Just wanted to share lessons and stories of how I experienced God this past CSMP! You can read the titles here, and then read the longer stories below:
Every morning we’d wake up at 630am for morning prayer. Morning prayer was tough to stay awake and engaged, as well as get into the Word. Our church has been emphasizing life on life discipleship a lot and I decided that everyday during morning prayer, I would ask one of the guys on my team to pray together for 10-15 minutes after we had read the bible. Those times were really good for me, we actually prayed for a lot of different people and needs both for CSMP and the church, and it helped me stay awake. I think it was also good for the guys on my team to learn to pray together and know that even 10-15 minutes of prayer could be effective. Prayer was also a huge support for myself and the other leaders of the team. I remember during CSMP when a lot of the team was sick, all of the leaders were struggling, and we had a big next day that we needed to push through on. We got together to pray, just for about 5 minutes, but during those 5 minutes, God met us and refreshed and encouraged us.
During Excel English, I helped the Games team guys (Elliot, Aaron, and Joe) for the morning. The first week or so, it was a tough sell to the kids. I remember one morning playing a musical chairs game, and one of kids kept competing for the chairs, even knocking off other kids. Other games didn’t go so well either, too much waiting around and a lot of the kids got really bored. Aaron and Joe, being in charge, did a good job getting feedback and evaluating how to make the games better. Everyday we learned how to be flexible and tweak little things here and there to make the games experience better and better. In the last two weeks, it turned from a tough sell to kids screaming and yelling everyday, which solicited complaints from the office next door because they were having too much fun, and a pair of twin girls who cried so hard the first day to running around smiling and jumping and fully participating in the activities. I think it was an awesome experience to grow together as a team, learn to communicate and give constructive criticism to each other.
Car crash, not caring, and the librarian
There was one epic day for me during Excel. In the morning, as I was backing out, I didn’t see a car and ended up hitting it, causing a dent. Frustrated at myself, I left a note and headed to the Excel English location. There, someone talked to me about the guys on the team I was responsible for who were sick. I had no idea how they were doing, realizing that should have been one of my top concerns. To make matters worse, when we went to Bryant Community Center, we found out that the schedule for the day had been changed and a librarian was going to come in the middle of our activities. I was in charge of assigning kids into groups and maintaining calm in the center. After the librarian left, everything was thrown off, I hadn’t planned any system to reorganize groups, and the whole center was in utter chaos, kids ran around everywhere, center staff were confused, all of our team was exhausted from chasing down kids and trying to get them to participate. I was so discouraged and frustrated at myself for everything that had happened, and became nearly paralyzed, unable to do anything productive. During a time of prayer, God met me in my frustration and told me “you’re not that important”, and reminded me that even in my mistakes He was in control. From that point, I’ve been continuing to grow in not putting my value in my successes or failures.
21 kids even though we are undeserving
The third week of Excel English, we were preparing to present the gospel through the bible lesson and puppet show over two days. We were really unsure of how it would turn out, the older classes usually were “too cool” for the puppet show and the younger classes had great difficulty understanding English let alone bible concepts. On top of that, the night before the first day the team stayed up late into the night rewriting and tweaking the script. The next morning something clicked, the games team and crafts teams did activities that helped the kids focus during the puppet show, and during an altar call, 7 kids had said they wanted to accept Christ. That night we went to Bryant Community Center to do a movie night for the neighborhood. Even though we had just celebrated salvation, our team lost focus and forgot the purpose behind why we were there and took a backseat during the movie. While debriefing, we were confronted with our sin and had to spend time in repentance. For whatever reason during the next day, when we presented the gospel in the puppet show, 14 more kids received the gospel. We got a glimpse of the magnitude of God’s grace that day when though we were in sin, God still released His blessings and allowed us to be used for His Kingdom.
God’s abundant provision
The first week of missions, we got into the vans, ready to go, excited for breakfast. After we prayed, someone yelled out “Ok, everyone get’s half a banana! Take one and share!” That whole week, we had “half of a” something. Lunches were on the smaller side and the guys would always trying to ask the girls for extra if they had leftover. During week 2, we suddenly got a text from the team that went to Detroit saying they had tons of free food! We were stunned, and sure enough, they brought back boxes and boxes of yogurt, ensure, frozen potatoes, beef jerky, pasta salad, etc. This ended up happening about 3 times per week from a generous custodian who worked at a food pantry. We definitely had enough to eat from then on. Financially too, we were very behind in the month leading up to July. As we prayed, we did two fundraisers, both that we expected at most $600-900 total. Those two fundraisers came together to raise more than $2,500. Throughout the trip, we were blessed by LIFE Groups from the church who cooked us meals, gave us care packages, anonymous donors who gave us other provisions. I think we experienced so much that we could have fed much more than 5,000.
Each Saturday we did an outreach or serving opportunity in a different city. The first weekend we went to Hope Clinic to serve and partner with their community. We painted walls, cleaned rooms, helped connect computers, etc. They loved us so much that they invited us back for the next day to play music and meet people for their food service! The second weekend we went to Detroit and partnered with a LIFE Group in Detroit to reach out to the campus at Wayne State University. We went out in smaller groups to meet people around campus, but it seemed really bare, only a couple people were walking around and many were uninterested. When we came back, however, we saw that 50+ or so people had heard about the free BBQ and joined us in food, fellowship, volleyball, frisbee, and even a short Bible study on love! Conversations turned out well and about 30 people signed up to be contacted about LIFE Group. The last Saturday partnered with LIFE Groups in Ann Arbor and went out to talk and pray for people in Ann Arbor during the art fair. We split up again in groups and met so many different people. My group met a Christian couple that was striving to be a light in the artistic community, and a ex-church goer who now creates Chinese jewelry for a living. God gave our team a burden for the Ann Arbor community and showed us how simple acts of obedience can show how much God is doing.
