Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cleveland: An Unexpected Blessing

Spring Break 2015 will be a memorable one! I had the opportunity to go on a trip to Cleveland, Ohio. 

This was not an ordinary spring break trip. It was a missions trip through Envision which is a part of the Christian & Missionary Alliance(the denomination that Crown College is associated with). Envision Cleveland just launched and we were the first short-term team to go to that location! 

My team consisted of 6 students and 1 professor. We all crammed into a minivan with our luggage and journeyed the long 14 hours (including stops) to Cleveland Ohio. The team represented diversity in major, worldview, and personality. And most of the team did not know each other very well before the trip. 

I honestly couldn't see how God was going to bring the team together before we left...and even on the way there...but man did God show up through our team dynamics! We learned how to communicate, confront, and forgive. Personally, I learned how to humble myself better and take direction from my team leader. I realized that there are so many different ways to interact with the world and that doesn't mean one is better than the other.

I am so incredibly thankful for my team members. 

So what did we do during our trip? 

Saturday March 14, 2015: We arrived at the Freedom House, which was the parish of Grace Church and where we would be staying for the week! We talked with Brice Payne (Assistant Site Director) and had our first team meeting. 

As a team, we read 1 John and talked about the things we were already learning just from our day of traveling. One thing that stood out to me was when Brice said, "Those who have the love of Christ, will love like Christ." This challenged me because I was struggling to love my team members after a long exhausting day of traveling. 

After the meeting, we all went to bed so that we would be rested and ready to go the next day!

Sunday March 15, 2015: We attended Grace Church and got a glimpse into the community of believers in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood. It was really cool to see that people were able to be open and honest about their struggles in this congregation. They talked about peacemaking and confessing sins to one another. 

After church we grabbed lunch while Paul Huneycutt (Site Director) and Brice shared what we were going to be participating in throughout the week. Man, did they get us pumped up! 

Then we went on a bus tour of Cleveland and got familiar with the city. We finished the night by having dinner with the different ministry leaders we would be working with this week. It was a great time to ask questions and hear about how God was moving in their different ministries. 

Cleveland Skyline

Monday March 16, 2015: Our first full day of ministry! Every day we started the day with about 30 minutes of prayer together as a team. After prayer, we would have breakfast together then head out! On Monday, we worked at Envision's soon-to-be Intern/Team house. This building is one of the many houses that was sold for $1 due to the housing crisis of 2008. We helped in the renovation process and did some yard work. 

After some good ol' manual labor, we spent the afternoons (M,W, F) at Mooney School helping in the cafeteria. Mooney is a public school K-12 that has a diverse population of students. We helped monitor grades K-8th during lunch and had the opportunity to talk with kids and build relationships over the three days we were there. 

On Monday, in the midst of the loud and chaotic cafeteria, I met this quiet, gentle, and caring little first grader named Julien. We didn't talk much during that first day but I quietly joined him and his friends as they ate lunch. Throughout the week, it was amazing to see him come out of his shell. There was still a gentleness about him but as trust was built Julien became to tell me his story. I was blessed and honored to have lunch with him. 

We finished Monday night with one of the most impacting moments of the trip for me personally. Dinner with an Iraqi family.

Envision had arranged for our team to share dinners with refugee families through a partnership they developed with a man named Darrel.  He is a contractor who renovates $1 homes and provides refugees with housing and even employs some of the men to work for his company. 

This family opened their home to myself and three other team members. They provided us with wonderful hospitality, great conversation, and of course delicious food! We were able to have a translator with us,  a college student at Ohio State, who made communication flow freely between the family and ourselves. 

There are many lessons I learned from this interaction but here are just a few:
1. Love can overcome any barrier...even the barrier of language!
2. I held many assumptions and prejudices against Muslims. I have allowed media and stereotypes to blind me to the reality that Muslims are people; they have families, hopes and dreams, and want the best for the children. They do not all support terrorism and many are disgusted by how a select group of Islamic extremists have tainted their reputation. 
3. Other cultures have so much to offer! It was incredible to see their worldview and there were many parts--family, community, respect--that I desired to see more in my own culture. 

I will never forget this family. They taught me the importance of family, demonstrated true hospitality, and initiated a change in my heart that will impact the way I interact with Muslims.

Tuesday March 17, 2015: After prayer and breakfast, our morning consisted of cleaning out a building for Faith Alliance Bible Church in East Cleveland. They want to use this building to create a multipurpose space in order to grow in their ministry. It could be used for a daycare facility, a safe place for young people, and so much more!

East Cleveland is the rougher side of the city. There are many difficulties facing their neighborhood such as: poverty, crime, prostitution, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, etc. This church is an African American congregation in the C&MA that intentionally chose to plant itself in a community that desperately needs the love and transformative power of Christ in their neighborhood. 

After working hard cleaning the building, we spent the afternoon helping FABC with their after-school children's program. Every day the church provides a safe place for children to come and do their homework, have a meal, and be in community with one another. 

Our team attempted to come alongside this ministry so that there were more opportunities for one-on-one attention with the children. But honestly, most of the team was overwhelmed by the energy and structure of the program. Many of us did not know how to response to certain situations with the kids or staff. 

