Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Break Day 5-6: More Stuff

Yeah, I didn't think of a good title for these two days. But our last two days of full ministry have been just as good as the last if not better. Like on Monday, yesterday morning we came to Hope for another intensive teaching session. This one was about our perspective on "poverty". We compared the traditional indicators of poverty (lack of necessities, low income, lack of support) with things that people living in poverty had to say about it. Their perspective focused more on internal things--feeling inferior, ashamed, and helpless. For the poor, poverty is as much a part of their identity as it is a socioeconomic condition.

I forgot to mention that yesterday Seth's tour of the Bible focused on three big ideas: shalom (holistic peace, living in right relation to God and others), sin (the undoing and corruption of God's perfect creation), and hesed (God's faithful, unconditional love and restorative work in creation). Today we talked about poverty as the absence of one or more shalom relationships. It was a more holistic view of poverty; the poor have emotional and spiritual needs just as pressing as their physical ones, and even people considered well-off by the world's standards might be poor in other ways. (Consider the wealthy executive who has little time or concern for his family life) This truth should shape the way we approach ministry to the poor: not just giving them the things they need, but showing them love and really making them feel like they matter and are cared for.

After lunch we went to Hope Academy, a Christian school aimed at disadvantaged, inner-city kids that took such an approach with them. After being welcomed into their nice building (a converted hospital), we first watched a video about Hope's mission, with testimonies from kids whose lives had been impacted. It was clear that they invested in the kids in more ways than just teaching them--they taught them the gospel, helped them grow in relationship with Jesus, and even tried to help with troubles they might be having at home. It kind of reminded me of Minnehaha Academy for non-rich families. (Some Hope Community Church parents also sent their kids there)

We then went to a first-grade classroom to help for an hour or so. They were studying inventing and the creative process this week, and we were going to help with a project. The classroom was maybe 2/3 to 3/4 non-white kids, and they were clearly pretty well-disciplined; I didn't really see any "troublemakers". It got even better as i got to work with the "independent study" (i.e. brightest) kids. It looked like the kids were separated into a few different groups within the class according to their aptitude for more personalized learning.

Anyway, these kids were just amazing. One of the four was the daughter of a Hope CC couple, and the boy in the group was basically my six-year-old self. (I could tell when he explained in detail why he preferred to be called Elijah because there were so many Elis around). We were supposed to read through some quick stories about child inventors with them, but my kids pretty much went to town and I just had to watch to make sure everyone was following. They came up with some questions about the stories, then they were tasked with "inventing" something out of some basic craft supplies and dictating to me how to build it. I feel like they pretty much could have made anything they wanted out of tape, paper, and popsicle sticks, but they were held back by some creative differences (too many cooks) and we ended up making a pretty solid house. It was just a joy to work with such motivated kids and see what they could do. I'm pretty sure at least one of them is going to be in UMTYP in six or seven years.

The kids got really excited when they heard we would be having lunch with them. We had actually forgotten to pack lunches, so we just got to watch them eat. Lunch was still pretty fun when I was finding stuff to talk with them about. Elijah talked about his love for LEGOs, further confirming my belief that he's a younger version of me. We were really sad to have to leave them after lunch. We then spent an hour or two helping in the library organizing a bunch of books, a task we attacked with gusto. Hope Academy was really fun and it looks like they're doing an amazing ministry in the inner city. I'm seriously considering volunteering there after hearing the high school needs calculus and physics tutors. And depending on how that goes, I could even live nearby to Hope Academy and all the other places we saw in that neighborhood.

That afternoon, we went to the Source Annex, a partner ministry of Hope offering beds and rehabilitation to women who had been victims of sex trafficking. We actually didn't do much there except hear from Carol, the director of the ministry and one of the original Hopesters, and watch a video about sex trafficking. Young women are tricked into going or just taken to other countries where they don't speak the language and have no resources, then exploited and forced to work as prostitutes. It's slavery, plain and simple. It had testimonies from a man who had been working as a grunt for a crime syndicate and escaped when he learned more about it. He is still on the run from them and has helped the South African police fight it. Anyway, ministries like Breaking Free help women escape and they then come to places like the Source, where they are offered beds, help with their education and search for a job, and community in the form of "role models", young Christian women who live with them and help them transition to normal life. Like Hope Academy, it was an example of holistic ministry--helping people with their inner, as well as exterior crises.

