Monday, June 29, 2009

Experiencing Poverty Firsthand

Thursday morning I woke up at 5:00 am knowing that this was my last opportunity to shower and brush my teeth for several days. This was knowledge that our 14 students did not share with me because our staff team had kept the plans for our Poverty Simulation under wraps. At 5:30 am our students were told that they were entering the next phase of project - our Poverty Simulation. They were given 7 minutes to go back to their rooms to collect 3 personal items that they would like to keep with them for the next few days (up to a week) while they would be homeless. The clothes they chose to wear would be the clothes they were going to wear that whole time. Their keys and phones were taken and they were kicked out of the building at 7:00 am and told not to return until 5:30 pm. Wow! Well, there are certainly a lot more details that went into this simulation, but I don't want to give too much away. I was the only staff member to also take part in the simulation, which included sleeping on a hardwood floor, eating an average of 1 meal a day, and not showering for the several days that our simulation lasted.

I can truly say that I would not have been able to understand poverty as I do if I had not taken part in this simulation. But living in poverty as a simulation is nothing compared to the realities that people face every day in the world. It's true that this experience was aimed at getting us to understand the physical poverty that people face, but its goal was also to show us the spiritual poverty that everyone has.

Smelly, uneducated, lazy, oppressed, on the wrong end of calamity, and without hope. Physically, yes, there are many people in the world who fit this description. Spiritually, absolutely everyone fits this description:

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved." - Ephesians 2:1-5

Beloved, without Christ we are all spiritually poor and there is very little that is appealing about us. But thank the Lord for his HUGE grace! He has made us alive in Christ!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Upside Down Kingdom

Our theme for this summer is "Upside Down Kingdom." This idea is based upon how Jesus lived when he walked this earth and what he taught. In his famous sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke these words:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Did you get that? We are blessed when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we're meek, when we're insulted... Does that seem upside down in comparison to the values of this world?
Doesn't everything around us say that people are blessed when they get rich, look out for themselves, diet and exercise to be exactly the right shape...?

Our students get to experience firsthand how God's kingdom is upside down compared to what our world values. In our first weekly meeting last Tuesday night, our director Erick talked on exactly this topic.

In other events of this past week, I had a little fun with the girls in my action group by having them create small boats out of various materials that had to transport 3 stones across trays of water. But the girls couldn't use their hands:

Also, I was thoroughly celebrated on my birthday and throughout the week with lots of different sweets, gifts and other fun surprises :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In Full Swing!

Well, the students all arrived safely about 11 days ago now and it has been a whirlwind since. We have gone through hours upon hours of training, plus loads of free time! ( the free time was an exaggeration - that first week was rather tight with activities, but we did have a chance to play some games and get some custard.)
Let me introduce you to our students...

Above are the men (including staff men), from left to right:
Erick, Kirk, Enoch, Josh, Nate, Andrew, Ben, Chris, Jeff and Thad.Above are the women, from left to right:
Gretchen, Sarah, Heidi, Shira, Annie, Ashley, Kaylan, Megan and Elisa.

I am leading an Action Group, which is a fancy name for Bible study, and our group has five women. Sarah, Shira, Ashley, Kaylan and Elisa are the women in my Action Group. I am so excited about getting to know these women. They all have different backgrounds, but one thing they do share: they are all very QUIET. Man, I thought I was a shy person, but about 12 out of the 14 members of our group are extreme introverts! It was painful at times getting them to talk. The good thing is that in our small group, the women have really been opening up and it's so evident that God is working in their hearts.

This week 5 of the students are serving breakfast each morning at a local food pantry and are getting the opportunity to not only serve the guests, but also start conversations with the guests and with other volunteers about spiritual topics.
The other 9 students are either starting their full time jobs for the summer or are in the process of job searching. These students will be working every day with coworkers that they'll have opportunities to have spiritual conversations with.

Please be praying for:
-opportunities and boldness to share the gospel at the food pantry and at work places
-unity of the group
-God's preparation of the students to step into leadership once the staff leaves in July

Thank you all! I don't want to make my blogs too long and tedious to read, so I didn't include much detail, but if you would like to hear more, I'd be happy to share :)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Meet the Staff!

From left to right:
Me :)
Andrea Urban - On staff with Here's Life Inner City - Milwaukee. She is our Associate Project Director, which means that she's our head honcho for the women and a stinkin' awesome social activities coordinator.
Erick Lettner - Campus director with Campus Crusade for Christ for the Milwaukee Metro area. He is our Project Director, which means that he's leading our men and is heading up our weekly meeting team.
Jeff Hoffman
- Director of Here's Life Inner City - Milwaukee. This man has an extraordinary heart for Milwaukee. He is around for the first 2 weeks of project and is helping with finances and a lot of behind the scenes work that he probably doesn't get enough credit for.
Kirk Johnson - On staff with Greater Iowa. I feel like Kirk is a surfer at heart because of all the "dudes" he throws into conversation. He is also helping lead the men and will be coordinating outreaches.
Kara Atkinson - On staff with Here's Life Inner City - Milwaukee. Kara has one of the hardest jobs, I think. She is coordinating all of our meals (wow!) and taking care of finances and coordinating with our ministry partners. This girl is not getting enough credit for her hard work.

This week has been great preparing for our students to come. We have gotten quite a bit done and have had some great times getting to know one another as a staff team.

The students arrive TODAY and we are just so excited to have them, although I think we're all kind of feeling a bit of "I wish we had more time to prepare!" But things are coming along for the most part. I've had so many details running through my head, but the most important thing that I've been reminded of is that God needs to be my number one priority. Without keeping that perspective, all these details are pretty worthless.

Please be praying for the students' travels today and that all goes according to God's plan!