Thursday, December 29, 2016

Present with the present

     During a recent visit with one of our ministry partners, he mentioned that one of his favorite things about having groups serve at the after school program he facilitates is that he gets to teach and learn from new people he wouldn't have otherwise encountered.  He said, "Every day I ask the Lord to help me love the people well who end up in my space.  I love that your groups end up in my space.  Because we can point them to Jesus and they can point us to Jesus and we together can point our community to Jesus."

     I love the heart behind this.  The learning is mutual and it's together.  It's not a volunteer group coming in to be the superhero who saves the day or the ministry partner just "talking at" students.  It's reciprocal learning.  It's an offering to listen and stay still so we can be reminded of what is good and true. In this, I'm also reminded of the Danish ritual of hygge, which is simply translated as "enjoying life's simple pleasures - friends, family and gratitude."  It is creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good of the moment.  It's seeing what is in front of you and being thankful for whatever it is.

     In this season, this is where I'll rest.  We served a lot this year.  We learned a lot this year. So, for now, I'll rest in the unhurried in our spaces.  I'll ask for greater recognition of Jesus and leave behind the need to be the one saving the day. May we be known as people who are present to the present, grateful for the privilege of shining the light and have the light shown on the only One who could ever be our hero.

Local Resources

Sign Up
Want to serve in Philadelphia? Learn how to sign up.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Serving: Not Just For The Holiday Season

Every holiday season Los Angeles is a flurry of decorations, celebrations, and volunteer opportunities.  The holidays provide a great way for people to get involved and give back.  Many of the organizations we work with at CSM LA have incredible celebrations that use the help of countless volunteers.  Every year the Los Angeles Mission and Midnight Mission both host big Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless community in Downtown LA.  Volunteers come from all over the city to serve a delicious Thanksgiving meal to the residents of Skid Row.  Faith in Christ, a small church in South Los Angeles, puts on a Thanksgiving dinner for the people in their South LA community as well.  Every Christmas season, My Friend’s Place, a day shelter serving a large population of homeless youth in Hollywood, has a festive gift giveaway.  They give away sleeping bags, socks, sweatshirts, and much more to the homeless youth in Hollywood.  With so many opportunities to serve during the holiday seasons, it is easy to forget these organizations utilize volunteers year round. 

          At CSM LA, we have the honor of partnering with these places throughout the year.  At Midnight Mission, we serve breakfast and lunch to residents of Skid Row, who utilize the Mission’s daily food service.  At the Los Angeles Mission we are always put to work doing various projects.  Pastor Joe and Ms. Gwynn at Faith in Christ run many programs out of their small church and we are always happy to help lighten their load.  My Friend’s Place offers incredible resources and opportunities for homeless youth.  They have a hospitable dayroom, where youth can come and hang out during the day.  Their center also has social and case workers on hand to provide services for those who need it. Beyond that, My Friend’s Place has career counselors that will give resume and interview advice to anyone applying for a job.  CSM volunteers often work to organize the center’s clothing closet, which is full of good quality, donated items that are free for the shelter’s homeless guests.    
          Whether you are able to serve meals, do work projects, or sort clothes for homeless residents, there is always work to be done and organizations that can use extra help.  I encourage you to get in touch with your local food bank or rescue mission.  Volunteering during the holidays is a great way to give back at a time when we all want to feel connected and loved, and lucky for us, that doesn’t need to end with the Christmas season.

-Allison Schuh, Los Angeles City Director

Local Resources

Sign Up
Want to serve in Los Angeles? Learn how to sign up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

News from Tijuana

CSM sites have always been birthed out of local organizations inviting us into genuine partnership with them. The advent of CSM Tijuana was no different. God provided an opportunity for us to share in ministry and life with Kevin and Sara Neff, directors of Lily of the Valley Orphanage, almost a year ago. We'd like to share with you their most recent newsletter so that you, too, can see the amazing work the Lord is doing in and through Kevin and Sara and the children they love, serve and nurture every day. Enjoy!

Sign up to serve with Kevin, Sara, and these amazing children next spring or summer!
Donate to CSM Tijuana so that we can hire, train, and support a local city director!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Power of Story

We as humans connect with story. More than facts or numbers or lists, we understand more deeply when we sit down and talk with someone, when we see that person as human, like ourselves. I think of one ministry site CSM Boston works with, a home for hurting people working to learn who God is and how He made them. As part of our work days there, we sit and eat lunch with the residents, and spend time sharing our stories with each other. Over lunch, we hear stories from ex-convicts, drug addicts, victims of broken relationships and systems. They share their stories of brokenness and redemption, of being saved by God and used by Him. At the end of the day, groups leave with the same reaction: "they are human, like me." This is someone created in the image of God, loved and cherished by Him and revealing a piece of God to me that I have not seen before. 

