Gratitude

At Memphis Youth Mission, one of the community partners that we go to every week is St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral on Wednesday mornings for a worship service that is open to everyone, and they mean everyone. After the worship service, the group will help serve breakfast to those who attended the worship service and others from the community.

For me, this service site has been particularly meaningful. MYM had an Episcopalian group come earlier in the summer and I had the privilege of sitting next to one of the group leaders during the service. She was overwhelmed by the joy, love, and compassion shown to those who normally would not be so welcomed in a traditional church setting; she wept at the idea that this church was opening its doors to anyone and everyone that wanted to come in. It was a powerful experience for me to watch her during the service and afterwards during the breakfast, talking to people and helping welcome those on the margins.

Every week that MYM has gone to St. Mary’s and helped serve breakfast, I have done the job of helping clear the trays after people have finished eating breakfast. I met Jerry, who wipes the plates clean and stacks them, the first week of the summer. Jerry is a retired Episcopalian minister who has “nothing more meaningful to do” on Wednesday mornings than help clear and clean trays. Over the summer, Jerry and I have been able to talk and get to know each other over dirty plates and cups. I told him that after this summer, I would be a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington D.C. and he told me about his 5-year-old twin grandchildren. Today was my last day helping Jerry clear trays at St. Mary’s. I came up to the cleaning station and awaiting me was a present that Jerry had handmade for me as thank you gift for a wonderful summer of service together. Jerry made me a wooden block with a butterfly on it and the word gratitude painted on to it. He told me that he was grateful for the time that we had shared together and for the work that I had put into the summer. I told Jerry that I in turn was grateful to have shared such a wonderful time of service with him and for everything that he had shared with me.

At the end of this summer, Jerry’s gift to me shows me the ways in which service impacts people at every level. Yes, we are there to serve those who are normally not served with the dignity and respect they deserve. But, it showed me that there are different levels of service, that I was in service to Jerry just as much as I was in service to those eating breakfast at St. Mary’s. Overall, I think that is one of my biggest lessons from this summer—that we are in service to one another and not just those that we think need our help. I am forever thankful for the chance to have gotten to know and serve with Jerry and for every experience I have had working at MYM this summer!

 

Sarah Hall is a summer intern for Memphis Youth Mission.  She is a graduate of the University of the Ozarks.

Finding Community with the Alien Residing In Your Midst

Community:

1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. 

2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

We all belong to communities. We are on different teams and parts of different clubs. We attend different schools and different churches. However, the one community without any divide is the body of Christ. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our people!!! Throughout the summer, I have had the opportunity to engage in many different communities that have taught me so much about who makes up the body of Christ. Although getting up and to work by 7:30 seems to be getting harder and harder, the communities being built seems to make it more and more worth it.

We started Tuesday, July 17th off with our morning devotion, focusing on defining community. Although we have a devotion on this topic weekly, I really tried to focus on its’ message throughout that day. That afternoon, we traveled to a housing development that houses refugees in the Raleigh area. Workers from another nonprofit in Raleigh teaches the adults in the neighborhood English, so the team from RYM watches the kids while the parents can better their education. I have been to this place several times, but something about the work we did that day sparked new thoughts in my head. I loved watching the way our team from RYM took on the challenge of handling tons of kids they had never met, and how they showed God’s love through the way they played with the kids and had conversations with them. Our team took in every moment and worked hard in the July sun to ensure the refugee children were having a fun time. These relationships were developed within a couple hours, but unfortunately the likelihood that our group from RYM will see the kids they worked with again is close to none. However, for that short amount of time, there was a community of people not separated by race, class, gender, or social status. For that brief amount of time, we drew with chalk, we made bracelets, and we played lots of soccer without thinking of the labels that society might place on these people.

