We’ve had two teams come and go, and saying good-bye has been difficult both times. Thinking about all of the different people we’ve met so far (not even half way through, mind you) astounds me. I think about “Mike the Pilot” from Texas, and his good-natured approach to life; I think about Cheryl from Nebraska, who is ever the optimist and a hard worker, who asked for nothing and gave everything she had. I think I’ve probably met some of the funniest people in the United States as they’ve come in through the Experience Mission trips. It makes me sad to think that I probably won’t see them again, but I’m joyful that they got to do so much for the Portland community while they were here.
This last week, the Nebraska/New Jersey group (lovingly dubbed ‘Nebrersey’) got to work with the Wayside Soup Kitchen, a brand new connection we made the week before. They learned the “ways of the warehouse” from Matt (a great guy who’s expecting a baby soon… baby names anyone?) and we helped grow food to be used in Wayside’s kitchen, a new venture being pioneered by Jake, a volunteer coordinator at the soup kitchen. Betty, the sweetest elderly lady you’ll ever meet, donated the garden where the food is being grown and she was extremely thankful for the teams to come in and give a boost to the project. She said “thank you” by giving us lemonade and muffins! We spent the morning on Monday building trellises and planting beans, hopefully growing a crop to feed lots of hungry patrons at the soup kitchen.
We continued our work with the Portland Housing Authority, trying to make the low-income housing a better place to live. We also returned to Preble Street’s food kitchen and made breakfast with Sean, who is working in the area as a Jesuit Volunteer. The kids missed the group from Texas a lot, especially Rondo, but they quickly grew to love the Nebrersey team. I don’t know if the teams can really realize it, but the relationships they’ve built with the kids here have really made a difference. Lives have been changed for the better, and they continue to be changed by lasting impressions made during the one-week tenures of the groups.
This week has been the EM Team’s week off! We needed it, and we’ve been utilizing it by seeing the sights, being lazy, and getting a -little- bit of work done on the side! We went to Portland Headlight, Peak’s Island, and a ton of other amazing places. We’re praying to be refreshed for the next four weeks of teams, and that we won’t become weary (of each other!) before our time is done here. Thank God for all the things he has done thus far, and thank God for all of the things he will do for Portland, Maine.
by: Chuck Zimmerman
For more information about Experience Mission visit us on our website at www.ExperienceMission.org
It’s crazy to think we’ve only been in Portland for eight days. We spent the first week doing a crazy amount of preparation for our first team, who came from San Antonio, TX. They’re a great group of people, eager to jump in and help as much as possible. Mary, one of the team leaders, loves dancing and singing with the kids, teaching them new songs, and getting the ‘tough guys’ to join in as well. Callen, one of the guys, comes up with hilarious songs each day to teach the kids Bible verses. Everyone is offering a little piece of something bigger and greater than themselves, giving the kids here a memorable experience. As summer staff, Christine, Michelle, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group, and I have no problem telling them that to their faces. On Monday, we went to the homeless ministry on Preble Street and we volunteered our time to cook breakfast for hundreds of homeless patrons. We made great friends, initiated relationships, and made a stinkin’ good breakfast, if I do say so myself. The work projects we’ve started this week include: General maintenance in the Root Cellar (the non-profit we are working with), working with the Portland Housing Authority (painting low-income housing for the poor as a beautification project), and eventually we’ll be working with the elderly, helping them around their homes when they can no longer help themselves.
The staff at the Root Cellar has been great; the amount of food they’ve been trying to force-feed us has left us feeling extremely blessed. We were shown around the kitchen by Peggy, assisted in work project planning by Becky, and told the best ways to work with the kids by Clark. Cori Lyons, a former EM Staff Member, came to help us prep last week, and her experience was invaluable. Without all of these people around us, well… let’s just say we’re glad we’ve had them along for this crazy ride so far.
Looking forward the rest of the week and the crazy songs that Callen, Oscar, Jeff, and I can come up with, we pray that God lets us be as effective as we can be.
For more information about Experience Mission visit us on our website at www.ExperienceMission.org
You can also follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LiveYourMission or become our fan on Facebook.
We’re here in Portland, Maine for our second day of preparation… and we’re already beat. We were given the grand tour of the Root Cellar, a great non-profit organization that emphasizes community development in a Christ-centered way. We’ve also been ‘hoofing’ it around the streets of Portland, getting familiar with our missions field. A couple of things we’ve learned: Brick sidewalks are sweet, seafood gets steadily more awesome the closer you are to the ocean, it can actually hail in sixty five degree weather, and this community is a thriving and changing place. We’re excited to be working with the different populations in the area, ranging from Iraqis to Sudanese to Rwandan immigrants, all of them very unique, bringing something versatile and endearing to the community.
