When Moravians think of “mission,” we typically envision working in different countries and strange cultures. But for a group of 14 Moravians, their mission took them not across the ocean but to the “distant” streets of Chicago, Illinois.
In late December the team of young people and adults met in the Windy City and dedicated their time to serving those in need through the Chicago Urban Immersion opportunity, an outreach of the Board of World Mission.
This is the second year for the Urban Immersion effort in Chicago. Participants arrived from North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois and were housed at the Lutheran Youth Center on the campus of the Lutheran School of Theology.
Serving the homeless
The first day was devoted to assisting at the Pacific Garden Mission, the largest homeless shelter in Chicago, which operates seven days a week, year ‘round. The shelter can accommodate approximately 2000 men, women, and children per night, with some units available for long-term residents.
The team helped prepare over 600 bunk beds, sometimes stacked three high, to be used that night by male overnight guests. They also set, cleaned up and reset the dining room for lunch and some of the team assisted serving lunch to about 800 male guests.
Following the work at the Mission, the team toured the Pacific Garden facility which once housed a greenhouse. While the Mission has not always operated from this site, the organization has been serving the needs of the community for 138 years.
Food stamps are no SNAP
On the second day members participated in the “SNAP challenge,” a simulation that helps participants learn what it is like to purchase food with food stamps. Each person was given $1.50 to purchase his or her lunch at a local grocery store. They were able to collaborate with another person or spend their money individually. Some very creative meals resulted, but each participant gained a better understanding for the challenges facing poorer citizens.
In the afternoon the team worked together to prepare chicken and rice casserole, brownies, and salad for the 40 residents of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter for their evening meal.
Between preparation and serving at the shelter, the team visited the Lincoln Park Zoo and enjoyed a dazzling light display that is accompanied by music. This exhibit is free to the public. When the team arrived back at the Community Shelter, they received a greeting and facility information from the evening coordinator, and then served the meal.
While the residents ate there was also an opportunity for the team members to sit and visit at the tables. This was an especially meaningful experience to be able to learn people’s names and share stories from the variety of life perspectives.
“It was an eye opening experience,” said Johanna Dertinger of Waconia, Minn. “It was amazing to see how faith works in places where people are experiencing low points in their lives. Everyone was so grateful that we were there and it felt great knowing we made a difference even just for one day.”
Regrouping and sharing
Following the experiences at each of the shelters, the team regrouped at the youth center to debrief and discuss what they encountered. Discussion topics included pre-service perceptions, post-service reflections, the variety of people they served and served alongside, the environment of the facilities and the ways in which God may use this new found information to influence and direct their lives.
“It was definitely a trip that I would do again in a heartbeat,” said Morgan Seitz of Appleton, Wis. “It was so great knowing that we made a difference in even one person’s life.”
Alexis Srenaski of Green Bay, Wis., agreed. “As one of my first experiences with missionary work outside of Green Bay, I felt that it was an experience that allowed me to learn a lot. It was a great feeling to know that I could help people and see how others live that may not have the help and opportunities that I do. It is definitely an experience I would recommend to others.”
With a greater awareness of needs that exist, this team of youth and young adults were eager to return home and make a difference in their own communities. n
From the January/February 2016 Moravian Magazine