For many of us, the days between Christmas and New Year is a great time to reflect on the year gone by, and maybe get in a bit of rest and relaxation as we prepare for the year ahead. In the last week of 2014, 15 participants (11 high school and college-aged youth and young adults and 4 leaders) gave up a portion of their vacation from school and work to learn and reach out in service in Chicago.
In participating in this new urban mission opportunity supported by the Board of World Mission, many of the group experienced something new, too. Two team members traveled alone by air for the first time; another was participating in their first mission trip ever. Participants traveled from five states (North Carolina, Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota) and seven congregations to take part. When all had arrived it was also a “new group” as this was the first time this group of people were all together in the same place.
The team worked hard, arriving December 28 and departing for home on New Year’s Eve. In this short time the group connected with three service organizations that led them through varied activities to serve, and to learn about and discuss issues including homelessness, hunger, poverty and cultural awareness.
The group took part in a “Night Walk,” where the youth were given a chance to walk the streets of Chicago one evening using all of their senses to explore what it means to be homeless. They specifically saw what it was to be a homeless young adult in an urban setting, with the difficulty of getting connected to any services that may be available.
The group also learned about other worship traditions by participating in a prayer service at a Native American Christian congregation. This was followed by conversation on contemporary social justice issues such as race relations and the depiction of Native Americans as mascots.
And the group helped prepare and serve a meal to low income and homeless individuals at a local church, taking time to then sit with those they served to learn and be in community.
One leader, Rev. Kurt Liebenow, who serves Christian Faith Moravian Church in Deforest, Wis., offered this reflection: “It was an eye-opening time to experience such a variety of issues from justice issues with American Indians, to the cause, effect and care for homeless teens, to the charity of feeding people. Each one could be taken to a deep level of involvement. I am grateful and better for being a part of this team. I’m also very impressed with the young adults who chose to participate and lend themselves and their time to learn and grow in their faith. It wasn’t as much about their participation as it was their heart to be together and genuine desire to make a difference in how life is lived.”
Alexis McCarn, a young adult participant from Christ Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., was one of those who traveled alone by air for the first time to take part, arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International, one of the world’s busiest airports. In addition, she stepped outside her comfort zone, joining a team in which she had never met any of the other participants in person.
Intrigued by a flyer for the trip she saw posted online, she decided to act on the call God had placed on her heart to be a part of the team. Reflecting on the experience, Alexis shared, “I learned that if I should ever get the chance to do something that I’ve never done before but will help to make a positive impact, I should do it. The place I went to and the people I met were incredibly amazing. I left Chicago with fifteen great new friends. I left with perspective of what it’s like being a Native American Christian in the U.S. and a different perspective on homelessness and socioeconomic problems in general. This experience was truly life-changing and amazing.
“Through it all, I’m thankful for absolutely everything. I am so glad to recognize a new definition of the word mission and that it is to inform and to be informed. It reminds me of the quote that encourages us to be educated because that is the one thing ‘no one can take away from you.’ I believe this is true. I also believe that doing God’s work with people who share the same belief can only lead to great and wonderful things.”
This group of youth and young adults now returns to their home congregations across the U.S. with the knowledge that they gained in their minds and the relationships that they built in their hearts. If you know one of the youth who took part in this trip, we encourage you to ask them, “What did you learn, and how did it impact your faith journey?”
The Board of World Mission is very thankful to this team for being pioneers, taking part in the first BWM team to Chicago. This great experience has opened many doors for many types of groups to come and continue building relationships in this city. A partnership with the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago provides great lodging at a very affordable price, and is perfectly located as a base for any teams looking to serve in the city.
The BWM has produced a “how to get started” resource containing information about pricing and service sites, with the hope of forming and sending many teams to build an ongoing relationship with ministries in Chicago. We encourage any with interest in leading or taking part on a team in Chicago to contact the BWM. You can reach out directly by emailing Justin@moravianmission.org for more information! ν
Justin Rabbach is director of mission engagement for the Board of World Mission for the Moravian Church in America.
From the January/February 2015 Moravian Magazine