I was not happy in it; it had been a crutch for me and it was holding me back in my faith. I often felt more stress than I did joy when it came to the sorority. I know this sorority will do good things in other girls' lives, it just wasn't where I belonged anymore. I also realized that I wasn't actually happy with my major either so I changed it. I'm a senior so people were confused but changing my major has actually made it to where I can graduate earlier than with my old one so that's pretty sweet if I do say so myself. The biggest way that CSM wrecked me was that it made me realize what was important and what wasn't. I feel such a fire in my heart when it comes to people who don't know Christ as well as the homeless. CSM just ignites this fire for serving God,  serving others, and striving to make a difference in this world and it is incredible to feel. I feel that we are called to do such extraordinary things for Christ and it can be overwhelming because it is so much BUT we can do it with Christ. I also learned so many amazing things from all the people I met and worked with this summer.

Brittany taught me how to be a gentle spirit and let others have the spotlight. She also taught me that you can rock a headband any day, anytime, any place!
Nicole taught me how to be fearless, how to be friendly but firm, and what it means to acknowledge someone's dignity.
Scott taught me to choose joy.
Caitlin taught me that it doesn't matter what people think of you or what society may think about you, you be who you are and you be it out loud and proud. (plus if you're just you, you may even start a trend. for example, the iconic Caitlin bun ;)
Fran taught me that it's okay to be yourself and voice your opinions as well as just bursting into song anywhere.
Lili taught me how to be brave, how to keep going through adversity and to just not let things get to you that aren't important.
Haeley taught me that it is important to have alone time as well as lots and lots of Dunkin' Donuts.
Faith taught me that it is important not only to serve others but to accept other people serving you in return.
Laura taught me how to relate to people in just about any way and that true positivity is rare though she exemplified it very well.
The D.C. hosts I spent a week with, Leah, Jonah and Francesca, taught me what it means to embrace one another whole heartedly, to share Christ's love so relentlessly and that you have to look out and protect one another at all times, even if it is just a seemingly small way. They were all such complex and beautiful souls that were really just a joy to get to know and they will forever have a special place in my heart.
All of the students and leaders in the groups that I had the pleasure of serving alongside as well as every other group that came through Philadelphia this summer (and the D.C. groups I got to hang out with) taught me so much about serving earnestly and fully. I was often amazed by these students who even at a young age understood so much of what it means to be a servant and follower of Christ. The leaders taught me so much about grace and mercy and just pouring into others without reserve that it was evident of how full, fueled, and encouraged the students felt at the end of each work day, ready for the next.
The ministry partners we worked with taught me that it is possible to make a difference. It starts with one person's vision, hope and determination to begin to make a difference whether it be with a summer school type camp, a rescue mission, a soup kitchen or home to help specific people- it doesn't matter how many there may be, every facility counts.
The people we served taught me that I need to be grateful for the little things I take for granted. The homeless we served taught me that even though a person may be in a bad situation, that does not make the person bad. It could happen to any of us at any point in time and that is a sobering thought.

Overall, I just learned so much and this post doesn't even begin to cover all that I've learned and what I am still learning as I process what was an amazing and life-changing summer. I loved every second of it from the amazing groups to the awesome hosts to the beauty that Philly and Camden shared with me to the times where I was sobbing to the times where I was laughing so hard my body ached to recognizing the hurt in the city to recognizing the healing in the city and most of all, recognizing the beauty in the brokenness. God is working in Philadelphia and Camden as well as everywhere else in this world; He is making it beautiful one step at a time. 
Learn how YOU can serve with CSM as a City Host!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Top 7 Reasons You Should Serve with CSM in the Fall!

Summer is an awesome, exciting time for us as a mission organization! But we are committed long-term development and change. Across the nation, CSM sites continue to serve their communities well into the fall, winter and spring.

