Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I Do

In the last entry, I wrote about how I ended up in Los Angeles. In this one, I’ll explain what I’m doing here. To begin with, my job title is Los Angeles City Host, which means that I lead youth groups/college groups/ school groups on mission trips in inner city LA. CSM sets up a schedule for them and I guide them through their time in the city. Groups are usually here either Sunday evening through Saturday morning or Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. We usually start the morning working at one of the homeless or food ministry sites. After eating lunch there we go to an after school program to tutor and/or hang out with the kids. At night we eat at an ethnic restaurant of some sort and then we head to a park to debrief (process the day). That is our basic schedule in a nutshell; although there are some variances. I’ll likely highlight some of our partner ministry sites in future blogs.
That is the job description, but I want to explain some purpose behind it as well. One of the main goals of CSM is to expose and educate people to the struggles of the city. We also put emphasis on encouraging groups to find ways to serve their own communities when they return home. What it all comes down to is love. God’s love for His children runs deep, and as the body of Christ we must share His love with all of His children, especially those who may feel as though God has forgotten about them. This feeling is connected with the ways our society pushes away the “undesirables” as though they are not people who love and hurt, just like everyone else. Their hearts beat and their stomachs growl in hunger, just like everyone else. There are two parts to my job: as a city host I strive to teach my groups about the realities of the city— its hopes and struggles—and help them hear God through it all; as part of the body of Christ I try to be love to everyone I encounter, to remind them that God has not forgotten about them and that He loves each one of His children. I am by no means saying that I have mastered either one of these; what I am saying is that is the way I am striving to serve God in Los Angeles.

I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from Kevin Blue’s book Practical Justice:
“We are called to be God’s reminder to those who suffer in poverty and injustice that he has not forgotten about them.”

“Direct relief of another’s suffering is a high form of love. Sometimes it requires our money; frequently it requires our time. But most of all, it requires that we see the value and dignity of each person we interact with. It requires that we see who they were created to be more than who they are. It requires that people be more important to us than the list of things we have to do that day or our possessions. It is, after all, the people around us who are eternal, not the stuff we use or the money we make.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Los Angeles? Really??

Some of you may know the story of how I ended up in Los Angeles; but I’m going to share it anyway for those who don’t know it, and because it’s a logical place to begin.
When I returned from Uganda, I moved in with my best friend and her family who so lovingly welcomed me into their home. For a while I helped take care of her twins (who just turned 2). I had expected to find a job teaching for the spring semester. I know it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I started substituting in Tuscaloosa County late in the fall semester. It was a job and a good foot in the door, but it was really frustrating to me because I really wanted to have my own classroom. I pursued several different doors that in turn shut in my face. I was worn out emotionally and incredibly frustrated with the job hunt. I had been missing working in ministry, so I thought about working in that for a season. Also, I felt this pull toward urban ministry. I decided to search for paying internships in ministry to fill the spring before returning to the education job hunt for fall 2010. While searching, I decided that I if I was willing to do something that I would apply and leave it in God’s hands. I knew that if I weighed out all the pros and cons beforehand I would end up really wanting a job that may again not work out. I found the Center for Student Missions online and emailed the home office. The deadline for spring interns was not too far away, so I did my research, prayed, and completed my application to be a city host in Washington D.C. I quickly heard back from the home office that D.C. wasn’t hiring, but inquired whether or not I’d be interested in serving in another city. She told me 4 cities that were still looking for spring interns; I had not been to any of them and none stood out more than another. I told her I would go wherever she thought I’d best work out. She said, “How about Los Angeles?” I said, “Um, ok.” All the while, though, asking God, “Los Angeles?? Really?? Hm…” I interviewed with Rachel, the city director here. Then I went to Nashville to do a site visit and learn more about CSM. Rachel and I both prayed a lot. She called me the first Wednesday of January and asked if I wanted to come work in LA at the end of January. I was so excited. The timing was great. The job really interested me, and I was really excited about working with CSM. I bought a ticket a week later, and now here I am.