After that we were done early for the day and went for an adventure. We walked the grounds of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, but it was closed so we just went to Sebastian Joe's for some delicious "dinner". As I've been enjoying getting to know the people on Spring Break with me, I'm really glad we don't have to say goodbye for possibly ever tomorrow, but might see each other next Sunday! I think we went back to le Hotel Legault next. There we learned to play 500, which is apparently really popular at Spring Retreat. All I will say on the subject is that Wizard is better and I will be bringing it to compete. (With 500 and with the other players)

This morning, we did teaching on more practical ways to practice relational, gospel-centered ministry wherever we go in life. The church, as the body of Christ, is the vehicle by which God restores shalom to the world. We are meant to live out an example of what God intended life to be. We've been talking through two books on this kind of ministry, one of them pretty academic. (It's on my list of things to read) It went through the idea of "faithful presence": being fully present and bringing the gospel to every area of our lives, using the power (which everyone has in some capacity) we have humbly as Jesus did, and doing our work (which everyone does) to God as a form of worship. We went through a matrix of culture and the areas the church has and has not focused on influencing; in general, we've mostly focused on the more mass-marketed forms of culture (journalism, education, television) than the higher-level ones that help determine culture (academia and the arts).

For the afternoon, we visited two more ministries in more familiar places. The first was the First Care Pregnancy Center on Oak Street, which I've walked by dozens of times on my way to and from class. They offer pregnancy testing and counseling for young women and, sometimes, their boyfriends. Being privately funded by donations, they also share the gospel with clients in the belief that Jesus is the only one who can truly change people. But this message is strictly for those who want to hear; they clearly try to not be coercive or sneaky in anything they do, and they also really try to provide real, accurate information to women to help them make decisions. It was a slow week with Spring Break, but we got to help them clean up; I helped them organize the closet and we took a bunch of no-longer needed things off their hands. (I kept a picture frame they were throwing out, as did several other people)

In the evening we went down to Burnsville (we went right by my apartment and parents' house in the same day) to South Metro Vineyard Church, which runs the largest food shelf in Minnesota. We were pretty surprised to hear it was in Burnsville, which I had considered to be a pretty wealthy suburb. Would people come? As we approached the church we say signs in English, Spanish, and Russian; apparently there is a large immigrant population in the city. Inside we saw they had a pretty impressive system. One side of the entry hall was completely full of grocery bags holding all kinds of food. We would fill them up assembly-line style and walk with our "neighbors" to their cars. They had a computer system that tracked people by their names (instead of a number) and could notify them when their "order" was ready.

I was a bit skeptical; none of what we were doing seemed strictly necessary. Couldn't they take their own groceries? But as we went on I realized this was all part of the church's holistic ministry. We weren't just trying to fill peoples' stomachs; we were really trying to welcome them and serve them in a way that empowered and loved them. We wanted to make them feel dignified, not ashamed to be visiting a food shelf. And we weren't just giving them canned stuff; it was a cartfull of really nice groceries I wouldn't mind having. As we pushed the carts around people would just put stuff into it. The refrigerated foods were customized to each person's family size and needs, and the bread lady was really zealous and would pile on too much bread for us to fit into our bags. People with birthdays in their families also got cakes. It felt really good to greet our neighbors with a smile and talked with them as we took their food out with them. After we'd finished serving everyone, many of the volunteers we'd been working with took carts and filled them; they were also beneficiaries of the food shelf.

After we cleaned up, we even got to take some extra food ourselves; apparently this food shelf struggles to give out enough food. Back at Hope, we also discovered more people had left us more food, even through tomorrow is the last day! People can be amazingly generous sometimes. We ate some of this for a late second dinner before turning in for the day. I've been writing this while watching Castle in the Sky with the Legaults. Tomorrow is the last day of the stay-at-home mission trip. We'll mostly just be reflecting on everything we've seen and learned this week. It's getting late and I'm going to cut this post off now. Good night!

ADDENDUM: The last day (half-day) wasn't quite eventful enough to get its own post. A lot of what we did was attempt to eat up a bunch of the food people had been giving us. We also did some final wrap-up to the morning teaching sessions including some reflection time on how to continue applying what we'd learned to ministry. We also got a list of books to read on which the teaching was largely based, which I'll share here.

  • When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright
  • To Change the World, by James Davison Hunter
  • Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
  • The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller
  • The Ragamffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning

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