Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Allowing Hope to Interrupt

One afternoon this week, our group was serving at the Los Angeles Mission. We went into the kitchen and loaded our plates up with delicious food. I noticed there was another gentleman eating by himself at the very far right side of the hall, so I asked the man if he wouldn’t mind if we sat with him. He politely told us to please sit down with him. 

Somewhere along in the meal I asked the man what his name was and he told me his name was Robert*. He then asked us what our names were and where we are from. One of the youth group’s leaders cheerfully told Robert that their group is serving with CSM (Center for Student Missions) for the week. After Robert heard the youth leader say “CSM”, he jumped up as if his pants were lit on fire. 

“Wait! You guys are from CSM?” asked Robert. 

“Yes, why?” I asked. 

“CSM saved my life.” 

At that moment he sat down slowly and started unpacking his story of how he ended up as an Alumni at Los Angeles Mission. 

Back in the early 1990s, Robert moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend. Some conflicts arose between the two and Robert started diving head first into a drug addiction. He told us that he tried going to a rehab, but he would end up using drugs again. He spent eight months in 1992 using drugs. “It was a dark time of my life,” Robert told us.

Early one morning in October 1992, Robert found himself homeless and sitting in McArthur Park. 

“The devil was tempting me...I felt hopeless,” he recalled “He told me God couldn’t us me."

He was wrestled with those thoughts that morning. Things seemed to be hopeless for Robert. He talked to God about his feelings and didn’t sense any help coming his way.

While he was wrestling with those thoughts, he looked over and saw a group of young kids walking through the park. The young kids came up to him and started conversing with him. Their City Host, Rochelle, began telling him that they are from CSM. 

They asked if he needed prayer for anything. Robert told the small group about what he was struggling with. How hopeless he felt. Rochelle encouraged him to see what Los Angeles Mission can do for him. She told him about the people in the program and how God changed their lives. 
Rochelle and her group decided to pick up Robert the following Saturday morning from the park and take him to Los Angeles Mission. Robert told me that the day he was at the park was the day that CSM changed his life. That because of CSM, God spoke to Him that morning. His life was transformed from that moment on. 

Fast forward to present day. 

Robert told us that he is now a chaplain for the Los Angeles Mission. He works with individuals that might be in similar situation that he was in. Many of the Alumni will tell you that having received so much themselves, they feel a need to give back to the community.

Hearing Robert's story, I felt true joy. I was crying when he told us about Rochelle and how she led her group in prayer for Robert. I felt joy when God answered Robert and Rochelle’s prayer for hope. I felt joy when I realized that God actually listens to our prayers and He cares about our worries and pain. I felt joy when God started to reveal to me that even the most seemingly hopeless and depressing places are full of hope. 

It has been an enormous blessing being a part of God’s restoration and hearing stories of God changing people’s precious lives. I am looking forward to seeing what God has planned for the rest of the summer. 

- Andy, CSM Los Angeles Summer 2015 City Host

*Name changed to protect identity.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The beautiful rollercoaster called life!

Many CSM groups blog about their experience while serving in the city. It serves as a beautiful way to reflect on all that God is doing and teaching. We are grateful for Calvary High School being willing to share their experience at CSM Chicago with us. Does your group have a story to tell? Email us!

How many different emotions, feelings and experiences, ups and downs from one extreme to another can you have in one day!?! Go on a high school mission trip and you will find out pretty quickly!

Our day today was filled with new experiences both positive and negative. So goes not only the rhythm of a youth trip but also the rhythm of life as well.

We started our day with ICE COLD SHOWERS! Those of us who decided to brave the arctic waters the wonderful icy waterfalls could be heard throughout the house as they loudly expressed the awakening shock!

I can't say I totally toughed that one out but did subject my head to the joys of that brisk awakening - yup, I admit, I am a wimp when it comes to cold water!

We made our way to our day site in the morning which was to the Jackson Park Rec Center to help with their summer day camp, which supports summer activities for local children ages 6-12 years old. Today was "beach day"--- Every Monday is "beach day!" Groups are split up into 5 different ages groups with 1 to 2 leaders per group. Our group split up to help out with each of the groups as we played, hung out with and then walked to the beach at Lake Michigan for the day. Our students truly shined and stepped up to offer friendship, fun and mischief as we spent the morning at the beach. I think for most of our team, that would be a pretty great "up" for the day.

After returning to our housing site for a quick change and refresh we headed out into the city for our next adventure.

