Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Interrupted: Kim Cochran

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 alumni@csm.org!

Kim, purple shirt second row on the right, serving with her group at CSM Washington, DC
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

The grace of God is not simply a pardoning; it is an interruption of the human spirit that, apart from grace, revels in its brokenness and wanders complacently in the desert. This interruption is a tall order, and it more often than not becomes a series of interruptions. Kim Cochran, a woman who is no stranger to CSM and who even mentored one of our Chicago city directors, knows this narrative all too well. This is the story of Kim’s life interrupted.

Kim Cochran was an interim youth leader at Redeemer Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Before the summer of 2009, she had never before been on an urban missions trip. That particular summer, she was leading a group of youth on a trip to CSM Nashville, and she came into the trip with all sorts of preconceived notions. She had a fairly simplistic view of homelessness, thinking most of them to be lazy people who were not willing to work hard enough to earn the success they longed for. This is a stereotype that many people in our society carry around without ever bothering to engage with someone experiencing homelessness. God’s grace was too great to allow Kim to continue in that way of thinking. On the trip, God pushed Kim to meet several people experiencing homelessness, and it broke her. The people that she met defied her preconceived notions. They were not bad people, nor were they lazy people. Most of them had simply been thrust with little control into circumstances that were extremely difficult to escape and that caused them to be stuck in the world of poverty and homelessness. Kim came from that trip filled with compassion rather than the judgment she had carried before.

During the following summer, Kim took a group of youth to CSM Chicago. It was on this trip that Kim began to see people in a new light. She stopped defining them by their lack of home or money, and she began to see them as mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters who happened to be experiencing homelessness or poverty and who were also subsisting in extremely rough, oftentimes dangerous, conditions. The conditions she saw in Chicago left an impact on her heart, as she served both in homeless shelters significantly lacking in material resources and in neighborhoods that were devastated by gang violence. In one neighborhood, the children could not even play outside because it was too dangerous. It dawned on her that each person she was interacting with was someone with a rich, complex, and beautiful story much like hers, and that each one of these stories was so much bigger than homelessness, gang violence, poverty, etc. Faces, stories, personalities, gifts, and everything else that is central to being human were matched with the statistics she had heard; she thought of these humans who were newly significant to her trying to make it in some of the worst conditions that she had seen, and she was struck with the weight of it all. Just a little over a year prior, she would have thought of many of the people she was meeting as lazy, “mooching off the system”, maybe even as criminals. Now, her response was a heart filling to the brim with love and compassion.

Kim’s process did not end there. A year later, she took her youth to CSM in Washington,D.C., where, as Kim puts it, God started to “put it all together.” She had spent so much of her time on these trips coming in with a savior complex, thinking that, because of her more well-off socioeconomic background, she had the upper hand and was better off than those she was serving in almost every way. In D.C., God impressed on Kim the idea that the people she was serving had dignity, just like she did. They were not helpless human beings, and they had things to offer. More than that, they could minster to her. Kim’s group led a Vacation Bible School in the housing projects in D.C., and Kim got to know some of the families of the children that week. One of the mothers made a particularly big impact on Kim. As Kim listened to her talk, she was floored by the love this woman had for her children, how she was raising them, all the sacrifices she was making and things she was doing for them to ensure that they had the best life possible, and how deep and strong her faith was. Kim had not expected that on this trip she would be taught and ministered to by the people she came to serve, and she was deeply humbled and moved. She had subconsciously and errantly assumed, like even the most well-intentioned of us do, that because she came from more she could not glean and benefit from the wisdom of those who came from less. God did not simply interrupt this expectation; he shattered it.

This past spring, Kim went on a youth missions trip to Guatemala, ministering to people who literally lived in mud huts. She thought of how this made the poverty she saw in the inner city look like lavish riches, and she thought to herself, “These people are living in the lowest depths of poverty and do not have access to the gospel. Why are we wasting our time in the inner cities of America?” True to form, God used Kim’s daughter to humble her by pointing out that material poverty did not equal spiritual poverty. Among some of the most destitute poverty on the planet, Kim saw depths of faith that she had not before witnessed and that she did not even feel she possessed. She realized that meeting physical needs was important, but the physical can often be a distraction from the gospel of Christ. As Kim’s daughter said, “God’s economy is different than ours.”

Kim has taken in all that God has had her experience and is now externalizing it to others. Back in Missouri, she volunteers at a camp for underprivileged children, many of whom are from Ferguson. Kim has developed relationships with a few of the mothers of the children she serves. She sees the way they are raising their children well in the midst of poverty, gang violence, and next to impossible situations, and she affirms them and lifts them up in that, speaking dignity over them. Kim has come to firmly believe that, though these problems of physical poverty need to be solved, the gospel has to be the most important thing. The biggest problems these mothers have, more than providing for their children or keeping them safe even, are how to raise their kids to love Jesus in the midst of the darkness. Though humans come from all sorts of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, we are all united by our need for Jesus and His gospel, and this is the gospel Kim feels called to live out and speak over the people in her own community. Where she used to be sternly opposed to venturing into crime-ridden St. Louis neighborhoods, God has now convicted her to fearlessly join in with the others who are brandishing the light of His gospel and Spirit in areas of brokenness and darkness. This coming summer, she will be returning to CSM Chicago with a church called The Summit, and God will more than likely continue to interrupt her. It is almost humorous; precisely when, in our proud state, we think we have arrived, God turns our worlds upside-down and shows us how much more of our journey is left. If we are paying attention, we will see that, in the midst of us constantly speaking our own plans, views, and assumptions over the world, God is always trying to interrupt us and speak louder than us for our own good. 

Ask yourself, “How is God trying to interrupt my life? Will I let Him?”


Friday, May 08, 2015

What we do.

Groups don't just visit, and neither do I. 

Even though we're technically a short term missions agency, we like to think that the potential impact can be described as anything but "short".

When groups come to Philadelphia, they're not just visiting.  Nor are they the sole force in healing brokenness here.  Below is an excerpt from a blog by Craig Greenfeled that outlines the impacts we hope a group will be open to.  Not only them, but I experience these insights, re-orientings, and discoveries frequently through the seasons of my life.

I'll leave you with his words...
1. Vision (or Exposure) Trips - a focused intentional time where we ask God to open our hearts to the plight of the poor.  What the eye has not seen the heart cannot grieve over. So, it's natural that when people find themselves face to face with poverty for the first time, something significant happens. The rest of our lives are irrevocably shaped by what we have witnessed. We gain Vision.

2. Learning Exchanges - a time when our theology and understanding of the world is rocked to the core and deconstructed. When we travel as learners, eager to have our minds expanded and preconceptions challenged, we will not be disappointed.

3. Discernment Retreats - where we discern our vocation more deeply on the margins. To pursue a vocation in any field without the perspective of the world's poor - where God's heart and good news is centered, is folly. How can we be a banker for God, if we don’t know how the financial services industry affects the poor? How can we be an architect or planner for God, if we don’t know how the design of cities affects the homeless? How can we be a teacher, if we don’t bring the reality of the world's poorest to our students?

- Nicole Engelhardt, CSM Philadelphia Associate City Director