When children think of the word family, they think of their immediate family. Mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma, and grandpa. But as we get older, we learn that family is bigger than that. We meet people in our lives who are like a missing piece to our puzzle.The different service sites I had lent my time and hardwork to this past week, furthered my understanding of this.
I started my week at Bethel-Ensley Action Task-force, or BEAT as we had called it. The director, Henry spoke of what he did for his community. As he explained, he painted a vivid image of outdated homes with no Air Conditioning, which by the way, is a MUST in Alabama. Henry and his men took time out of their lives to rebuild homes for their fellow community members. He told us of how they replaced furnaces and updated the rotting wood frames of the houses. As he spoke, he grinned wide, especially when he told us that the Mayor was holding a parade in BEAT’s honour for all the positive feedback the organization had received recently. To prepare, we spent that day, mowing lawns and learning how to use hedge clippers in loo of a weed-whacker. Which had me thinking, even in God’s love, we need the proper tools but are still able to gain assurance. At the end of the day, we took a step-back, gazing upon all our hard work. This strengthened our crew’s family bond, especially after fighting ankle high grass in the 110 degree Alabama heat. And when Henry saw what we had done, he was on the verge of tears. he told us it wasn’t just for him, it was for the community, and for many generations beyond.
As the week carried on, I was introduced to Frank, at Sparkle Learning Center. This program gave the kids of the community a place to go during the summer and catch up on their academics. Frank welcomes all volunteers with wide open arms to help him with the kids. In the two days I was there, I learned that even though Frank was hard on these kids, he truly loves them. In fact, out of the 35 children there, only 3 of them have a father. For the young boys and girls who don’t, they’ve started to view Frank as their father. But through his rough exterior, he still would do anything for them. An example was on Father’s Day. Frank sat down and let the kids come up to him one at a time and hug them. As he held them close, he assured them that he would be there for them. These children range from the 4 to 14 years old, and they have never had a full family. They learned at a young age that family isn’t just your nuclear family, but it’s the ones who you love. Blood relation isn’t a restriction. These kids depend on Frank as if he was actually their father, just by the tough love and caring attitude he gives them. Frank had told us his experiences in the Vietnam War when asked how he started, “People where getting killed on either side of me. I bent down and prayed. I told the Lord if I get home alive, I would serve his children. After the war, I came home without a single scratch. So I guess it was some type of calling for what I had promised.”
The best things that I learned was that family can be found in our own congregation. I felt really connected like a family on the last night. After the small prayer service, Cara went around and washed our feet and prayed for us. As she finished each of us, we gathered into a giant spontaneous hug. In that moment, as everyone as everyone was hugging one another close, family rang true. Many times, we hear the phrase “Brothers and Sisters in Christ” but never really get to experience it. But in that warm embrace, I got to experience what it felt like. You could really feel, we were connected by God. Blood relation wasn’t the only thing that counted. Only God’s undying love for us did.
July 26th, 2015
As you know, we, the youth of our church have gone on a mission trip to Birmingham, Alabama. This trip was important for me in a lot of ways. Before this trip, I was still confused on what a mission trip was really for. Was it for helping others? Was it to strengthen my relationship with God? Was it really just grueling physical labor and mental exhaustion? Or was it something more, something that could change us or our beliefs just by being there and connecting with a community that needed the help so much?
This question kept nagging all week long, and I kept thinking to myself, “How can people do this for months or years at a time if I can’t even figure out what mission work really is?” The question stuck with me until the second to last day of work. Our crew was scheduled to go to a daycare called “Sparkle Learning Center”. We had already been warned about this site, and it was said to be disorganized and dysfunctional at times. When we arrived on the first day at Sparkle, we were greeted by excited kids and a passionate, yet strict, instructor named Frank. Frank explained that these kids were growing up in a very tough environment with parents that couldn’t provide any better for them. So when the kids there wouldn’t let go of anyone in our group, it was really amazing to see the connections being formed instantly. I started to see that mission work may not have a long term effect on everyone, but the short time effect could be really important to the kids who needed it. Still, I didn’t quite grasp that at the time, because not being able to see if I made an impact made the work seem almost useless.