This was a powerful experience because most of us had never worked nor been immersed in an African American church/community. To ignore the cultural differences would be ridiculous and yet that's what we tried to do. Until Professor Jones challenged us, in our team debrief, that night to acknowledge are judgments, criticisms, and differences. He reminded us that while it may seem "easier" to stuff them down, ultimately it will only hurt the relationships we are building. 

Wednesday March 18, 2015: 
Some of the highlights of Wednesday were:
1. Sitting with Rochelle (4th grader) at lunch. She talked about her love of basketball, her family, and her struggle with being bullied. It was a privilege to be trusted and to be able to empower her!

2. As a team, we went into downtown Cleveland to be tourists for the afternoon. My favorite part of that trip was my conversation with Brice Payne. I shared with my story and my desire to help teenagers who are broken and hurting. I wrestled with my conviction to be doing "ministry" but not knowing what that would look like specifically. 

Brice provided me with a listening ear, caring heart, and wisdom from experience. He challenged me to lean into situations, conversations, and moments despite any feelings of discomfort, uncertainty, or fear that might arise. He pushed me to think of the ways that I get restore--emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. It was so refreshing!

3. Dinner with a refugee family from the Congo! We didn't have a fluent translator for this encounter so it was frustrating at times because I wanted to be able to communicate with this gracious family. They made us lamb (or goat!) and these cool mashed corn balls. We ate with our hands and everything! 

The man shared his story and the violence that he experienced when a neighboring nation invaded and tortured him. Despite the communication barrier, we understood that America provided this family with a safe haven to escape the violence of their homeland. 

Momma & Daston
Learning Language

Google Translate! 

Thursday March 19, 2015: One of the coolest parts of Thursday was that our little team finished clearing out the entire building at Faith Alliance Bible Church that we had started on Tuesday! We surprised ourselves, the Envision staff, but most importantly the church leadership with what could be accomplished in just 6 hours over two days! It was so rewarding to see how our work encouraged the church and helped them to see their dream of using this space for God's kingdom work one step closer! 

During the after-school program at FABC, I got to help two young boys on their homework. 

The first, was Brandon (1st grader) who was doing pretty good at reading and writing. Then we got to the math worksheet. And man! This kid was incredible at math! He didn't need my help at all. It was so fun to encourage him and brag about his abilities. He developed such confidence in himself in one afternoon and he wanted to do more math worksheets. :) 

The second, was a third grader boy who was working on multiplication. He kept getting stuck on multiplying by nine so I taught him a finger trick to help him remember his nines. Before I knew it, the boy's dad was next to me learning the trick. Then the other volunteers came up and wanted to learn the trick. This boy was so excited to have a cool to have a way to excel in multiplication and help his friends! 

After the after-school program, my team got to have dinner with leadership of FABC. I met the youth pastor's wife during the program and we hit it off! During dinner, I got to talk to her and her husband about our heart for teenagers and youth ministry. They showed me the ways they connect with youth in their context and I learned a lot. They are gifted musically and showed me some of the creative ways they have proclaimed the gospel with young people. 

Youth Pastor's Wife!

My heart was encouraged by these two ministers and I loved how we were united because of our shared love of Jesus and passion to pass that on to the next generation. 

Friday March 20, 2015: Our last full day of ministry in Cleveland. We worked on the "White House" which is the building that Envision wants to use for their team/intern house. Then spent the afternoon at Mooney School. 

The highlight from Friday was the time we could to spend at the Huneycutt's home! Paul and his wife Lorie shared their story with us. There heart for loving God and loving people is amazing. And you can clearly see how God orchestrated them to be the missionaries to Cleveland, Ohio through Envision. 

So far, I haven't mentioned the person that impacted me the most during this trip. Mostly because I didn't want to get choked up and ball my eyes out. Here is my good friend, Hudson Huneycutt.

As you can see, he is a goof ball! Hudson is 7 years old and quickly became my good friend. All week long we had fun together. We had a leaf raking competition, rode in the van together, played soccer and basketball, visited the Congolese family, ate Honey Hut ice cream, played Trivia Crack and Magic Piano, and much more!

This little boy taught me so much. He reminded me of the power of laughter, speaking truth, and loving others. Hudson has a BIG HEART and I was overwhelmed by his desire to value people for exactly who they were. 

It was a privilege to watch as Hudson played with this little Congolese boy and become friends even thought they didn't speak the same language. After we had been with the family for a little over an hour, Hudson ran up to me and Lorie and said, "I communicated with him! I pointed to him, then me, then the soccer ball and he knew I wanted to play soccer with him!" And with a huge smile on his face, he ran back to his new friend to continue playing with him. 

I love you Hudson!

I went to Cleveland hoping that I would be able to love and encourage the people I met. And instead, I was greeted with love, acceptance, and compassion from Hudson. His kindness broke through the walls I had built around my heart to protect myself. No words I could write would express the gift that Hudson gave me by becoming my friend. 

There is so much more that I could share with you about this trip but I will leave it incomplete...because what I learned in Cleveland is far from over. God began something in Cleveland and I know that he is not finished.  

I hope this blog post provided you with a small insight into the redemptive work God is doing in this world. He continues to redeem me in the most unexpected ways and it is my prayer that he would be revealing himself to each of you in a new and real way even today. 

Thanks for reading this extremely long blog! If you want to ask me any questions or hear more, I'd LOVE to talk more about it! So don't hesitate to call, message, or email me. 

Thank you for all those who supported this trip and covered it in prayer. God was so faithful!