Here it is! The Internet on my laptop has decided to be picky and choosy, so I am writing it on a word document and then posting it when the internet suddenly works. So, this will probably be in large chunks. I am also not a woman of few words, so this could be rather long. Enjoy! =)
My week was one of the most eye-opening and amazing experiences. I went to Urban Hope last year, but for some reason this year seemed to have impacted me more.
Urban Hope is a community center and church located in the Kensington of Philadelphia. If you know anything about Philadelphia, you will know that Kensington is the area that all tourists and most people are warned to stay away from. Most people that live in Kensington want to get one, and no one wants to get into that neighborhood. And yet Kensington is where I wish I was right now.
I will try to give you a brief overview of what we did during the week.
We arrived late Saturday night. As we arrived in Philly, Tam called me and told me that she was supposed to be in Virginia, but they hadn’t made it due to car trouble. So I got to see Tam for a few short minutes when we stopped for dinner at the mall. What a blessing! Saturday night we debriefed and then went grocery shopping. We had so many groceries, they filled up four carts! A lot of people were staring at us. Haha.
Sunday morning- Urban Hope did not waste any time getting us busy. We were at church #1 by 7:45am. We mentioned the absolute insanity of anyone who started church that early, but it ended up being a huge blessing. The church was Sharon Baptist Church and was a rather wealthy African- American church. The music was a blessing, the message was a blessing, and the people were the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met. I got hugged at least 50 times. By people who had never seen me before. After church #1, we went to church #2: Urban Hope. I love the church service at Urban Hope because of the diverse congregation that it reaches. From children to the elderly. From white to Hispanic to Peurto Rican to African American. From drug dealers and prostitutes to people who grew up in suburban churches and are trained as pastors.
After church #2 we did the Kingdom Kids program- which is like a week of VBS in 3 hours. I am continually amazing by the teaching/kid skills that the volunteers there have. So many of them could have a high paying job, they are that good. But instead they dedicate their time to a program like Kingdom Kids: they have to put a lot of work into it, and they still may not see immediate results of their work. The ministry of Urban Hope is very unique in that it begins with children. Once the children are reached, they tell their moms and once their moms are reached they tell their dads. So through a simple, weekly kids program, the whole church was established and continues to grow.
Church #3 was in the evening, and was called Circle of Hope. It was in downtown Philly and was not like anything I have ever experienced. The focus was very much on healing, and laying down our weapons of war.
I am so amazed that I could go to three drastically different church services in one day. Each of these services preached the gospel. Nothing else. Each of them presented the gospel. Collin (our team leader) pointed out that the gospel presents itself in so many different forms (while it is important to note that the gospel is still the gospel). We are foolish to think that the gospel only applies to this church or that church. No, the gospel reaches across all boundaries and is the same whether you are wealthy, a prostitute, or if you are a college student on a missions trip. I think that we need to open our eyes to see more ways that the gospel is presenting itself. Each church that we visited was built around community. Each church reached out and brought people in. And yet each church was so different. What a beautiful picture of heaven, and how our differences will somehow be united. I cannot help but wonder how those three different congregations will worship in heaven. What a great mystery, and one that I cannot wait to find out about!
Monday was one of the best days of the trip for me. We began the day with breakfast, personal devotions and then a time of singing and a meeting with the pastor of the church and some other staff. We were assigned to work in a house, stripping wallpaper and painting the rooms. The project ended up taking longer than we expected, but we worked at it all morning on Monday. Monday afternoon, we went to an after school Boys and Girls club, where we helped kids with their homework, and played with them. Can you imagine being in Kindergarten and you are at school from the morning until 6 pm when your mom comes and picks you up? I was tired of being there and I had only been there for a few hours. I just want to mention a little thing that happened to me when I was there: I saw the school, I saw the goals for the PSSA scores (super low goals!) and I saw that the students were not learning enough. And it broke my heart. As a future teacher, I did not want to teach in a school like that. It would be SO HARD. But at the same time, I did want to teach in a school just like that. Because I want to be the teacher that cares, the teacher that strives to make a difference. There are so many movies about teachers who went into an impossible classroom and by the time they were done, the kids were genius’s and well behaved, and their home problems were solved, too! I don’t think that happens very often in real life, so I am trying to make sure that I do not have that dream for myself. Instead, if I can show Christ to one child, is that enough? Or if I can reach one parent through the lives of those in my classroom, is that enough? If I can teach a classroom full of kindergartners to read, and then give them the word of God, is that enough? I hope so.
Monday night was one of the highlights of the trip. We went to a location under the L that has one of the worst reputations for drugs and prostitutes. We partnered with a team staying at Inner City Mission. We stood on a corner and talked to people, asking them if we could pray for them. Will and I stood right outside a Chinese Takeout place called The Lord’s Favor. Obviously, chinese takeout was not happening in that store. There were cops pulled up across the street, and you could tell that they had their eye on the place, knew what was going on inside, and yet were helpless to do anything. I saw a woman go in, shoot herself up and then come out and try to talk to me. She was so high I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, and I doubt she could understand me. So tell me: how do you witness to someone who is high? Is there an easy, churchy answer to that?
We talked to one guy for at least 2 hours. He talked and talked. We could tell that he was a dealer, because every few minutes someone would walk up to him, he would step out of our conversation and whisper to them, take them inside the Chinese restaurant or talk to them on his phone. He was an incredibly intelligent man, and it broke my heart to see that mind and heart used on the drug trade. A lot of times we judge drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes, thinking what a disgusting job that is and that they must be the least of all leasts. Scummy. Oh, I bet we have all thought those thoughts. But these people are not scummy. These people are trying to get by. That woman sold her body into prostitution so that her son can eat. She didn’t want it. The man is trading drugs because his daddy left and his mom can’t take care of the eight siblings, the rent and the school for all of them. That man is addicted because his wife OD’d, his brother was shot, and his momma went to prison. And he doesn’t know where else to find any hope. Because when he is high he feels the temporary hope of the lack of pain in his life. Its sad, but true. Another thing that we learned is that we are not better than any of those people. I have sinned just as bad as each of them. I have also fallen short of the glory of God. And that is the beauty of grace. That is the beauty of salvation. That is what it means that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. I heard from a few people this week that we are all only two decisions away from having their lifestyle. Think about it! You are not in the place you are, reading this blog, because of anything that you did! You are there because God has put you there! And you could so easily blow it. Yeah, that was my humility check.
Well, there will be more to come later! Sorry this post was sooo LONG. I just have to write it all!