The shops in the area reflect the true ‘melting pot’ culture, and walking the streets is always a joy. We’re also working with a church in the area; it’s smack dab in the middle of all the shops and busyness, and it’s a quaint nod to churches of Portland antiquity while still remaining purposeful and relevant to the surrounding area. It’s been great listening to Stuart and Keith, the caretakers of the church, tell us about how people in the community have provided things for the church as they’ve needed them, and how appreciative and amazed they are at how God provides. It’s always fantastic seeing real, genuine Christians striving to make a difference in their given communities, and it gives me hope that we can really mesh and involve ourselves deeply to perpetuate lasting change while we’re here.
My prayer for the teams this summer is that, while they are part of just a week long short-term missions trip, they could really show this community a little piece of the kingdom of heaven. I pray that as individuals, we will do good deeds selflessly, pointing in the direction of Christ as our inspiration for our actions. Every relationship we build, no matter how short-lived, will have a lasting change if we build them in the mindset of one who follows Christ.
Our team (Michelle, Christine, and I) is very excited to be the conduit for a glorious exchange of love and energy in this community, and we anxiously await the arrival of our first team. All of this to say… Hello, Portland. Get ready.
Experience Mission is offering Summer 2011 mission trips to Portland and other locations in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.experiencemission.org or call 360-732-0986 for more information.
By Mo Scarpelli
Twins Arnet and Noel Le used to see their friend Trizznie Van every day in the neighborhood. He remembers her watching them play basketball, he remembers her playing Uno and checkers, and he remembers her sitting out on the steps leading up to his apartment building.
Two years ago, though, he formed a memory he wishes never happened – he saw her body wheeled away from her house in a body bag.
“It really shocked me,” said 16-year-old Arnet Le, who glimpsed Trizznie’s feet as she was taken out of her house a final time by the paramedics. “She’d talk about wanting to kill herself when she was angry, but I didn’t think she had the guts to really do it.”
Not more than a week after graduating from Gideons Elementary, the 14-year-old girl allegedly rigged two belts to a closet rod in her room in Capital View Apartments and hung herself.
The tragedy barely made the newspaper in a city of more than half a million people, especially coming from the Pittsburgh Community, a neighborhood where residents hear gunshots several nights a week.
But it devastated a core of people in the local neighborhood, too – the Salvation Army Lakewood Corps, to be precise.
“For her to turn up dead really shocked us into action,” said Captain Platt, director of the Lakewood Corps. “After Trizznie was buried, it really began to affect us that she was one of our kids. We decided we didn’t want to do outreach for outreach’s sake there – she gave us focus and mission for the kids.”
Captain Platt remembers first hearing the news. He grabbed a one of his cadets and drove to CVA, an area visited every so often by the Corps.
Platt, whose own daughter is only a couple of days from Trizzie’s age, shakenly walked up to the young girl’s house, ready to console and assist her family and neighbors.
“Some of the kids were outside talking, just hours after it happened,” Platt said. “And I realized, here I am trying to compose myself and these kids standing outside are already in the gossiping.”
To Platt, the scene was a clear example of how at-risk youth develop a defense mode that’s hard to break down.
“One of the chief survival mechanisms is knowing how to shut down any sense of pain,” said Platt. “It cripples you if you empathize or sympathize with all the pain you see here because you’ll see so much of it that you wouldn’t be able to function.”
Platt realized then the need for the Corps’ presence at CVA, where children may lose a sense of compassion amid violence and pain.
But the Corps as a whole realized the need for South Atlanta at-risk youth in general.
Captain Platt and a Lakewood Soldier, Jason Pope, approached CVA owner ** Leathers about creating a time and place to spend with the complex’s kids. He excitedly showed them a furnished basement already complete with books, games and a television. The area had been previously used for summer camp, adult English as a Second Language classes, and several other events during the year.
In just three months, the Lakewood Corps set up a full program with a Bible study, crafts, and free time with the kids.
Children’s ministry didn’t stop where Trizznie used to live, though.
Once the CVA program was up and running, Platt turned to another area the Corps visited often, but hadn’t quite dived into fully.
“My wife and I had been riding by Jonesboro [Colony Park] for three years and every time we did, we’d point to the community and say, ‘We need to be here,’” said Platt.
The Colony Park trailer park sits on Jonesboro road, across from a rundown liquor store and a welding factory. Most of the about 500 residents are Latino, and few adults speak fluid English.
Almost all the trailers in the park house at least three children. On sunny days, some come out to play on streets ridden with broken beer bottles and trash.
Platt and Pope wanted to form a constant presence in Jonesboro, but they lacked resources and helpers to show up four afternoons a week.