From Part I to the Next Season

First, I realize that my last blog is entitled “Part I,” which indicates that there should be a part II. However, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to happen in the near future since it didn’t even happen when I had some time to do it. There are a few blogs that need to be written to wrap up my time in Uganda; for one reason or another, though, I didn’t invest the mental/emotional energy into processing things like I should have. I wanted to quickly write them before beginning a blog for Los Angeles, but I won’t ever get around to writing blogs for here if I do that. All that to say, for now I’m going to have to skip ahead and leave out some stuff. However, feel free to ask any questions you may have. So, now my blog is shifting from life in Uganda to thoughts on life in LA.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Uganda Survey Part I

During my missionary internship in 2007, I was with one other girl—Sam Strange. To make a long story short, Sam decided to visit me in Uganda so that we could do a survey of sorts for future mission work. Uganda is so very different from Mozambique and someone who is considering mission work in Africa needs to experience at least a taste of those differences. So Sam and her brother Nathan met me in Uganda to set out on a three week trip exploring Uganda. I would love to give more detailed accounts of each place and our experiences, but for now I’m going to focus on what we did. We had planned to go to Gulu after their arrival in Entebbe, but the weather was not too good so we stayed in Kampala instead. I took them to the mall and we slept at a guest house, nothing very exciting. The next morning we got on a bus headed to Gulu. At first Gulu seemed like a waste of time, but we had to get some focus and really rely on God to guide us and lead us to what we needed to see. We stumbled on the office of Favour of God Ministries where we went in to see what they did. We talked with the director for a while and then the District Speaker came in. Both men were very nice and helpful in providing information about Gulu, the Acholi people, and the needs in the area. After that we went to Grace Academy (I talked about this place in my post about my trip to Gulu) for Sam to see the clinic there. Then we went to the Invisible Children office where I talked with the director of the teacher exchange program for a while; it was a much better experience this time. Since we had stayed in Kampala the first night, we only had one night in Gulu, which isn’t very long considering how long it takes to get there. The next morning we called the District Speaker and set up a meeting with him. We went to his office and learned much about governments and politics. Then he arranged for us to go to an Internally Displaced Peoples camp. What was supposed to be a 2 hr max trip took more like 4 hrs (this is Africa!), but we met with people in 3 different camps asking them about their lives and needs, both physical and spiritual. These camps that we went to were not the original IDP camps, but more like temporary villages between the camps and their home villages. After rushing back into town, we caught the bus just in time to make the 5 hr trip back to Kampala. In Kampala we stayed with Darla, an NTCC missionary. The next morning we met with a driver we’d hired to take us around western Uganda. After getting all the paper work settled, we headed to Fort Portal to stay with the NTCC missionaries there, Jeff and Cheryl Cash, and visit other teammates, Andrew and Aimee Jo Martin. We learned about the mission work in Fort Portal and enjoyed spending time hanging out with Cheryl, Aimme Jo, and their kids (the men were in Kampala). We also were blessed to worship with the congregation in Fort Portal on Sunday morning. I started to get sick and was worried that I had malaria again…

Rwanda Part II: The Harvest

On Saturday we did some of the site-seeing stuff. We started out by going to a basket weaving place, but this wasn’t an ordinary shop. This is the shop where Bono and Oprah special order things and the shop that ships baskets for retail at Macy’s Department Stores. We met the owner of the shop- a very inspiring, strong woman- and then browsed through stacks and stacks of baskets. It will be neat to see them for sale in Macy’s. While there, we unintentionally met with the Gardeners from the Jinja team and a group of Pepperdine students. After chatting and browsing, we headed to the Sonatube roundabout to meet up with a driver that Murphy had arranged for us. Our driver had only been in Rwanda for about 2 weeks; he was a grad student from Harding who had come to Kigali to conduct workshops on improving reading strategies in the classrooms. Instead of leaving after the couple of weeks like planned, he signed a contract to teach at the new international school in Kigali. The only reason I am sharing this is to show one example of just how much people can fall in love with this land, how it infiltrates your life never allowing you to be the same or return to the same course for your life. But, that is a different blog altogether… Anyway, despite still suffering from jet lag, he was a good tour guide. (And, it was really nice to not have to take public all over town). Instead of a “play by play” of what we did, I’ll focus on the highlights. At the top of each of our lists was visiting the Genocide Memorial Center. Many of you know that Rwanda suffered through atrocious crimes against humanity during the 1994 genocide. This memorial center is in honor of the victims and a warning to the future. Walking through the exhibits looking at picture after picture of man at his worst was heart-wrenching, but walking through those exhibits while the victims and their family members led groups through the museum was heart-breaking. You don’t have to look at the pictures on the wall or listen to the stories from the videos, because you can see the effects for yourself by looking at the scars on the guy behind you and listening to the stories being told by the woman in front of you. It was fascinating and disgusting at the same time. Disgusting that mankind is even capable of such violence. Fascinating to see just how much mankind can endure and still move forward. Inspiring would be another very appropriate word for that, but it is better used to describe the state of spirituality in Rwanda. Rwanda is very ripe for the Harvest. Victims and perpetrators alike are working together, loving and forgiving, to move forward as a country. Their drive to move forward and work to ensure that the past does not repeat itself is inspiring. God is working in and among the Rwandan people, and it is exciting and awesome! Sunday at church we worshiped with genocide orphans; from time to time they come together as family because they have no other family. Watching them praise God and praising Him alongside them was uplifting. Sunday night we worshiped with many of the missionaries in Kigali at the Shewmaker’s home. Although our trip to Kigali was short, it was well worth the 24+ hours of being on public on African roads to get there and back. Please pray for the missionaries working in Rwanda and pray for the people of Rwanda. You can find out more info on the Kingdom work there at the following website:

Rwanda Part I: Missionary Life Learning

Oh, June…
The month of June was crazy busy for me… actually the months of April, May, and June. The short amount of time I had to rest between taking Jennifer and Mary Beth to the airport to fly home for furloughs and my trip to Rwanda was spent trying to recover from utter exhaustion. I’ll begin with Rwanda. Rather than writing a blog of epic length about Rwanda, I decided to break them up. For the first I will focus briefly on the missionaries we met. I’ll write about what we did while there in the next.

After a full day on a bus from Kampala, Julie, Kimberly, and I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda on 12 June sometime after 7pm. We had contacted Murphy Crowson before leaving Mbale. The Crowsons graciously opened their home to us when we arrived and cooked dinner for us, even sharing some precious American goodies. Another family also graciously opened their home to us allowing us to stay there even though they themselves were out of town. (Actually we had met them along the way when we spent a night in Kampala. They were on their way to Jinja for a visit.) Although we didn’t sleep in the Crowson’s home, they were wonderful hosts to us and helped us arrange anything we wanted or needed to do while in Kigali. We met several kind missionaries while there. The Koonce family is on a team with the Crowsons. Both families served many years in Togo before moving to Rwanda earlier this year; they are currently working on language study in Kigali before moving to another city in the northwest. We spent an evening worshiping at Sam and Nancy Shewmakers home along with several other missionaries and a visiting group of Pepperdine students who were being led by some of our teammates from Jinja. I very much enjoyed meeting the missionaries there, some of whom will remain in Kigali to serve and others of whom will move out of the city eventually. I wish we could have spent more time talking with the Koonces and Crowsons, but we had to return to Uganda. Despite being such a short time, I learned much from these missionaries.

A Pool of Blessings

The end of school was very much like it is anywhere: final projects, final exams, classroom clean up, grade calculations, and some play time. After my students completed all of their final projects and exams (which they all did very well on), we had some time to just have fun together. Initially I had thought that I would write something about their projects, but most of you wouldn’t be too interested in that. So, if you are curious about any assignments or projects I’ve given at any point this year, I’ll be more than happy to share. I gathered all the writing assignments that my older students did this spring and bound most of them together into a book the girls titled “MMS: Rhyme and Reason 2009.” This collection of writings is very dear to me. My students grew a lot in several facets; their growth as writers is one such area, and I am very proud of them.

On the last day of school we had a pool party at the Mbale Resort Hotel. School ended early and we all headed for a fun time at the pool all the while hoping that the rain would cooperate. We ate snacks and played games in the pool. It was the first time that I’ve been able to be just “Crystal” and not “Miss Crystal” with the boys. I don’t know how much fun the boys had playing keep away in the pool with some old girls, but it is a very precious memory to me. I did grow very close to those kids, and I miss them a whole lot. I have been deeply blessed by my students and my work in Uganda, and I am deeply thankful that God sent me to work with the Mbale Mission Team.