I think of a director of a clothing exchange program we work with, providing low-income and homeless families with children's clothing. With every group, she shares her story of being homeless herself, only able to keep her child through getting clothes and baby items she needed from this program. After getting back on her feet, she was able to volunteer at this program, and is now the director. Her story is unique, one of brokenness and restoration, one of being used by God, saved and now being used to help others.

The other night, in preparation for Boston's Urban Intensive on understanding refugees and immigrants in America through the lens of story, I sat with a Vietnamese couple to ask them to share their experience coming to America as refugees many years ago. They shared stories of pain and hope, wisdom in what it looks like to thrive in a country full of opportunity but burdened with roadblocks. They talked about the role their church played in their resettlement. As the church community allowed them to transition and process, they were then able to do the same for other newly arrived refugees, both Vietnamese and not. God used their story, their history of pain and hardship to invite others into His Kingdom. By His grace, God redeemed a story of brokenness into a story of thriving as His child. 

At CSM, we step into a story of God's continuing restoration of the city. We step into the story He's crafting of the individuals and organizations He's using to restore - the stories of the broken learning the redemption that comes in Christ, the story of the woman who went from homelessness to directing a non-profit to help those in poverty, the story of a Vietnamese family using their brand as "refugee" to welcome others branded with the same name. 

-Courtney Gingras, Boston Associate City Director

Local Resources

Sign Up
Want to serve in Boston? Learn how to sign up.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

City Highlight: San Francisco Bay Area

The Impact of Discipleship

Ten years ago, a friend of mine who has a passion for racial reconciliation and caring for the poor started informally discipling me and told me to go to a seminar by Edward Gilbreath (author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity).  As I listened to Ed and heard other seminar participants share their stories, my eyes were opened- there were whole sections of Scripture and hundreds of verses about caring for the oppressed and marginalized in our society that I had not noticed in my church upbringing or from reading the Bible on my own.  Six and a half years ago, my husband, Jason, and I chose to take positions with CSM as Co-City Directors in order to continue exploring God’s heart for the poor, for racial reconciliation and for justice.

As a CSM City Director, I appreciate getting to personally learn more about issues that are near to God’s heart, while also providing an opportunity for youth leaders of CSM trips to disciple their students while they participate in ministry together through prayer and service.  One way that I have been growing over the last month is through reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer sharing true stories of people he has worked with and known.  Bryan has helped me put many faces to the statistics of Mass Incarceration in our county, one of the things we pray for during our CSM Oakland Prayer Tour.  He has also convinced me further of the benefit of CSM groups investing in youth in our cities and praying for these young lives long after the trip is over. 

I highly recommend both of these books as we continue to disciple others, study scripture and pray for God’s Kingdom.

Local Resources

Sign Up
Want to serve in the San Francisco Bay Area? Learn how to sign up

Friday, August 26, 2016

City Highlight: Chicago

 Green Star Movement is one of CSM Chicago’s newest ministry partners. They are a non-profit in the city that inspires students and community members through public art. They use a method called bricolage to create murals in public spaces throughout the city. Recently Green Star movement was featured on NBC for the work they are doing; beautifying public spaces, especially on the city’s south and west sides. Not only do they create art for people to enjoy, but they also train students and community members in this particular art form. Green Star Movement was founded in 2005, and since then they have trained thousands of students in mural arts and have completed over sixty murals in public spaces such as schools, community centers, parks, and overpasses.

This summer, Green Star has been working on a mural under an overpass in the neighborhood of Woodlawn. Many of our groups and members of our staff got the opportunity to help with this particular project. Those that participated in the creation of this piece were humbled and amazed by the positive response of the community to the project. As the mural was being created, many passing would stop and thank the staff and volunteers for the work they were doing for the community. Often people driving by would stop to express their thanks or ask questions about the project. Regularly those same people would return to the project site later to volunteer their own time to help.

It would be easy to dismiss the work of Green Star Movement as simply a cool organization that is making some of the more run down parts of our city look prettier. But the impact is so much deeper than that! The projects done by Green Star Movement become catalysts for positive change in communities. Having beautiful art in public spaces helps reignite a sense of pride and hope in a community, which can then lead to other positive changes in a neighborhood as members strive to continue the work begun by Green Star Movement. Since the work on the project is done by volunteers, community members, and students, the projects become opportunities for people in the community to come together behind something positive. Lastly, it gives community members a space to be artistic and express themselves. This is especially important since often in poorer communities there are few opportunities for artistic expression, as funding for art classes is consistently cut in favor of other things.

Green Star Movement is making a powerful impact in some of the most downtrodden communities in our city. We here at CSM Chicago are excited that through our partnership with them we get to have a small part in the incredible work that is being done through this organization.

