This could not be truer of the mission trip that our youth group went on the first week of June to Chicago. We took 18 on the trip and everyone was excited to serve, but none of us were ready for the amazing experiences that would follow.
Upon arriving in Chicago, we were lead on a 2 hour prayer and educational driving tour of the city. Here we learned about the historical and current racial and economic divides in the city. Our hearts were opened to the city of Chicago.
Each day, our group divided into two groups, the guys and the girls (it just worked out that way). Each morning the girls went to Carole Robertson, a non-profit that provides various child, youth, and family development programs. Our group worked with their Head Start program, which helps provide classroom training and education for preschoolers. “The kids that we played with were so full of joy and wonder, and greeted us with open arms every day we were there. It really made us feel like we belonged and were contributing to the community.” – Katie Vincler (Youth)
The guys group spent the first three mornings working at an inner-city YMCA helping to set up and clean for their upcoming summer children’s program that they provide for the community. We even saw the guys' arts and crafts side as they made beautiful banners to hang around the room to remind the children they were loved. One had the quote “PLAY is the highest form of research” – Albert Einstein.
After lunch each day, there were a variety of projects that the two groups helped with including, leading games and activities at three retirement homes, serving in a local soup kitchen that serves between 90-220 hot meals every day of the year, and helping in a local food pantry that allow patrons to shop for food like a grocery store. Each experience and project allowed us to meet amazing people who ran the organizations and those amazing people who came to them.
On Friday, our group has the unique experience to participate in a “I AM FOR PEACE” march. This march was organized by high school students in the Chicago area who were tired of having some many of their friends dying in gang violence. Our teens marched with 3,000 other teens and teachers down the street of Chicago shouting “I AM…FOR PEACE.” I am not sure any of us will have the chance to be a part of something like this again.
While all of this would have made for a great mission trip, there was one experience that truly changed us all. On Tuesday afternoon, our whole group came together and was led in a sort of homeless simulation. We were divided into groups of 3 youth and 1 adult. Each person was given a map, a city transportation pass, and $2 for dinner. Our task was to take on the persona of run-away, homeless teens. They used the map and city trains to get to their designated areas. Once there, they were to talk to local homeless persons that they met to find out where the best place was to get a cheap meal and place to spend the night.
In doing so, the homeless people we talked to opened up about their stories. They shared about their families, jobs, travels, and their brokenness. EVERYONE HAS BROKENESS, SOME JUST HAVE MORE TO HIDE BEHIND THAN CARDBOARD.
One of our groups was given the location of a church that provides meals for homeless. As they entered, they were immediately greeted and asked if they were there to volunteer; but our group shared that we were there to eat. It was a gut check for our group AND those running the soup kitchen. “Talking with the homeless, while it is something ‘we’ are strongly advised against, proved that these are people with hopes and dreams, and stories that would make anyone rethink their perspective.” – Katie Vincler (Youth)
There was no way around it, we had met Jesus, and our lives were changed.
The day after this experience was when we were scheduled to have a free afternoon to explore the city. We saw the Zoo, the Bean, Millennium Park, and of course ate some deep dish pizza!
Something interested happened as we walked to the pizza place. We walked by many homeless, and our hearts were broken. Why did we get to spend money on this amazing pizza and yet our new friends were left hungry on the street?
An idea was born. We made sure to order plenty of pizza, which was amazing, and we individually boxed up the extra slices. The youth proceeded to write notes and prayers of encouragement on the boxes. Then on our way back, we handed out pizza to the homeless we passed on the way in. Each time we offered to pray with them, and once we had one return the favor and pray for us!
The only way to describe it is that this was a Kingdom of God moment; the typical barriers that each would have towards the other no longer existed and we were all God’s creation.