Right now, we have a great need for more groups to come serve with us this fall! Here are a few reasons why your group should come and serve - whether it's for 24 hours or a full week:
  1. Ministry partners need you! "Our ministry sites are definitely feeling the lack of volunteers that we sent so regularly! Since this is not a popular time to serve, our ministry partners are becoming overworked and need help running program." - CSM Chicago
  2. Beginning of the year bonding "Starting the new school year off with a bonding experience for your group - welcome new younger grades into a youth group with a meaningful experience." - CSM Philadelphia
  3. Partner with brand new ministry partners! "Come and serve in Denver this Fall! Not only is autumn one of the most gorgeous seasons in Denver, we also have some amazing opportunities for your group. We have a brand new ministry partner that we are eager to build a greater connection with this upcoming year. On Saturdays we have the opportunity to go door to door inviting kids to come to a special outreach with games, fun activities and learning how much Jesus loves them.  Come and be a part of this exciting ministry with us!" - CSM Denver
  4. Perfect weather for serving! "With lower, dryer temps we have more opportunity to serve outdoors, go on prayer walks and enjoy city searches without the dreaded summer heat." - CSM Houston 
  5. More opportunities to learn "Fall is the perfect season to dig deeper into justice issues that effect the city. Mission trips are often seen as just being hands-on service, but we also would like to equip, educate, and empower students and leaders to serve at home and abroad." - CSM New York City
  6. Needs continue, though less volunteers come "Volunteerism is down in the fall and so many ministry sites need additional help - especially places like Kids' Meals who makes and delivers lunches to kids in Houston ages 1-5. " - CSM Houston
  7. More opportunities to serve together! "Fall and weekend groups have a unique opportunity where our ministry sites can use 20- 30 participants at one time, instead of our usual max of 11-12. So larger groups will be together and have similar schedules instead being split up for service during the day. " - CSM San Francisco Bay Area

Interested in learning more? Call 267-928-2620 or email today!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff?

The following article is shared by our dear friend, Shane Claiborne. Shane is an author and activist with Red Letter Christians. We are encouraged by his words and pray that you will be, too. Let us accept the invitation to honestly follow Jesus and allow Him to radically use us for His Kingdom.

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.
Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.
The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.
Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.
The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.
At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.
Now for the good news.
I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)
The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it… it was because “God so loved the world.” That is the God I know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven… but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name. At the core of our “Gospel” is the message that Jesus came “not [for] the healthy… but the sick.” And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God’s Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth.
One of Jesus’ most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan… you can almost imagine a snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I’m sure some of the listeners were ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right rules, and they did not have sound doctrine… but Jesus shows that true faith has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken person lying in the ditch.
It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David… at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.
After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: “The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you.” And we wonder what got him killed?
I have a friend in the UK who talks about “dirty theology” — that we have a God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a blind man’s eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were not happy that day.)
In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay “out there” but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, “Nothing good could come.” It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society’s rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.
It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors… a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.
In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.
Your brother,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Junior Higher Reflects on Detroit Mission Trip

My week in Detroit didn't just change my perspective on the city, but on everywhere I have gone since then. What impacted me the most wasn't surprisingly the actual work itself, but the time in between - the prayer tour and walk, the morning "devotion", the debriefing, and talking with one of the staff of the CDC fishery and gardens, Anthony. Overall I learned to see things in a different way - for example, division in neighborhoods (how the newcomers pushed people who had lived there for years out of the way before even taking time to know their name). And how things can be changed in simple ways - a soccer program that tells impoverished youth about Christ, a couple moving in and redoing houses in a rundown neighborhood, artists coming together to make something abandoned beautiful again, people bringing the community together, CDC's gardens that provide produce, and a man who moved back to his old violent stricken neighborhood and started putting junk sculptures together and changing the feel and culture of an entire community. 

I, myself, took from the experience that I don't have to solve world hunger to represent and show the world God, but if I could show kindness and be different and make people wonder "what is it about her" then I will have had a great impact on those I come in contact with. Going on this trip was an amazing, eye-opening experience, and I can't tell you how grateful I am for Gina and our CSM host, Maggie, and everyone on this trip, because this experience would never have been the same without them. I learned many life lessons this week and have made many memories I won't ever forget and I can confidently say if I wasn't going to graduate out of our youth group this year I would be the first one to turn in my application next year. I hope that all grades coming through this youth group get the chance to have this experience because I don't think anyone who went on the trip came out the same.

- 8th grade CSM trip participant

Had an awesome experience serving with CSM? Tell us about it!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Interrupted: Brad Edwards

CSM Chicago will be posting a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry".  If you have a story about how God interrupted your life through a CSM trip, please email it to!