About halfway through the day, Frank told us about a small tradition that they have at Sparkle. If all of the children are good, and don’t beat up the YouthWorks staff too much, then they’re allowed to go on a bike ride to a nearby park and play there for an hour before they had to get back to their computer lessons. I was kind of apprehensive about going to a park that was in such a rough part of town, but I figured that all of the kids were going, so it was my duty to go with them and play with them.
When we arrived at the park, the little kids were ecstatic to have new friends to play with, and all took off to run, jump, and swing as much as they could. The older kids were less than thrilled to have more people there, and they started talking with some other teenagers there that they seemed to know. None of us really paid much attention to that, but eventually more and more older kids started arriving at the park, and before we knew it there was a crowd of over twenty people standing around.
During some pint the conversation between them went bad, and two girls, one of them from Sparkle, started to yell and get physically violent towards each other. Our YouthWorks leaders saw that the park was a bad place to be at the time, so we all began to guide the kids away from the park as quickly as we could. As we were walking around the crowd, the girls started chasing each other down the street. Seeing this at the time felt completely unreal, as the girls and other people there were so belligerent and harsh, even in a public place where they knew other people were.
This is when I started to see what growing up in this environment was doing to some of these kids. While I was helping walk them away from the situation, a lot of the kids didn’t even pay any attention to what was happening. Some even walked between the two groups while throwing a football, without as much as batting an eye. It started to dawn on me that these kids had been around this their whole lives, so while us volunteers were worried, the kids didn’t have a single qualm with what had just happened. Only one girl was scared, and she was so young that she had to be carried back to the daycare. Seeing the little girl who wanted the people to stop fighting so much that she was getting emotional over it really touched me in a way I didn’t think possible. Perhaps, I thought, mission work didn’t always have to “fix” things per se. It can also help make an impact on a single child’s life that can hopefully allow them to one day realize that they can do great things and help others more than others have helped them.
When we arrived back at the daycare, we were all pretty shaken up. The kids were mostly fine, but when they realized that the girl who had been screaming hadn’t come back yet, they started to look worried. It was at this time that Frank came back from the park after talking with police there and told the kids to “Circle Up”, which was a signal to get them to sit around him in a circle and listen to him. Frank looked very serious and angry at the situation, but held his composure and started talking.
Frank talked about what had just happened, about how the girl let go of who she really was and let the crowd get the better of her. He continued to talk about how the town worked there, in what he called getting “caught in the cycle” Frank made sure to stress how bad the cycle was at times. According to him, the school system in their town was very poor, and the children didn’t get a decent enough education early on in their lives, so the core skills that needed to be built up during first through fifth grade weren’t there, which made them struggle when they moved on in school. Another topic that he reinforced was how much the kids should work on their studies and leave as soon as they can, because in it’s current condition, the town wasn’t going to help them grow in any way.
Frank moved away from the kids. “I have kids in the second generation from some of these families. I taught their parents and gave them the same advice as I’m giving these kids, but they didn’t listen and now the kids are right where their parents were.” he said, obviously upset over the situation. To Frank, he wanted these kids out of the town to do bigger and better things, but they were trapped in a cycle that won’t let them out because they couldn’t learn the skills that they needed. While Frank’s words were touching and extremely important, the kids were still trying to understand what had happened, and the words didn’t sink in with them properly.
After seeing the events that unfolded that day, something inside of me really clicked. Even as I’m standing before you all right now, I can still remember the feeling of understanding and Epiphany as I realized what mission work means to me. Mission work isn’t always about making an immediate change that we can see, it’s about leaving an impact on a community that needs it. And that’s what mission work is to me now: helping where and when I can to spread God’s kingdom.
July 26th, 2015
I’m never really that comfortable being in a really large group of strangers. I have trouble being able to socialize and just be myself. As the other church groups were coming to our mission site I didn’t really know how this week would go. When got there we were the first group but the boys rooms were right in the gym. The next group came in you could tell they were from Texas with the big Ten gallon hats and big clunky boots. It was exactly what I didn’t want to see. But God knew my fear and was there with me through this week. It turns out God knew and protected me and everyone there couldn’t of been more welcoming. I’ve never seen such a huge group of kids be so friendly and welcoming to everybody. God was there with me and later I was talking to everyone confidently. God’s presence was there for me and is there for all of us wherever we may be, or how we feel, or even feel like we don’t even deserve God to be there with us.
