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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Loving even those who are hard to love...

I've never been one to journal (let alone "blogging" for the cyber world), but I am beginning to see the value in organizing your thoughts.

Yesterday I had most of the day off in preparation for the arrival of my first group today, and I found myself wandering the streets of downtown Manhattan. Eventually I wound up enjoying a heaven sent cup of hot chocolate in the midst of another rainy New York day, and began to put pen to paper in my trusty Moleskin journal. I never intended for these to public thoughts, but since my own thoughts are continuing to resonate even for me, I figured I would share what I wrote:

"February 26, 2008 -
How do you love people who are hard to love? I shared in an online post about my immersion experience (specifically meeting Max and Ryan), and the youth leader at my home church commented that Michael and I responded in the same way Jesus would have. While it was a humbling remark (and a total testament to the love and work of Christ), I unfortunately suffer from a human heart. Lets face it - Max and Ryan were "easy" to love. They were grateful for greasy $2 hot dogs and a listening ear. In reality, I think they would have enjoyed the company without the lousy peace offering. Max had years full of stories to tell, and Ryan (probably no older than me and Michael) seemed to be content to be noticed at all. But not all people are so easy to love. While we ignored the penetrating stares of hurried New Yorkers, a third man joined us under the construction scaffolding. I tried to ignore his crude comments to embarrassingly disgusted women as they passed, and I moved away to divert the starts coming my own direction. The attention disgusted me, and I was thankful to have my male coworker with me to serve as a buffer. I was also kind of glad that we had already given away our hotdogs and had no money left. When we shook hands and bid farewell to Max and Ryan, I desperately (and unsuccessfully) ignored the outstretched hand of the third stranger.

Today I was wandering the streets of southern Manhattan, and eventually found myself back in the East Village where we had met these three men. Even though I prayed that Ryan and Max had moved on to somewhere warmer and dryer, I was a little relieved to see Max asleep in front of the Public School under the same scaffolding - at least I knew he was okay! I hesitated, however, when I passed the third man from that night; yet again checking out and commenting on another pair of innocent females. I wasn't sure how to respond, so I did what I do best (especially when I don't know what else to do) - I looked him right in the eye and smiled. Now it was his turn to hesitate; obviously at a loss for words. Then do you know what he did? He thanked me. Profusely. And more genuinely than anyone ever has. I kept walking, still smiling. I grabbed lunch at McDonald's and ordered a large cup of coffee to go. I walked back to PS 122, officially introduced myself to Stevie Ray, handed him a cup of piping hot coffee, and gave him another one of life's simplest and most precious gifts. "

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to feed four people on $6... IN MANHATTAN!?!?!?!?!

I've never considered myself particularly able to approach total strangers and engage them in true conversation. I suppose you could say that while I am great with kids and teens, it always took some time to warm up to anyone else.

One night this past week, my CSM Directors gave me and Michael (my co-host) an envelope with a subway stop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, street addresses for boundaries on a huge city block, a list of instructions, and $6. We were supposed to catch the train from our neighborhood in Brooklyn and head out to our designated station. Once we got there, we needed to locate various services that could be utilized if we needed a meal, a hot shower, job or housing assistance, or a warm place to stay in the frosty New York February. Once we did all that, we were set out for dinner with our $6. If you have ever spent any time in Manhattan, you know that cheap food is not easily come by... at least, none with any semblance of nutritional value! The catch though, was that in addition to feeding ourselves, we needed to find someone who looked like they could use a meal.

By the time we were ready to eat, it was raining outside and Michael and I were quite drenched already. It also meant that the homeless and hungry that sat on street corners had spread out to find some cover. We stopped to talk with one man who asked us for change to buy pizza, so we invited him to eat with us. He declined, even though we can only hope that the money he sought was going to fill the hunger pains in his stomach...

Michael and I sought our own refuge from the cold rain under some scaffolding in front of an empty retail space, and spotted Maximus. Confidently staking his DRY territory, Maximus turned down our offer to go grab a piece of pizza or hotdog with us, but commented that if we were passing back this way, he liked ketchup and mustard. And onions.

Michael and I set off to find a few hot dogs, and returned a few minutes later with three hotdogs, and no spare change. By the time we got back, another younger guy had joined Maximus under the construction scaffolding. Feeling badly for offering Max a [relatively] hot meal, we offered Ryan a hot dog, and Michael and I shared (guiltily knowing there was a fridge full of coldcuts back at the church where we live).

I think the amazing thing, is that Max and Ryan expected us to drop the food and leave - because no one usually takes the time to engage the "dirty and weary" in true conversation. Instead of dumping a paperbag in their lap, Michael and I ignored the stares of bustling New Yorkers, and sat down next to Max and Ryan, and truly listed as they told their story.

People are so good at ignoring the hurt and pain in the world around them, but if they do stop to notice the reality, they tend to throw money at the problem or offer a one time gift of "love." Instead of allowing myself to fall captive to the ignorance of today's world, I am reminded by a verse in 1 Thessalonians (2:8) that says, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our LIVES as well."

Its not about beating someone with scripture and theology. For so many, that will not only fail to resonate, but it may turn them off. Instead, we need to meet people where they are at, and show them true LOVE. From there, God can do his work through us. If we let him.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I arrived up here in Brooklyn exactly one week ago today, and its all been absolutely incredible.