- Lauren Maniaci, Chicago City Director

Local Resources
Like CSM Chicago on Facebook
Follow CSM Chicago on Instagram

Sign up
Want to serve in Chicago? Learn how to sign up

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

City Highlight: Detroit

When I told people that I was going to be working in Detroit for the summer, I received a lot of mixed emotions; most people were encouraging and excited for me, but also gave me warnings. I was told by many to “stay safe,” “be extremely careful” and “don’t get shot.” It was a little nerve-racking walking into a city that I did not know- a city that has been given such a bad name, with those warnings in the back of my mind. Detroit was not my first choice for a place to spend a summer, but I knew that God had a plan and that I was following His will by coming here.

At first, taking in the sights was a bit rough. It was nothing like I was used to in Kansas. There are many buildings, both big and small, some extravagant, many abandoned. Yet between the perfection and the mess, there is art. Everywhere you go, there are colorful houses, massive murals and graffiti. A fence that we pass on the way back to the CSM housing site from our ministry sites is marked with graffiti that reads, “Obama for America, God for Detroit.”

I see God in this city everyday.

Each of our ministry sites are run by people with the most beautiful souls, full of love for this city. Getting to work with them everyday is a blessing, as I am constantly reminded of what it looks like to serve Christ. These people do not have glamorous jobs, and if anything, their jobs are the least desirable and least financially stable. But they have followed God’s leading. They serve day in and day out, serving their brothers and sisters in the city they all call home. They are in a food bank warehouse, sorting food to be shipped out to those who have none. They are in a hot garden all day, weeding and watering so that there will be food to give a starving community with no access to healthy and nutritious food. They are going out into the community and befriending those who want and need help with addiction. They do it because they believe in this city and are proud to be a part of it. They believe that God has a bright future for the city.

Detroit may not seem attractive to those on the outside looking in, but the people who live here see it as beautiful. They see it as home. This city still has hope. It still has passion. It still believes in a future.

Detroit is here to stay.

-Brandon Lay, 2016 Detroit City Host

Local Resources
Follow CSM Detroit on Instagram

Sign Up
Want to serve in Detroit? Learn how to sign up!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

City Highlight: Washington DC

Summer at CSM is always an adventure in the best possible way. You’d think that by my fourth summer with CSM, I’d stop being surprised by the amazing ways God shows up, both big and small. He is in all of our amazing hosts who are working so hard and learning so much, our groups who are learning so much about God and themselves and our ministry partners who are showing up every day to love the community well.

I really love this circle of ministry. The Directors pour into the hosts, who pour into the groups, who pour into the ministry partners, who pour into the community where the Directors live. It’s so wonderful to take a moment to step back and see the patterns of blessing that exist in these cycles of life.

More often than not, in the middle of the summer season, it is hard to create space to step back and see how God is moving in our city. There are so many tasks and things that pop up that need to be handled quickly, and it’s easy to lose perspective on the reason behind all of this work and why we do what we do. But it’s absolutely the most important thing. In Psalm 46:10 we’re told, “He says ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” Pausing to see how near God is to us is absolutely the most important thing we can do.

Group members: Seeing God at work in the community is more important than any actions that you take or words that you speak. If you tell everyone about God but they don’t see Him in you, you’ve missed out on the beautiful work of actually sharing the Gospel.

Hosts: If you miss the opportunity to rest in the Lord and take a moment for reflection, you’ll miss out on the amazing ways He is developing you into graceful, patient, flexible leaders.

Directors: If you don’t take the opportunity to pause your work and enjoy time with your groups, you’ll miss out on the joy of seeing these trips that you’ve been planning all year come to life.

Ministry Partners. We’re here for you. We come so that we can give you a bit of rest. Rest from running around after the kids that you love so much and show up for every day. Rest from making beds for our neighbors on the street who have a warm place to sleep because of your work. Rest from cooking countless meals for our hungry neighbors so you can enjoy time with them.

For all of us, wherever we are, let's pause. Let's take a moment of stillness and see that He IS God. This is beautiful, challenging, and something that is worthy of praise every day.

God is doing powerful things in DC through our neighbors, our groups, our ministry partners and our amazing team of hosts. Will you please pray for us to pause in a moment of stillness to look around and see that He is God and that He loves us more than the next tasks on our lists? May we pause to see that our groups and our partners are worth more than the work that they do, that they are beautiful and valued as they are, because they are made in God’s image. May we all earnestly seek to hear His word in the midst of everyday life and move towards being a tangible example of His love in the small and important interactions of friends, both new and old.

- Jess Fothergill, Washington DC City Director

Local Resources
Like CSM Washington DC on Facebook
Follow CSM Washington DC on Instagram

Sign up
Want to serve in Washington DC? Learn how to sign up