The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of Elon University, the U.S. government, or the Peace Corps.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gather Up

A few years ago now (whoa!), Elon started a new leadership program through the Kernodle Center for Service Learning. Elon sends hundreds of students out into the community to volunteer through class requirements, clubs, fraternities, and sororities, and Leaders in Collaborative Service (LINCS) aims to better connect Elon with our community partners.

I was in my second service-learning course at Elon when the LINCS program began to come together, and I knew that there was no better way to combine my love for the Boys and Girls Club with my desire to share my passion for service with my peers. I was one of the first three LINCS at Elon, and I loved my time at the Boys and Girls Clubs. In addition to directly serving with the kids at the after school program and helping out with the Club’s basketball program, I managed all of the Elon volunteers that came through the Club. If there was a need with the staff at the Club, I got to brainstorm and utilize my Elon contacts and resources to try and meet that need. Most importantly, though, I got to work with my fellow Elon students and encourage them to not only serve their community, but to learn from their interactions with children and community members on a much deeper level. Instead of asking them to merely sit and practice spelling words with a third grader who struggles to recite his alphabet in the correct order, I got to push them to see literacy issues come alive in children who don’t always have someone give them their undivided attention. I got to challenge them to reach out to that child who normally wouldn’t get the time of day from other white people around them. I got them to view the world for what it is – not the world that is easy for them to see on a daily basis.

What I love about my job with CSM, is that it is 100% youth ministry, 100% direct service in the community, and 100% a synthesis of these two passions. Yet again I get to push students and adult leaders to see the world (specifically New York City) in a way that challenges and pushes them towards reality. New York is an exciting and flashy city, but it is also diverse, thriving, hurting, growing, desperate, and disparate, all at the same time. There is beauty in these, but there is also pain. As a city host, I get to serve alongside my groups at soup kitchens, food pantries, and after school programs, then go back to the housing site with them at night to reflect, process, and discuss the day’s activities. Then I get to push them to see behind the dirt and grime of the city, and embrace the people that they got to serve that day. I get to encourage them to see Christ in the faces of the people I have come to know and love.

This is a song I use for almost every group that comes through CSM, and I think it perfectly puts our role in this city into perspective. Peter Bradley Adams seems to be right on target for anyone out to make a difference in this world. Again, it’s not about beating people upside the head with the Gospel. It’s about SHOWING them the love of Christ by how we live and love.

What do you think?

“Gather Up”
By Peter Bradley Adams

Gather up in the arms of your pity
the sick, the depraved, the desperate, the tired
all the scum of this weary city
gather up in the arms of your love
those who expect no love from above

I ask you this, which way to turn
I ask you this, which sin to bear
which crown to put upon my hair
I do not know, I do not know

I wait to take the hand of love, with every one you gather up
I wait to take the hand of love,
come every one, come gather up

there's lonely people in the lonely night
they grab a lonely dream and they hold it tight
there's lonely people in the lonely day
who work to sit their dream away

so I ask you this, which way to turn
I ask you this, which sin to bear
which crown to put upon my hair
I do not know, I do not know

I wait to take the hand of love, with every one you gather up
I wait to take the hand of love,
come every one, come gather up
won't you gather in your arms, gather in your arms

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why is it that people who have so little, are so willing to give so much?

Take Mikael and Yyeta from the Salt and Sea Mission. An older Russian couple who has lived in Coney Island for the last 14 years, I met them last week at a ministry that hands out food pantry bags to those who attend a worship service before opening to the public. Probably in their 80s, Mikael and Yyeta have been modestly (but warmly!) dressed in the same clothes both times I met them.

** SIDE NOTE: Scratch that, Yyeta was wearing a different hat both times, and asked me repeatedly how I liked the purple one she was wearing that first day. I thought that purple was a great color on her, and it really brought out the blue of her amazing eyes. Today I complimented her rainbow hat as soon as she walked in the door and then she kissed me.**

Mikael danced during each song we sang as a group, and "hit" me with the maraca every chance he got. Vibrant and passionate about life, I enjoyed our shaky attempt at a conversation through the Russian accents and Mikael's limited English.

This is a couple very obviously in love, but almost as obviously struggling to make ends meet. Even though they are together, they each collect food separately when the food pantry opens and volunteers pass out items. The funny thing though, is that they ALWAYS give away the second item and walk out with one item for the two of them.

Last week Mikael gave me a small comb with a goat on it made out of white stone.

Take Liev, a vibrant Ukrainian immigrant who also lives in Coney Island. This is my second time meeting him as well, and both times he has tried to share his food pantry items with me. Today he offered me his can of orange juice and box of cereal. Last week he would have given me his entire bag had I let him.

Darryl, a recovering drug addict who is trying to secure work, yearns to pour his life into everyone he meets. Today he told me his story and how turning his life around has given his siblings the motivation to change their own lives.

So again, I ask, how is it that people who have so little, have no reservations about giving so much? I am hard-pressed to separate myself from the luxuries of this world, and take so much for granted. But these people struggle to make ends meet, and are willing to bless perfect strangers without batting an eye. They literally empty their pockets in sacrifice when the offering plate comes around, and I struggle to part with even just my excess.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I don’t think I’ve ever been as unsure about my future as I am right now.

I also don’t think I’ve ever been as relaxed and content about the unexpected as I am right now.

I’ve always enjoyed spontaneity, but I enjoy having a plan filled with ambitious dreams and goals. I’m one of those types who thrives on having my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds…

So many people graduate college with no concrete plans, and all of the sudden, {gasp} I AM ONE OF THEM!?!?!

