This July Broadway Christian Church's rising 8th graders through High School seniors traveled to Chicago for our annual youth mission trip. We worked with a partner organization called Center for Student Missions. Through this trip we got to know the section of the city on the north west side of the city. We stayed in Albany Park, which I learned, is one of the most diverse zip codes in the United States. We got to see and serve in places like Humboldt Park (the only Puerto Rican neighborhood in the continental united states), Ravenswood, Uptown, and Lawndale just to name a few of the neighborhoods.
We got to know the area and its history, we looked at the way these neighborhoods had grown and changed over the last 40-50 years. We saw the effects of gentrification, neighborhood improvements, and poverty stricken areas, we learned about gang culture in these neighborhoods and those yellow safe passage signs which kids have to get walked to and from school just so they can do it without being harassed.
We spent time bonding with kids growing up in the midst of all of this in Lawndale at a YMCA and the Albany Park Community Center. I sat and listened to a 4th grader tell me about how his sister was murdered 6 months before, as his voice trailed off and the ache hung in the air. We served dinner in Ravenswood at All Saints church (ravenswoodcommunityservices.org) where they do it family style with honestly some of the best food I’ve ever eaten prepared at a church. We served dinner in a formerly condemned building where they do 3 meals a day, year round to friends and neighbors who are experiencing homelessness or staying in their now whole block of buildings converted into shelters. We played bingo in an elderly low-income housing building where most of the folks didn’t speak English but they smiled and shouted for joy when one won a silly dollar-store clapper that we had brought as a prize.
Through it all we learned, that the city of Chicago had so much more to teach us than we could bring it. We saw that relationships are what it is all about, and that generosity and God’s spirit are found everywhere, especially in places that you might not expect to find it.
As representative of our trip, I want to tell you a story about our last night together on the trip. We were gathered in for dinner and worship with all the other groups from around the midwest who were serving in Chicago that week. I think there were 9 churches, and when gathered together we were well over 100 folks. We sang a few songs and we had volunteers share where their group saw God while serving.
Then they introduced our guest speaker for the night. Pastor Jonathan Brooks, otherwise known as Pastah J. At least that’s what he told us to call him, cause that’s what everyone in his neighborhood calls him. He shared about how he grew up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, and he left, he got several master degrees, and then found that God led him back to serve his community. He shared about how the neighborhood had lots to teach him as well. Then he shared something that I think will stick with all of us who served that week.
He told us, “We’re so glad you’re here, but we don’t need you.” Pastah J hit us like a bag of oranges to the gut. He started telling us about how God was already doing amazing things in neighborhoods like Englewood or Lawndale or Uptown. He was really glad that we got a chance to hang out in their great city, and to learn from it, but then he reminded us that Chicago isn’t ours to fix. That’s God’s job in partnership with the folks in those neighborhoods that God is already using. And that our calling was back wherever we came from, that our role was to see that playing with and mentoring kids is something that needs to happen there (for us in Columbia), that there are lonely senior citizens who could use a group of teenagers to play bingo (for us in Columbia), that there are people experiencing homelessness there (in Columbia).
Pastah J wasn’t taking it easy on us, but he was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was reminding all of us that no matter how hard you want to fix something, that change isn’t always in our hands. God is the one who transforms lives, we just need to be on the lookout for what God is already doing around us everyday and joining into it.
It was a great Mission Trip, but more importantly was that for the 19 of us who went, it was a reminder that we already have a mission field. And so do you.
Story and photo by Broadway CC Associate Minister Rev. Nick Larson.