Through this week of service I could really just see God’s presence. The first day my group went to the LoveLady Center and we could really see God with all those women. The LoveLady Center is a place for women who just got out of prison or have a drug addiction or just need help. It’s at least a 9 month program but they can stay the whole year if they choose. They take classes and lessons to graduate and some come in without a G.E.D. and they will get it before they graduate. While we were there we got to see a wall called the prisoner to princess wall which shows pictures of the women’s mug shots next to one when they graduate from the program, and you can really see a difference. Karen the volunteer coordinator was on the wall and she looked so much after the program. 90% of the women that work there have gone through the program there selves. You can really see how God has gotten them back on their feet. You can tell the women there have a great passion and feel very strongly about this program. The program is there to show the women that God is there and will bless them and is there to give confidence and not to keep going back to their old patterns. God is there for those women who have and had nothing but God is there for them and you can really see the improvement and the life he has given and the change they all have done. God’s presence is always there.
We also went to the Christian Service Mission. I’m very fortunate our group got to meet Michael who is in charge of the gardening center. Right now Michael and CSM are making gardens throughout the city and harvesting food for people to come and have a meal with other people that they don’t know yet or ones that they don’t really trust. CSM doesn’t just want to give people one meal they want to connect them with a community to feed them for a lifetime. God really has a meaning for this organization. Tracy the owner bought this empty warehouse just because he wanted to help people. But not long after when he bought it a hurricane swept through the Birmingham area and because his warehouse was empty it was able to be used as a distribution center which gave his Warehouse a big start. God is there and he has a meaning for that warehouse. Whenever you don’t really know where you are called, God’s presence is right there. Tracy bought an empty warehouse only because he wants to help people and God was there and now his warehouse is producing food and people’s needs and so much more, like a garden and a class for women. Whatever you want to do but don’t really know how to God is there and will help you every step of the way.
The last place my group went was the men’s shelter the Foundry. When I got there I could just feel God, the people were so welcoming and friendly. We were serving the people in the community that came in. There were three different types of people there: the Rehab which were people trying to get drug and alcohol addiction, Recovery which are people just out of prison trying to get back on their feet, and the Rescue which are the disabled and homeless or on the edge of becoming homeless. The Foundry on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s give a free meal to those people. But before they eat their free meal Pastor Pace is there giving a huge inspirational sermon to all of them. After a lot of what Pastor Pace said the people would reply, “That’s right”, or “Say it”, or even, “Amen”. These people wanted to hear the word of the Lord. They didn’t have much, yet they were there to hear the word of the Lord over the free meal. Pastor Pace asked which they were there for the free meal or to hear God, and all but two said for the word of God. Pastor Pace kept asking if they wanted him to stop so they could eat but they all begged him and said please for him to keep on going. These people had nothing, were going through hard times, and not all of them had places to go or knew if they’d get a meal until next time they could come back. But they wanted to hear God over getting their free meal. It just opened my eyes and I could just really feel God there, God is everywhere and whenever you feel lost or don’t know what to do, God will lead you. I could just feel him there when these people mostly have nothing and just want him, not the free food but God, I could just feel the presence of God.
God just helps us all in every way, I was nervous and he gave me a wonderful group of people to give me an amazing week and give me confidence. I always can feel God will always protect me in any situation and for all people. We are all part of God’s Kingdom and we are all equal. We love God and he loves each of us, the people who have plenty and those who need the most help. We aren’t perfect but God’s presence is with each and every one of us no matter what we do or what happens to us. Jesus took a sacrifice for all of us and we should do the same for others. It truly makes a difference and I am a servant of God. A sacrifice isn’t really a sacrifice; it’s doing for others like Jesus did for us. We are all a part of God’s Kingdom and there is no place I’d rather be.
July 26th, 2015