Our "assignment" was an experience CSM calls "immersion" and involves our students taking on the rolls of leadership among themselves challenging them to put themselves into the shoes of a homeless person by simulating a homeless scenario. Adult leaders were there to take a step back and let the students make the choices on where they were going, following directions, meeting people, making connections and seeing what life is like in the city if you are homeless and have very few resources. (we were able to make subtle guiding suggestions at times we saw necessary but mostly just observe) This experience was vastly different for each of our 3 small groups as they navigated through public transportation to the destination they were given. Some had overall positive experiences while others not so much. Our group of 4 students and myself were given $10 ($2 per person) to find dinner that would feed all of us by pooling the money together. 

Where would you eat, shower, sleep, be safe, connect with people if you were homeless. Where are you welcome, where are you not welcome, how do you get your basic needs met? 

This was a huge "out of comfort zone" task for our students to put themselves into and I have to say that the group of young people that I was with this evening made me so very proud of how they embraced this experience once they got past the approach of being a visitor and having the mind set of checking things off the task list and really embracing the experience.

I stood back and watched as they went from being "separate but together" to really bonding and working together...pooled their money together to buy a meal to feed not only the 5 of us, but 2 young men they met who travel around the country by hopping trains with their 2 dogs. Because the four students opened their lives to these 2, treated them as equals and with dignity...offering to sit down and share a meal with them they shared their stories with us, talked with us and made an amazing human connection with us and prayed with us.

Some of the feelings the students had during this experience were extreme as well. It is not always easy to feel vulnerable or lost. It's frustrating, it's uncomfortable, sometimes even maddening.

The following is a quote from a debriefing conversation with Heather Michel this evening. 

"There is a feeling of defeat, hunger, hopelessness, frustration...that turns to satisfaction in being able to figure out how to make something work."

I suggest any of you reading this blog to reach out to one or more of our students when they return and ask them about their "immersion" experience and allow them to share it with you.

They truly have some amazing and meaningful stories to tell about it and I can guarantee they will be from one extreme to another depending on who you ask and how the rhythm of that experience was for them.

Originally posted on Calvary High School Missions Chicago 2015 blog...

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Where in the world is Dan Reeve? BOSTON!

Hello from Boston!

It's a busy week here for everyone. We have a bunch of groups from all over the East Coast serving this week with CSM Boston. I spent some time with one of the leaders from Trinity Episcopal 
Church,  Reverend David Canan. I always appreciate when the senior minister comes with his/her group, but that wasn't the only reason I wanted to mention David. During our conversation, David told me about why he does urban mission trips; he talked about being in a suburban church that has "adopted" a small, struggling congregation in an at-risk community in Philadelphia. Trinity isn't just treating this Philly congregation as a "welfare case", but they have a mutually beneficial partnership that helps both congregations grow missionally and build genuine reconciliation bridges.
During my time here, I also have met Jeanette Merren, Director of Greenwood Shalom MCAS. You know that I have a very high value for church-based, wholistic ministry and that's why Jeanette's program is so special. Her main mission is to assist in literacy, writing, and math skills for students who are failing in school, but she is so much more involved. Jeanette talked about how angry so many of the young kids are when they come to her. This is a chronic issue among kids from dysfunctional homes and communities. Jeanette has a wonderful plan for helping kids face their anger rather than just trying to stay calm. I watched as she and some of our group took part in "table talk", an exercise where kids can safely process their feelings and learn some skills to manage them. The main task of our CSM participants in this is to be caring and loving "ears". It was an amazing experience!

Another one of our favorite ministry partners is the Emmanuel Gospel Center. The Emmanuel Gospel Center offers many different programs to serve the community. Today, I met Arvelle Adamson, the Outreach Director, who works with all of the clients in the residence; but more than that, Arvelle spends hours each week out on the street, leading groups that care for those without homes, guiding them to shelter, and sharing Jesus' love in work and in action. Arvelle's outreach is called Starlight Ministries and their tagline is "taking the Church to the Streets". Today, I watched Arvelle take the time, as he always does, to process homelessness with our group before they serve. He described homelessness as a process that winds people right into a hurricane of messes (health, social isolation, unemployment, and all of the poor coping mechanisms people apply in order to cope). Arvelle explains that the only way to help anyone caught in a hurricane is to "pull them out" and that's what Emmanuel Gospel Center does. Then they can address each of those issues that a person faces, including their spiritual needs. Look at Arvelle's photo and you'll see the joy and compassion on his face.

You can be praying for our Boston ministry as it faces a number of housing challenges. Pray that God would provide us with sustainable housing that is year-round.      
From here, I'm off to Chicago and then to Detroit. I'll make sure to let you know what's going on there!


Dan Reeve
CSM President and CEO

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