As a CSM City Host, we frame each ministry site before we arrive so that our group members can be prepared and have a relatively good idea what to expect:
* At Father's Heart Saturday morning soup kitchen, groups help prepare the meal, then take different tasks all involved with serving the meal before doing their part to clean up.
* At the Food Bank for NYC, we unpack, sort, and repack whatever shipment is waiting to be dealt with.
* With the Green Team, we work on landscaping tasks alongside former inmates that are trying to develop job skills to reenter society.
* With Operation Exodus and KidZone, students can expect to love on kids while investing in them with homework attention, play time, and time in general.
* At the NYC Relief Bus, we serve soup while engaging people in conversation, offering them resources for job/housing assistance, or enveloping them with prayer, love, and support.
* At Furnish a Future or World Vision, we work out in the warehouse sorting shipments of clothes, household items, and furniture to put out on the show floor or for later distribution.
* When working with God's Love We Deliver, we tell students to wear good shoes and comfortable shoes, because we will spend the afternoon walking around NYC delivering well-balanced prepared meals to people with terminal illnesses who can't otherwise afford physically or financially to put a HEALTHY meal on the table.
So, for the most part, its easy to tell students what to expect at our various service/ministry sites - we pretty much complete the same tasks whenever we go, because we bring the organizations man power to help them complete the jobs that need the most help.
At some of our sites, however, we tell our students to be prepared for ANYTHING.
At Hanson Place Campaign Against Hunger, its not uncommon to not assist at all in the actual food pantry... CSM groups have been known to clean the church alter (with careful instructions to please avoid beheading any 100 year old wood saints...), make hundreds of Easter cards with developmentally disabled high school students, and completely dismantle an entire photo copier before navigating original construction NYC stair cases with a huge/heavy oak desk.
At Salt and Sea Mission, we always assist with the morning worship service before handing out food for the food pantry. Then students need to be prepared to hand out clothes, visit with the dozens of regular attenders, clean the kitchen, sort and repack food, or whatever else the mission's pastor needs.
The other day at Salt and Sea, however, really challenged me to continually ensure that my "servant's heart" is in check: I stood in front of Pastor Debbe (trying desperately not to laugh) as she demonstrated how to scrub two HUGE marble staircases and the landings/doorways that accompanied them with.... get this.... BRILLO PADS. Like, those little two inch square metal scrubbers with the pink soap in the middle. I mean, when I asked if there was anything we could do to help in the next 20-30 minutes before we left, I certainly didn't mean crawl on our hands and knees on an old grimy staircase in Coney Island and scrub every little crevice with a tool barely bigger than a toothbrush!!
Again, trying not to laugh, I organized my "troops" (a hard-working, loving group of high school upperclassman from Morweena, Canada) and explained the task that we had been given. They all kind of stared at me blankly before glancing over at the staircase and doorways behind them, before looking back at me like I was absolutely insane. Then we all laughed together and got to work.
Barely half an hour later, we had swept, scrubbed (ahem - remember? Brillo Pads?), rinsed, and mopped 2 marble staircases and their related doorways and landings, before calling it quits. We pretty much laughed about it all day, but felt good about our job well done.
It wasn't until the next night at debrief (after the second half of our group had volunteered there the following morning), that I truly began to realize that it wasn't about cleaning stairs with Brillo Pads. It was about a group of Canadian teenagers willing to humble themselves down to the point of selfless service, and truly showing the owner/patrons of Salt and See Mission TRUE acts of servant-hood by being more than willing to kneel down into the grimy stairs of a beach ministry - AND with a smile on their face, nonetheless. Cause you know what? If Pastor Debbe had asked Christ to lather up a Brillo Pad and join us on those grubby stairs caked with the dirt and grime of the world, I have no doubt he would sweated, scrubbed, and laughed right alongside us.