This is most of our group playing Silent Football at the church one night.Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. Acts 4:8-10 (NKJV)
This past week, I went to Nashville, Tennessee with 26 other people to serve people less fortunate than me. This trip just showed me how blessed I really am. Even the first day, I learned that there are so many people that live on so little. Thousands of people in Nashville live on less than $10,000 a year and over 13% of the population lives on under $20,000 a year.There is government housing (where the tenant is only required to pay a percentage of what they make) but that only does so much. Many people still are homeless because they just can't afford to pay for a place to live.
Our church sent 27 people on this mission trip, 5 adults and 22 teenagers. We had way too many people to work in one place, so we were split up into 'Serve Groups' for most of the week. This way, we could help twice the amount of people and didn't have anyone sitting around doing nothing. This post will be from my serve group's perspective, which is different than the other serve group. :)
Every morning we went to Y-CAP. (YMCA's Community Action Project) and played with middle school aged kids. They allowed us to put on a skit every morning pertaining to a Bible story. The skits included the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, the Good Samaritan and Daniel and the Lions Den. A lot of the children enjoyed the skits and seemed to get a lot out of them. After the skits, we would play a game to get them all moving, such as Sharks and Minnows. Then we would break out into groups called 'Breakouts' and some kids were in a cooking class (my group :D), some reviewed movies, and others played sports. When the Breakouts were done, we would leave. The kids were loud and crazy and at times I didn't know how to respond because my parents raised me so differently than these kids are being raised. But, I had to remind myself that these children don't all have the luxury of having 2 parents, or even having a meal. You could just tell that there was hurt inside them.
We would then go eat our lunches at the church, a park, or downtown with homeless people. The first afternoon after lunch, we packed nearly 1,500 boxes full of food via 'Feed the Children'. The boxes were going to be sent to the tornado victims in Alabama. They were filled with water bottles, canned green beans, canned pinto beans, peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, canned carrots, spaghetti noodles, rice, boxed macaroni and cheese and cornflakes. It really felt like we were doing something to help someone, and at the end, we realized that we had aided in feeding nearly 1,500 families of 4.
That night, we went on a Prayer Tour of downtown Nashville. We saw the 'pretty' side of downtown (Music Row) and tons of recording studios followed by the part of town where people live way below the poverty line. It was just so sad to think that so many people are so wealthy, while others cannot even feed their family. During the prayer tour, we made a stop in front of the capitol building and prayed for the government on government property. Most countries don't have the freedom to pray in public, let alone on government property, so it was really cool. We also laid on the sidewalk between the stadium that the Tennessee Titans play at and a juvenile justice center. It was crazy to think of how much hurt goes on at the juvenile justice center, while a football stadium right across the street is packed with people seemingly oblivious to this hurt, at nearly every game. We just prayed for both sides of the road. We prayed that the people at the stadium would come to know Jesus and that although we seem to worship football, that it is NOT Jesus. We also prayed for the kids at the justice center, that they would know that there are people that care about them.
The next afternoon, we went to NICE, which helps immigrant children learn how to read and write in English. It was really cool to see all the different walks of life and cultures and how well they have adjusted already. Some of the kids had only been in the states for a few months, others for nearly their whole lives. This program will help the children so much during the summer as they prepare to go to school next year. The kids were all so different, yet were so similar in the fact that they all were in the same boat. They were all new to America and were learning to live outside of their country and culture.
Let me explain dinner! The first night, we went out for Thai food, which was pretty good. The next night, we ate Swett's Soul food (fried chicken, mashed potatoes...). The following night we went for Ethiopian food. We got platters of food and baskets of sponge bread. You ate it without silverware only picking up the food with pieces of sponge bread. I think Mark (our CSM leader) and I were the only ones who liked it everyone else wanted to go to White Castle afterwards. Then, the last night we went to Cock of the Walk where nearly everything was fried. It was really good as well :)
One night, we went out onto a bridge and prayed for the city as we were looking out over downtown. The diversity of the city is just so sad. There are so many people hurting, whether they are living way under the poverty line of are in the nightlife of the city. It was so sad to think that while I am by no means rich myself, I go to Starbucks every once in awhile, and go out for meals without even thinking how much it will cost. We learned that many people are day laborers who make minimum wage and then have to rent the tools to work with. So many people are taken advantage of and therefore cannot afford anything.
One of the afternoons we went downtown to try to find a homeless person to eat lunch with. We walked, and walked, and walked, and walked and walked some more and still only saw people that were in town for the CMA awards. Finally after nearly 3 hours of walking around, we spotted two men. We approached them and asked them if they wanted some lunch their response was "We are alcoholics, we don't know what lunch is...we just eat whenever." They did agree to let us sit with them, though. We got them to tell us their stories which were pretty interesting. Charles was standoffish at first and said that his story made him cry, so he wouldn't tell it to us. So, then David started to tell us his story and Charles interrupted him with his own story. Charles seemed to be under the influence of some drug or alcohol, so his story may not have been accurate, but he seemed to be hurting very much. He said that when he was about my age he shot and killed both his best friend and girlfriend. He then went to jail, I believe for 20 years, and then when he got out, he moved out to the streets. He felt as though God could never forgive him for what he had done. We tried to explain to him that God loves us and forgives us despite what we've done in the past, but he just felt he wasn't worthy of God's love. This just broke my heart, he knew so much of the Bible but didn't feel as though he could accept the only gift that could give him eternal life.
This trip just opened my eyes to the fact that not all people are homeless or below the poverty line because they are lazy and never work. So many people work their tails off and just can't afford to make ends meet, while homeless people sometimes don't even remember what it is like to live a normal life. Homeless people are hardly ever given a chance because of their appearance, but they really can't take a shower, or get clean water, food, or clean clothes to go get a job. I realized how blessed I am and how much I take for granted. I just wish I could have helped more and stayed longer, but CSM (Center for Student Missions) that organizes everything that youth groups do there will have other youth groups coming in all summer to help more and more people. This was an amazing and life changing opportunity and I hope to be able to do something similar in the future.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
-Matthew 25:34-36, 40 (NIV)