Urban Youth Outreach
When we first arrived at this ministry, I was driving and looped around a whole block because I couldn’t find what I thought would be something like a community center. It just looked like a bunch of fenced in old houses. The second time around, a gentleman got out of the truck and introduced us to the center, which was 2 houses surrounded by a old wooden fence. Going in, we did an introduction where they told stories about the ministry. Englewood is a neighborhood in the south side of Chicago dominated by gangs. Every aspect from the houses, territories, schools, all kids are pretty much part of the gangs. Their ministry reached out primarily to teenage gangsters with love. Rev Keith had been there for 30 years, adopted custody of around 7 boys, and Daniel had been there about 15 years, and had boys regularly spend the night at his home with his family. Rev Keith told us about one boy he’d been reaching out to who was a gang leader. He had accepted Christ 1 month ago and disarmed his whole gang. Later that day we got to play basketball with him and 2 other gang members. In the afternoon many other boys came to the center just to “check in”. I asked why they did that, and Rev Keith said “that’s what family does”. He brings his daughter to the center about 3 times a week and she grew up with many of the boys. All the boys call him “pops”. I again asked why, and they said “he’s a father to us”. The two house complex serves as a safe haven for teenagers and kids. Gangs all around the neighborhood all know Rev Keith by name, while we were driving around they all waved to him. They dare not attack him for if they did, all other gangs would destroy them.
One thing that stuck out to me that he said was, “why I pray for them, I ask God to help me see them as He created them”. I realized that his whole ministry was based on love for people. There weren’t any formal programs, no snazzy building, no amazing worship service, nothing except for love for people. He actually lamented about churches nearby that did not understand going out to love people, who stayed inside the 4 walls of the building. He loved the gangsters with tough love too, he was very up front about the gospel and disciplined them when they did not behave well. I think it really humbled me, I questioned why I do what I do, especially investing in younger guys in the church, and whether or not I did it with love and genuine care for them. I was humbled by their belief in prayer too. I don’t remember how many times we prayed during that day, but it always seemed like they were lifting up needs to God. We went prayer walking and they shared how they always have someone back at the center praying for the outreach no matter what.
Lastly, they were so surrendered, both themselves and their families. While they expressed that this area was safe during the introduction, you could tell that they would take certain precautions, like going out in groups, always locking up the doors, knowing who was where etc. One incident happened a couple years ago where there was a shooting down the street, Daniel ran out to get the boys back into the center, and remembered his baby daughter was upstairs sleeping. When he ran up to the room, he found her crying, and only a couple feet away was a bullet and the hole that it created in the wall. We asked him what happened, and he said “nothing”. He didn’t tell his wife when we went home, afraid she wouldn’t let him go back to the center the next day. He told her a month later and she said “oh I see” nonchalantly. They make very little (all donation based from churches and personal supporters), and often work late nights visiting boys in prison and families. I was really amazed by how much their whole lives were devoted to loving people and loving God.
Pacific Garden Mission
We visited PGM, the oldest homeless shelter (they prefer rescue mission), in the US. They serve hundreds (if not thousands) of people everyday. When we got there, we were introduced to the director of the building who proceeded not only to introduce us to PGM, but also share his personal story of transformation through Christ. We went on a tour and the tour guide also shared his story, one that started as a suburban insurance agent, and led to losing his family, alcohol, overdosing on drugs twice, and finally restoration through PGM’s bible programs. We had the privilege of serving them: helping clean the kitchen, doing a puppet show for the kids (4 kids accepted Christ!), and a full service for them. During the full service, it was incredible to see our team living out 1 Peter 4:10, each person using their gifts to administer God’s grace. A couple people sang and led worship, others did an everything skit, another shared their testimony. During the skit, there were a number of men that actually stood up and whistled and cheered for Jesus as He was depicted saving the girl in the skit. After the service, a number of men came up for counsel and prayer, and it was just a surreal feeling to see what God could do, and how we could be part of something that He was doing, even if it was just for an evening. I got one of those “in awe” feelings, like wow God is so big and so good, and on the van ride back the whole team just kept singing “deep deep” in worship to God. And we celebrated with Jim’s polish sausages too
Chicago Tour + Salem Baptist Church
Throughout the 3 days, we were hosted by Dr. Fuder, a professor at Moody Bible Institute, a man passionate for the city of Chicago. In the afternoon he took us on a driving tour around Chicago, told us the history, demographic, needs of each and every neighborhood. It was inspiring and very challenging to hear him share about the effects every aspect of society had on the spiritual condition of people (transportation, education, government policy, violence, civil rights, culture, ethnic tensions, religious institutions, business, gospel-preaching ministries, etc). In the evening, we visited Salem Baptist Church, a megachurch in the deep south of Chicago. We joined their church members in an outreach they called “Corner Prayer”, in which they just went out to the street corners and as people passed by, asked people if they needed prayer, and shared the gospel with them. That night, hundreds of people accepted Christ, something my cynical side totally did not believe. I had time to talk with some of the pastors more in depth and asked how it all worked. Two things stuck out to me. 1) He said that the whole week leading up to the outreach they were praying, praying for hearts and minds to be open. 2) I asked why didn’t just asking people if they had a minute to talk worked, and he said that “people don’t care what you know unless they know you care”. That really hit me, especially because those two things were lessons I’d been learning all throughout the missions project