For the last two years (at least), I have been planning on graduating a semester early, then joining the Peace Corps as soon as I walk across the stage in May. Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t made any official decisions regarding the next few years of my life, but the last few months have consisted of confusion and uncertainty about whether or not my heart still desires two+ years abroad.

On my drive up here to NYC, I received a call from my Peace Corps medical officer that they were going to defer me medically because I just had LASIK surgery in January. They had originally told me that as long as I had the surgery 6 months before I was scheduled to leave, they would keep processing my application. Well, as soon as I sent them the paperwork after the surgery that they had sent me when I first asked about it, they halted my application process. AND told me that my schedule departure date had moved up an entire month and a half (or three if you look at the possible September departure).

As frustrating as this was, it was a blessing in disguise. If I hadn’t been deferred, there was a good chance I could have received my invitation a month ago. Once you receive your invite, you have 2 weeks to make your ultimate decision. The unintended wait has given me time to explore and weigh my various possibilities.

And doors keep opening for me: I could keep my job with CSM through August, I have a cover letter and resume sitting on my bookshelf for an internship possibility in Manhattan, an interview possibility with Boys Town here in Brooklyn, and actually, as of yesterday, a totally random job offer to work here at housing church in Bay Ridge.

For the first time in my life, I would love for some of these doors to start closing!! I know God will use me wherever he sends me. I’m not sure about much, but I am sure that I have a heart for service, and whether it’s heading off to Eastern Europe, staying here to serve with adults and youth in Alphabet City, or going somewhere else altogether, I am so excited to see where I am being called.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

As overwhelmed as I was during my first week or two, I am so incredibly thankful that this is my first time in New York City.

Despite the fact that it has always been my dream to see Rockefeller Center at Christmas, be in Times Square on New Years, see a show on Broadway, skate in Central Park, and otherwise enjoy the cliche "touristy" parts of the Big Apple, I love that the city I know and love now, includes the parts of the city most people ignore.

I love wandering 149th in the Bronx with my delicious piece of Hawaiian pizza being called "blondie" and being asked if I'm lost....

I love the sense of time travel (haha ;) when you go below ground in midtown and come above ground in Harlem.

I love waking up at 5:30am (well....) and working with "the less of these" first thing in the morning.

I love looking people in the eye who try so hard to look away.

I love the continuity of working with the same ministry sites all of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

I love packing food in a warehouse before lunch and loving on kids after lunch.

I love giving the alcoholic on the corner my undivided attention - even if only for a few minutes.

I love being surrounded by excited, passionate students alllll day.

I love teaching English to Chinese factory workers who spend their only day off trying to make a better life for themselves.

I love smiling at every person who comes through a soup kitchen line in midtown, Brooklyn, or the East Village.

I love praying for people in the poorest part of the city RIGHT before praying for those in the wealthiest part.

I love ignoring everything my parents ever told me by approaching the total stranger on the street corner. ;)

I LOVE the "underground" culture of the MTA.

I love the LES... :)

And above all, I love having my dream job right after college, and being able to share my love for students and youth, while sharing my PASSION for service and urban life with them.

Yup, as all out exhausted as I am, its pretty much all amazing.

But not as amazing as breaking the Food Bank for NYC repacking record by..... {drum roll please} ..... 4,000 POUNDS!!!

That's right folks. The previous all time record for unpacking, sorting, and repacking at the Food Bank Warehouse was 14,000 pounds in about 4 hours. With (a LOT) of help from the Big Man Upstairs, my CSM crew from App State sorted 18, 142 pounds of food in just over 3 hours... might I add that 14 of the 18 people were GIRLS!?!?! When the volunteer coordinator saw us come in, you could see him kind of sigh. Especially when he expected to have 25 people - not 18. He said we completed more than double the number of flats that he expected us to! Such an incredible feeling, to exceed expectations and defy all sense of logic!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Yesterday, I set out bright and early with half of Michael's Michiganders to help sort clothes and serve at a Lutheran Parish soup kitchen.

After hanging and folding hundreds of garments of clothing, we spent the rest of the day handing out plates brimming with food to weary men and women from the midtown area of NYC. I've never felt so genuinely appreciated... maybe its because yesterday was warmer, and maybe it was because the environment was smaller and a little more intimate. And maybe, just maybe, it was because I managed to take the time and look people in the eyes before I slapped a greasy piece of meat onto their plates. I don't know... they say that everyone is a single paycheck away from waiting for a meal in a food line, so why should we look at anyone like they are worth less than ourselves or anyone else? Mistakes, misfortune, or LIFE aside, we are all deserving of that momentary (and all too fleeting) provision of pride and dignity.

You'd think that after a fulfilling morning at St. Luke's with an awesome group of students, and an incredible Vietnamese dinner (mmmm, my favorite!!), I'd be geared up and ready for an after dinner ministry site. Instead... I yet again suffered from a human heart - I was tired. I had a headache. It'd been a long day. But there I was, gathering up my 7 Michiganders, and heading over to the Dorcas Center for Chinese Workers to help out with ESL classes. And by help, I mean lead. And by lead, I mean sitting across and next to three women who just smiled and nodded every time I asked a question. I was drained. And unmotivated. And kind of frustrated. And apparently SELFISH.

But after a page of "reading" and "pronunciation," I asked questions and listened and clarified as these three beautiful told me all about their jobs, their children, their homes... I gave them (very willingly after my much-needed change of heart) my undivided attention, and realized - yet again - that this is what so many people are searching for... Attention. Conversation. LOVE. We all have a story to tell and our lives to share, and we want nothing more than someone who will listen and share back with you.

Besides, I also have three separate invites for some authentic, home-cooked Chinese food. Yummmmm. :)