This truly had me thinking: what would the world look like if we took time to make communities and develop relationships with those who are different from us? What could we accomplish if we took time to get to know someone else’s story and tell them our own? I have a good feeling the world would be a much more harmonious place. That’s why I am so thankful I have had the opportunity to work with these children. Creating community with them is truly humbling and puts so much into perspective about opportunity and the United States. Before coming to work at RYM, I was not familiar with how the United States handles refugees, but more so I had no idea how the Bible tells us as Christians to face such political issues. Leviticus 19:33-34 states,When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” How incredible is it that the Bible tells us exactly what we need to do-welcome in the stranger and create community with them! By intentionally developing relationships, we are learning, we are growing, and we are viewing life through a different lens. All of these are essential for developing a new sense of community here in the United States with all of our neighbors. Community might be the person we thought we had nothing in common with, or it might be someone we share everything with. But in all, I think it is amazing that Raleigh Youth Mission is finding communities wherever they go and sharing the love of God through these places and through their faces.

 

Leah Brooks is a summer intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  She attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mission Immersion: helping others while being helped

A core goal of Raleigh Youth Mission is to deter participants from the “savior mentality”, because we believe it is a toxic standpoint, and not a true reflection of the gospel. To achieve this, as a staff we are intentional to define the concept of mission immersion. Prior to arriving to Raleigh and receiving training- I was a bit unclear on the concept myself. Several friends and family members would ask.. sooo what exactly are you doing this summer? Mission immersion is like a mission trip in that you are volunteering, working with others, and maybe providing some relief to those in need. However, mission immersion takes this concept a step further. The immersion aspect is a dual idea that while we aid agencies in their mission, we are also learning ourselves. We learn about the agencies, how they’re funded, what services they provide, and much more. So instead of simply helping those facing poverty, homelessness, or food insecurity, we also teach our youth where these problems come from. At RYM, we teach curriculum to middle and high school students that challenges systemic issues such as gentrification, generational poverty, racism, and privilege awareness.

One agency we partner with that exemplifies the concept of mission immersion is Healing Transitions. This rehabilitation facility is for those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. The facility is non-profit, and it is totally free to clients. When we visit this agency, RYM participants receive a tour of the grounds led by clients currently going through the recovery program. During our visits, RYM staff members and youth have the privilege of eating lunch with some of the clients, and getting to know their stories. The youth groups participating in RYM witness first-hand what is potentially the most difficult time in someone’s life. It is real life, not a sugar-coated version of the truth, nor is it intended to be a scare tactic. But rather, a lesson. Often, people who struggle with addiction are connoted with the less fortunate, lazy, or are viewed as less than. At healing transitions, the youth learn that addiction does not discriminate across race, class, or gender.

A peer ran facility, Healing Transitions operates with a handful of full-time paid staff members, and the rest of the daily operational tasks are carried out by clients. The kitchen, schedules, laundry, and some office tasks are all carried out by current clients. A majority of the staff are also graduates of the recovery program, and their model works so well because the clients can relate on a personal level to their mentors. Every tour guide notes that without their peers, they would struggle to find the motivation to proceed with the recovery program. The peer facilitated model requires accountability, community, and among other things- trust. Like a well-oiled machine, every person is needed and valued, because all pieces must work together to achieve a common goal. These vital parts lead to success with clients, and this type of community-living approach translates to the space the RYM participants share throughout the week. As staff members, we stress the importance of living in community.  RYM Participants live in a space that is typically used for Sunday school classes with total strangers. This may not be the most comfortable of situations.

In no way am I attempting to equate the two living situations- it is beyond comparisons as to what it is like to be in recovery. However, the general idea is the same and it relates back to the overarching theme of what mission immersion means- to be fully engaged in your community while striving to live a life like Jesus. He reached out to the oppressed, the marginalized, and the outcasts in society. He did not cast judgement, but rather offered a helping hand, and carried out his actions out of love- not for the need of self-righteous fulfillment. God did not intend for humans to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but rather be there for each other, and reach out a hand to help someone up when they fall.