That’s when 24-year-old Daynas Viera, a recent graduate from Taccoa Falls College, found Captain Platt. She told him she felt called to minister specifically in Lakewood.
“It would scare the paints off some people to come here and minister permanently,” said Platt. “But Daynas did it. And as a Spanish-speaker, with her heart for kids, she was a perfect fit for Jonesboro.”
Daynas asked Platt what she could help with and his reply was, “Make friends.” After a Three Kings Day celebration for Colony Park families in January, that’s exactly what she and several other Salvation Army volunteers did in Jonesboro.
Now, more than thirty Jonesboro kids show up for the day’s activities.
Experience Mission volunteers also chip in each day for the summer. They lead games, scribble chalk drawings, and role-play Bible stories for the kids, but more importantly, they just maintain a positive presence for the Salvation Army.
“Trust is the most expensive commodity,” said Platt. “You could give Christmas dinners to a whole community, but that wouldn’t gain the trust. You need to have faithful accountability, people need to see you from time to time.”
Experience Intern Matt Crouch knows this – the first several weeks he spent in Jonesboro, some mothers would hardly crack their doors open for him when he asked if their kids would come out and play.
Now, after six weeks, mothers chat and joke with him in Spanish and then smile as he walks away, hand in tiny hand with their young ones, to where the Salvation Army hold activities.
“The parents have been burned a little more,” said Platt. “They hold their cards a little closer. If you lived in a jungle, you’d be suspicious of every little thing you saw, heard, or ate. When the Salvation Army shows up, what they really want to know is, ‘Are these people my friends?’”
Gregoria Sanchez, a 28-year-old mother of three, has been living in Colony Park for four years and speaks almost no English. She usually sticks around the house, but she is grateful that her kids don’t have to anymore.
“If they didn’t come, the kids would not go out, I would keep them here and they would play in a small room,” says Sanchez. “They are excited to go to the activities, and I trust they will stay out of trouble there.”
Sanchez’s main concern is that her kids stay in school. In such a tight-knit community, the children are influenced mostly by the teens around them – and the Salvation Army has noticed that many Colony Park teens drop out.
“If you are well educated, you will stay away from drugs and drinking,” says Sanchez, whose parents attended only primary school in Mexico. “I want my children to be well-educated.”
Platt knows many parents of at-risk youth in South Atlanta like Sanchez that would give anything for their kids to have better, but simply don’t have the resources.
“Every day I see a place where we need to be,” said Platt. “The fields are white, we want to be out there.”
As the Corps tries to maintain a constant presence in both Jonesboro and Pittsburgh, street ministry proves to be hard work for both Salvation Army workers and Experience Mission volunteers alike.
“The important thing to remember is that when Experience Mission partners with us, they become the Salvation Army,” said Captain Platt. “They are the face of the Corps, that’s how the neighborhoods see it. And it’s been a blessing, because we could make a lot of things happen without money, but not without people.”
**To learn more about what Experience Mission is doing, visit our website at www.experiencemission.org.
This last week in Costa Rica, we had two different teams come down. While Chris and Thatia remained in the BriBri/Cahuita area with a wonderful team from Long Island, I had the privilege of climbing up “Tiger Mountain” with a group of six amazing people. We were a combination of Texas, New Jersey, Washington, and Illinois that was mosaically placed together. Words don’t seem to be able to express the memories and experiences we had this past week.
The journey as a team began with a three-hour hike Sunday morning. Muddy, tired, wet, and yet full of excitement for the coming week, we arrived at Leopoldo and Carlos’ house. They opened up their home to us with a love for Christ that overflowed into their love for us. Days were spent constructing a 36 square meter post house at the top of a mountain. Nights were spent in a time of fellowship with the father-son duo as we shared praise songs in both English and Spanish, and simply enjoyed loving each other. There is so much that I would love to share and am still working to process from the week but what I most want to share with you all is an example of love that I witnessed throughout the week.
There is a song by the band Wedding that says, “if you love me then just love me, don’t you give me pretty words, lay your life down at the altar, let me see how serious you are.” This song has been a challenge to me throughout this summer, and I have seen many examples of it being displayed throughout Costa Rica however the most distinct display appeared this week. So many times, Christians make following Christ difficult or “foo-foo” so to say. It becomes more of a show than a love relationship. This week, we had the pleasure of simply loving God.
Leaving behind all comforts and climbing into the unknown, for at least one week we were unable to “put on a show” and simply love God. Carlos and Leopoldo demonstrated such a love for Christ that was so simple and yet so genuine. No pretty words, no “foo-foo” just simple love for spending time with Christ. A love for Christ that is so real that it’s contagious to everyone around. I hope that I live my life with such a contagious faith that God’s love for me and my love for God overflows into the lives of others. May God be given all the glory.
Desiring Contagious Faith,