There is a season and a time for everything under the sun. This is a fundamental, beautiful, simple, and humbling truth that believers respond to in obedience. God’s timing is perfect for when He chooses to interrupt our plans. Brad Edwards experienced this at a very young age, during a season of his life in which most people have a swirling fury of voices telling them whom to be, the loudest of which is often their own, and the softest of which is sometimes God’s. After God grabbed Brad’s attention in the right season, his whole life trajectory was altered. This is the story of Brad Edwards’ life interrupted.

Growing up in rural Colorado, Brad had little exposure to the unique issues faced by urban communities. He would periodically take trips to Denver, but that was about it. His first experience with CSM came in 1995 during the summer before his sophomore year of high school. High school is a time during which many search with hysterical energy for identity and grapple until they find sure footing in the rocky ascent toward becoming. It should come as no surprise, then,  that during that summer Brad was thinking a lot about his future. It was with this mindset that he entered a trip to CSM Los Angeles with his high school youth group. This was Brad’s first real exposure to urban ministry, and he was struck with the level of discipleship that was catalyzed by this experience. He saw that exposing the youth group to this new culture, which was far out of their comfort zone, and making them process and come to terms with all the things they were experiencing was a huge source of discipleship and spiritual growth for both him and his companions. He was encouraged by what God was already doing through the various ministries that were planted in Los Angeles and that his group simply was blessed to be able to join with for a week. He was also struck with what God could do in the world even through youth. He began to consider entering vocational ministry. As he served the following summer in Mexico, he felt a palpable call from God to vocational ministry.

All of this led Brad to attain a degree in Youth Ministry from John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. In 2000, during the summer after his sophomore year, he took a job as a City Host for CSM in Houston. The method and philosophy of ministry God was carrying out through CSM had resonated with Brad, influencing his own philosophy of ministry. When Brad graduated college, he took a job at a church plant called Emmaus Road Community Church in Laramie, Wyoming, where he essentially built the youth ministry up from the ground. By the summer of 2004, he had built up a core group of youth, and he was faithful to what the Lord had taught him through going on a CSM trip and serving as a city host; he brought them on a trip to CSM Chicago, and it was a wonderful growing experience. He had seen through personal experience that missions trips provide a unique opportunity for spiritual growth, for discipleship, and for growth as a youth group community. CSM trips, which carried a unique focus on allowing youth to see and step into the ways God was already moving in the city, and which had so profoundly impacted Brad’s personal philosophy of ministry in the past, became an important part of the discipleship program he implemented as a youth pastor. God had truly used CSM to greatly change Brad’s heart for ministry, and Brad was responding faithfully by giving his youth the same experience in order to change hearts.

From 2005 to 2008, Brad attended Denver Seminary, during which time he had stints serving at both a suburban church plant and a mega church. In both contexts, he served in young adult ministry, and even here he applied CSM’s focus on providing growth opportunities by immersing people in cultures and contexts different from their own and allowing them to see how God was moving just as strongly in those contexts. He would lead the young adults in service opportunities that, similarly to CSM, focused on urban immersion, and, ever constant, God used these experiences to bring about growth and heart change.
After graduating from Denver Seminary, God brought Brad and his wife full circle back to Siloam Springs to minister in the very place he had been taught how to do so. Brad became a youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church, where he still works today. Brad was again tasked by God with building the youth at First Presbyterian Church into a much more established group. Once he reached that point with his students, he again began implementing CSM as a part of the discipleship program, taking his students on a trip to CSM Houston in the summer of 2011 and then on a trip to CSM Chicago this past summer of 2015, again seeing tremendous growth as a fruit.

CSM was a foundational part of God’s efforts to interrupt Brad’s heart for ministry, and now, some 20 years later, he is providing that same experience to students who are the same confused, identity-seeking age that Brad was when he was so powerfully spoken to by God. One has to wonder how many other teenager’s lives are being rocked in much the same way as Brad’s by his faithfully passing down what God passed down to Him. It is beautiful to see how Brad has come full circle to spread what God taught him as a teenager to countless other teenagers and young adults, building leaders and disciples in the process. Powerful, contagious Holy Spirit movements happen when we humbly and simply surrender in obedience to the easy yolk of God. Brad’s life is a testament to this. This story is one of many stories of humble servanthood and its beautiful returns. Allow God to interrupt you in season, and sow seeds of obedience to His faithful, interrupting voice. The harvest will be the most beautiful thing you could ever imagine, and, in fact, probably more beautiful than you could imagine.