 

Emaleigh Fleeman is an intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  She is also a student at Georgia College and State Univeristy

God Loves Everyone

“You are a liar, you are a phony, and if you were to punch anyone in the face—it should be yourself.” These were the words my RYM group witnessed a woman reciting to a younger more vulnerable woman on the R-Line bus.

This week at RYM we learned about what it means to live abundantly, what living abundantly looks like, and how God has called us to serve those who lack abundance. During the week, we played an activity called ‘Continuums.’ In this game, someone reads out a statement, and people place themselves accordingly on a scale of “agree” versus “disagree.” The last statement in the game was “God cares the most about people who are poor and/or oppressed.” Once this statement was announced, the majority of people moved more towards the 100% agree spectrum. This shocked me. If anything, I feel neutral to this statement.

In my experience, the people who are poor and/or oppressed, suffer the most. They are amongst some of the loneliest people, the most invisible, and the most uncared for. Throughout my life I have been taught that God loves all his children. This past week, we have cared for those who are poor and/or oppressed by spreading God’s love, but what happens once we are gone? We are taught to continue these actions out of kindness and God’s will, but it is sometimes difficult to spare some change when we already have ill intentions. It’s no new news that people do not typically give money to people on the street. We are taught or assume that we should not spare a dollar, not even a dime, because the person may go and spend the money on alcohol or drugs.

It is difficult when we live in a world where it is not always safe to serve those, in a world where we teach our children not to give away their resources. But sometimes, God leads us to not turn our backs on those we are weary of, whether that be through their appearance or social status. I saw this with my group predominantly through our R-Line experience.

As the woman at the beginning of this story, made her final and ultimately crude remarks, my youth and adult leaders paid close attention to both women. The first woman, the one making the comments, appeared look like a well kept woman who had no patience for those who appeared lesser. In her lap, was a white plastic bag that contained a salad and other various food items. The woman had offered the other one her salad, but did not fail to admit that she must’ve been crazy to offer it at all. The other woman was skinny with tangled light brown hair, old beat up Nike sneakers, a black trash bag, and one pinched eye. As the older woman spoke to this lady, it was clear she could not hear very well. The other passengers on the bus appeared purposely oblivious.

There were many attempts made to help the young woman in need, but none seemed to work, for the woman was too timid and fearful. Finally, one of the adult leaders pulled out a sheet, and calmly spoke to the skittish girl about some locations she could attain a free lunch. The leader explained that on the sheet were locations the woman could find help for free, while paying no attention to the yelling woman. Eventually, it was our stop to get off and with this we asked the quiet girl if she wanted to get off with us as to direct her to Shepherd’s Table. She said no, but she kept the sheet.

Once we returned to the church, we debriefed, and prayed not only for the woman who needed a free lunch, but also for the woman who persecuted her. God loves everyone no matter what race, social class, or difference. It is debated on whether God loves or cares more for one people rather than another, but maybe some people need God’s love more than others. Some people have nobody to love or are loved by no one. Thus, it is crucial for us to spread this love and let it be known that people are loved, because without love there is hate.

Tai Ruinsky is a summer intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  She attends American University

Love and Belonging

The first week of anything can challenge us and even be difficult. My first week at AYM was no different. It was difficult, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth doing. Our first week was worth any difficulties that we encountered, because we were able to serve the people in our community here in Asheville.

Our first week I took Northwest Presbyterian Church of Atlanta to 12 baskets and we helped serve the meal for the people who came in to eat. Almost immediately my group of 6 middle school boys saw that there was a chess set on their coffee tables at 12 baskets. They were all excited, most of them loved to play chess. They asked if they could play a game of chess and I told them that maybe if we had some time at the end of the day then they could. After that we started getting ready to serve the people coming in.

Once we were a little bit into our serving, a man named Andre came in and sat at the adult group leaders table. As he was talking with the adult group leader for a little while, he mentioned that he plays chess. The adult group leader told Andre that some of her youth were really wanting to play. I told one of the youth to go ahead and play Andre.