My team (three of us) and I are living in the basement of a church in a VERY diverse neighborhood in Bay Ridge Brooklyn (no shortage of Halal food to the south and South American to the north!), and I have decided that I love the multicultural feel of the city.

Tuesday was subway day. Basically, we were handed a subway map and 8am, and told to meet for dinner at 5:30 in the East Village. Easy enough? Well, we were also handed a bunch of rules:
  • You must travel to each of the five boroughs in the city
  • You cannot leave a borough the same way you arrived
  • You must utilize a train from EVERY color on the city map.
  • You must take at least one bus
  • Oh, and you must do it all by yourself....
So I essentially spent the entire day wandering from Brooklyn to Manhatten, up on to the Bronx and then Queens, and then alllll the way back down to ride the ferry to Staten Island. As terrifying as it was before I got my bearings and felt confident navigating, I had so much fun!!

The rest of the week was spent learning the route for the prayer tour (so far my favorite part!). The goal is to try to encourage our service groups to see the city through God's eyes and his heart, and NOT through a camera's lens or tourist perspective. I love it. We start in Battery Park before walking through China Town and Little Italy in Manhattan, then hop on the subway up to Times Square. Then we walk through Harlem and part of the Bronx where we hand out lunch money for groups to grab a yummy slice of New York pizza. Then we work our way down to Park Place (encouraging groups to compare the poverty in one part of the city and the wealth surrounding central park) before walking through the World Trade Center and St. Pauls before ending with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Its EXHAUSTING at a little over 6-7 miles of walking, but its an amazing way to see the city in a whole new light. I am still a little rough at navigating my subway stops, but any day now its going to click!

We served at Father's Heart Ministries on Saturday morning. They operate a soup kitchen on Saturday mornings. I served as the door woman (or, bouncer, if you will), and I think it was absolutely incredible that 450 people walked through the door that morning, and I got to welcome, hug, or shake hands with every single one of them. :)

Anyway, this week will be spent getting the housing site ready and continuing to get our navigational bearings, but things are awesome, and I am so thankful that the first stop on my post graduate adventures brought me to such an incredible city. While I've never actually been to New York before, I know that this city will never appear the same now that I've had the opportunity to see it from street level!

Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm here! Driving across the bridge into Brooklyn from Jersey - seeing the "tiny" Statue of Liberty across the water in my new home for the next three months was incredible...

But maybe driving my little 97 Toyota up to New York City wasn't such a good idea... Rest assured, I DID arrive in one piece. And I didn't get rattled until the last 10 minutes....

For the most part the drive went great - I slowed a little through Philly (whoops, wasn't even supposed to drive through the home of the Liberty Bell anyway....), but other than developing a MAJOR disliking for northern truck drivers (sorry, i guess I'm a fan of the slower southern pace of NC after all) everything went smoothly.

AS SOON as I crossed the bridge into Brooklyn, however, someone tried to cut a red light and and almost T-Boned me. I then missed my turn... got a little turned around in the chaos of Brooklyn side streets, but I here I am... ready to tackle three months of leading urban service in the Big Apple!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I had it all figured out. Every last detail.

I was going to withdraw from Elon for Spring Semester my sophomore year, and apply to work with an international service program in Mombasa, Kenya. Pretty much my DREAM experience, I would be volunteering at a community center for street kids in the slum half of an otherwise overly developed resort area on Kenya's coast. I went to the registrar's office and the career center to work out the logistics, and to ensure that I would still graduate in May of '08 if I took one semester off. I was excited with anticipation, and was wishing I could fast forward to my time overseas.

For some reason, however, I wanted one last piece of advise, so I approached one of my trusty Human Services professors for her opinions. I pulled out my degree audit, my list of anticipated courses, the project guidelines and expectations, and overwhelmed her with my proactive thinking... She looked at me, complimented my plans and ambition, and was genuinely excited about my plan. I could tell she was holding out on me, when she finally said, "Katie, I know you. I know your heart, and I know your goals. If you go and spend a semester out changing the world, you won't want to come back to Elon..."

And with that brief comment of truth and reality, everything changed. I knew she was right. It WAS my dream job. I would be working with the children that the world forgot about, and I know that once I was there, my "cushy" life in the Elon Bubble would seem so petty and trivial. Almost like it wouldn't matter to the whole picture. And to those children living on the streets of Kenya, it wouldn't matter. But to me, years from now, it would matter. I knew that if I stayed at Elon, completed my degree, and THEN set out on my international and domestic crusades, I would almost have it all. I would be better equipped to better the lives of others, and all it would take was another couple of years...

So, I've known that I would be finishing a semester early for a couple of years now, but all of the sudden, ITS HERE. I'm done with college. In just over a week I will be packing up the car to spend three months serving as a city host for a group called Center for Student Missions. I will have the unique experience of combining my love for youth with my passions for service and urban outreach, and I couldn't be more excited. But what is even more incredible, is the idea that this is really just the beginning of it all. 3 months is nothing compared to the next couple of years in the Peace Corps, and after that, the rest of my life. I CAN'T WAIT!