Andre is from Poland and when he moved to America he couldn’t find a job that would pay him a living wage. It turns out that Andre is an amazing chess player. One after another, he defeated the youth in chess. After every time Andre would win he would teach the kids some reasons that they lost. He would tell them complicated chess strategies. Eventually, after he had defeated everyone who wanted to play him, he told us about a special skill he has.  He can play chess with his back turned to the board. The person playing him would call out their moves and he would tell us his move and we would move it for him. Andre then played one of the youth again doing this.

Andre and the kids got so much out of this experience, all because we were playing a game with him. In our program we talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the hierarchy there is a section called “love and belonging.” That’s what those kids were giving to Andre— a sense of love and belonging. This is just one of the many things I’m excited to experience as the summer goes on.

Brady Harding is an intern at Asheville Youth Mission and a student at George Mason Univsersity.

Deep Gladness

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” — Frederick Buechner

My deep gladness is lived out at Raleigh Youth Mission (a part of Youth Mission Co).  I began this past August as the Director of Raleigh Youth Mission and in this short time I have experienced pure joy!  I have experienced the joy of numerous agencies that are meeting the needs of those who are experiencing homelessness in Raleigh, NC – filling those gaps that enable them to move through their struggles and temporary situations with dignity and with hope.  I have experienced the joy of young people who become aware of the issues that surround homelessness and the complexity of it all – and not becoming overwhelmed but rather come to an understanding that they can make a difference in the lives of others.  And I have experienced joy to work with a staff that has a passion for youth and for justice systems that give all people an opportunity to flourish – who have the ability to look forward and ask “How can we meet the needs of those we serve with innovation and creativity?”

Youth Mission Co is a ministry that connects deep gladness with the world’s deep hunger – a ministry where we meet God face to face in the lives of those we serve.  This is not just another mission trip – this is an opportunity to live out the Word of God in our everyday lives, as we challenge our groups to go back and serve in their communities – partner with agencies that exist in their hometowns and see where God is already at work in their midst. Youth Mission Co is a ministry that allows us to all come together to share in our gladness, for our souls to be nourished and our hungers to be satisfied! Come and share with us!

 

Rev. Linda Harding is the Director of Raleigh Youth Mission.  She is a pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and has served churches in Virginia and Colorado.  

Mission Our Worship, Part 7: Sent Out To Serve

For the last several weeks we have been looking at each part of worship and considering how we can “mission” that element of the service.  From being called together to confession of sin, from hearing God’s Word and responding with what we believe, we have discussed how each part relates to social justice and the command that Jesus gives us to “love our neighbor.”

Typically the end of our services includes some kind of Charge and Benediction.  Often a pastor leads it by coming out to the center of the room, raising her hands, and gives some final words to the congregation.  This part of worship reminds us that God sends us out into the world, and blesses us for that journey with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit goes with us.

What are the places God is calling your congregation to go?  What message does God give us to share in those places?

Here’s an exercise you can do with your youth to “mission” this part of worship.  Ask your pastor(s) for a few standard charges and benedictions that they say, or that are found in the Book of Common Worship.  Choose one and re-work it to be specific to your local context and situation.  How might you share this new benediction with the congregation?  Here’s how one might sound if we were doing this exercise here in Asheville, NC…

“Go out into Asheville in faith.  Don’t be scared, but be brave.  Hang on to the things you know to be right.  Don’t disrespect any neighbor, even if they disrespect you.  Give strength and comfort to the patients at the Haywood Respite who need a friend, and the folks at A Hope Day Center who feel they don’t have a future.  Love everybody, from Livingston Heights to Pisgah View Apartments.  from the mansions of Biltmore Forrest to under the bridges downtown, being joyful about the hope and possibilities that the Holy Spirit gives each one of us, because God’s grace, mercy, and peace is promised to us all, no matter what.”

We hope this blog series has been helpful to you and your youth group.  May God continue blessing you and your church, so you might in turn be a blessing to others!

Bill Buchanan is a pastor, husband, father, and avid fan of live music.  He’s the Executive Director of Youth Mission Co 

 

 

Mission Our Worship Part 6: What Do You Have to Offer?

Welcome to Part 6 of our blog series, Mission Our Worship.  We are looking at the different parts of worship and considering how we can engage in related acts of mission.

In our last post we discussed that after hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed, we are inspired to stand up and say what we believe.  That’s more than some litany read aloud by a congregation once a week– it’s a call for our whole lives.  Whenever we see injustice or strive in the context of our world, we are called to speak out based on our faith and our convictions.

Today we look at the part of worship known as the “offering.”  No matter what flavor of Christian you might be, this is a part of worship we definitely all hold in common.  (Perhaps because collecting an offering is a major way that churches stay open!)  In the earliest times of our faith (like, Old Testament early) worshippers brought whatever they had to give as an offering.  If they were farmers, they brought their produce.  If they were shepherds, they brought some of their sheep to offer up to God.  Even today in our worship services people bring not only their money, but also their talents. If they are musical, they might offer a song in worship.  If they are an artists, perhaps their art might be utilized to enhance the service and point to God.

Engaging in mission is all about worshiping God through our actions towards others.  It is about loving our neighbors.  So, what do you have to offer…. to God, and to your neighbors?  If you are musical, who needs to hear that song, not just in worship, but in the world?  If you are academically gifted, who can be helped, and benefit from your intelligence?  Are you a good friend?  Who needs a friend right now?  Are you a good writer?  What needs to be said, and to whom?

Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  God doesn’t expect perfect… just faithful.

Next up:  The Prayers of the People.  Stay tuned!!

Mission Our Worship, Part 5: Saying What We Believe

Welcome to Part 5 of our blog series:  Mission Our Worship.  Week by week, we are looking at each section of worship and thinking about how we can engage in acts of mission that are related to each of those elements.  In previous posts we have discussed how God calls us, not only to gather together in worship, but also calls us to love and serve our neighbors.  We have considered how adoration of the creator leads us to care for what God has created.  Confessing our sin requires us to be aware of the ways that we, individually and collectively, have hurt our neighbors through social injustices.  We’ve also talked about how the Spirit uncovers more of the power and meaning of Scripture when we study the Bible in community… particularly with neighbors who are different from us.  Our collective wisdom and collective experiences of life provide a richer soil for our growing understanding of God’s Word and its application in our lives.

Everything that comes after this point in worship is in response to hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed.  For many of us, the sermon is followed each week by some kind of creed or litany.  You could say it is a kind of “dialogue” with the proclaimed Word.  Given what we have just learned from the Scriptures, what do we now have to say in response?

Often this “response” is a statement that is read by the whole congregation.  Often the text of what is said is something that some group of people (past or present) has created as a public declaration about faith and life.  Some classic examples of what I’m talking about are The Apostles Creed and The Nicene Creed.  Those are very old statements, but some are more “modern” (as in, written in the last centruy).  For instance, The Barmen Declaration was written by German Christians in the 1930s because they found it important to say publicly, “Jesus is Lord.  Not Hitler or anybody else.”  All these statements were written within a context, with all the politics, concerns, debates, and societal problems that came with that context.

So, how do we “mission” this part of worship?  In many ways it is by simply doing what so many groups of Christians have done before us… discerning and saying what we believe!  What are the issues and questions that we are discussing as a people today?  Locally, nationally, or globally, what needs to be said, and said together as a group of Christians?

In the past, these statements have typically been made by “official bodies” represneting countries or denominations or elected groups and assemblies.  Technology has now “flattened” alot of those ways of communicating.  Now anyone can make a statement and send it around on social media to see if others agree or disagree.  (Such as, “If you feel this way too, like and share it!”) Another example of how folks have made a statement together is the let’s be neighbors signs that have been put in many front yards or businesses. There’s no “official body” deciding that we all will now believe this statement of inclusion.  But many folks have made the choice to say it, and they have let their neighbors know that they feel this way.

So, what is it that your faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is leading you to believe and say?  What is God putting on your mind and heart that the world needs to hear, at this time and in this context?  What statement can your youth group make together, and how can it be shared with others?

Having heard God’s Word read and proclaimed, let us stand and say what we believe!

 

Bill Buchanan is a pastor, Christian Educator, father, husband, and live music enthusiast.  He’s the Executive Director of Youth Mission Co.

Mission Our Worship, Part 4: Proclamation of the Word

Welcome to Part 4 of our blog series “Mission Our Worship.”  We are spending time looking at each part of a worship service, and then considering how we can do mission activities related to that part of worship.  Here’s a quick re-cap:

Call To Worship:  God not not only calls us to worship, but is calling us throughout the week to serve our neighbors.  Be intentional and mindful of what God is calling you to do, and with whom God is calling you to be in relationship.

Adoration:  In worship we spend time in adoration of God, for who God is and what God has done.  Chief among these is praising God as Creator.  In adoration of the Creator, we can protect and care for God’s creation!

Confession:  This element of worship is all about recognizing how and where we have fallen short of the call and responsibilities that God has given to us.  Likewise, engaging in Christian mission is also about knowing and understanding the social injustices present in the world, and how we have participated in that brokenness.  We do this with a sense of humility and repentance, knowing that God forgives a repentant heart and empowers us to make the world a more just and compassionate place.

Today we will discuss the section of worship that is all about Proclaiming the Word.  For many of us, in our weekly worship services this begins with someone offering a prayer asking God to help us hear and understand the the Bible text(s) for the day.  Then, someone reads one or more passages from the Bible, followed by someone giving a sermon explaining what the passage is really about, and what difference it makes in our lives.

At first glance, the way to “mission our worship” here seems pretty obvious:  we should go out and “preach the gospel” to people in the community!  Certainly this has been a form of mission in the Church for a LONG time.  We even read stories in the Bible where Jesus is seen doing this, as well as the Apostles.  We also have seen (or heard of) evangelists and preachers of more modern times who stand on a street corner, or on a college campus, or at a festival, and “proclaim the gospel” to the passers by.  Typically (or perhaps, stereotypically) it is a message of judgement and shame more than one of hope and compassion.  I would even venture to guess that most of us don’t feel equipped, or interested, in taking part in that kind of mission of proclamation.

Instead, allow me to give you another model of how we can “mission our worship” when it comes to the proclamation of the Word.  Jesus once said, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them.”  (Matthew 18:20) We count on that being the case when it comes to reading and understanding the Bible.  When a group is gathered and is studying a passage together, we get the benefit of everyone’s different perspectives and different experiences that shape who they are and how they see the world.  Therefore, if we study the Bible with people who are different from us, the experience and understanding of the text becomes even richer!

At Asheville Youth Mission, many of our summer groups participate in Bible study sessions with our neighbors who are living on the streets.  At Church of the Advocate, for instance, youth groups bring a reading and artistic interpretation of a Bible passage to their Monday morning Bible study.  Then they engage in conversation with neighbors who are experiencing homelessness and poverty to discuss what everyone sees in the text and what it means in their lives.  At Haywood Street Congregation, groups participate in a worship service with a mix of community members- some poor and some not, some experiencing homelessness and some not.  Through a discussion style sermon, everyone gets to share what they see in the text and what it has to do with the world today.

What are the opportunities in your community to discuss the Bible with people who are different from you?  Do agencies and ministries in your area have Bible studies or open style worship services in which everyone, no matter their socio-economic status, is allowed to participate?  When we are able to both speak and listen, reflect and learn from each other, the Spirit speaks quite loudly.  And when the Spirit is at work, lives are transformed.

Next up, Response To The Word– Saying what we believe.  Stay tuned!!

Bill Buchanan is a pastor, husband, father, and avid college basketball fan.  He’s the Executive Director of Youth Mission Co.