Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Very Brief Non-Anecdotal Summary of My Summer

Some people might remember my frantic and often discombobulated pleas for donations towards a non-profit mission. I was fortunate and blessed to receive enough funding to do what it is I set out do this summer, so let me tell you what I did. I'm going to avoid telling stories as much as possible because there are so many I could tell and they're all noteworthy, but this blog entry would be forever and a page long if I tried tell you all of them. Instead, I'm thinking I'll tell a few of my stories as I reflect on different issues pertaining to multiculturalism/multi-ethnic living, ethics of living in a corrupt and broken world, G-d's view of Biblical justice, and whatever else may come.

The program is called the Chicago Urban Program (CUP) and it's through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF/IV) IV then partners with churches and ministries in impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago that are willing to work with and teach college students about the realities of our broken world. In my case, it was in Austin with five other people in a two-bedroom apartment. With a CTA card of $20.00 per person for two weeks, $120.00 a week in groceries, and $5 discretionary spending money we were being asked to live as someone who ate off of what food stamps could afford and spend what little free money we had on our laundry. This wasn't even the focus of our summer "internship" rather it was the setting for immersion into the neighborhood we were living in.

I will summarize the goals of CUP in this way, that we had three primary objectives:

1. Live and learn in an intentional and authentic community within our apartment. This included creating times to share our feelings, thoughts, and where we were at spiritually. Devotionals and many dinners were done together and many other activities were done communally.

2. Live and learn in an intentional and authentic community within our neighborhood. While some teams in previous years had gone door to door or patrolled the streets like street-corner preachers, my team invested quite a bit of time in the people of our partners Circle Urban Ministries and Rock of our Salvation Evangelical Free Church.

3. Study the theological narrative and fundamental basis for justice and practical applications of a Biblical view of justice in the world today. 

Our weekly schedule looked something like this:

Monday is the start of our work week. We get up somewhere between 07:00 and 07:45 and have devotionals together at 07:50. We leave for work at 08:25. For my team, it was split between two of working with the high school and middle school students while the other four worked with children between the grades of kindergarten and sixth grade. We worked until 17:30-45 Monday through Friday and occasionally had bring home work related stuff (like in a real job).

Tuesday mornings we had inductive Bible-study on the book of Amos, which was a break from work only to be doing this intense critical analysis of the text. Wednesday nights we'd go to North Lawndale and have racial reconciliation discussions. Often times these discussions were spring-boarding off of a movie we watched over the weekend (such as Crash, Blood Diamond, or Color of Fear). Our discussions were emotional, as we began to speak honestly about the racial injustice that exists and how it affects us daily. As a white person, I found myself wondering if G-d could love white people after all we (as a people-group) have done to hurt G-d's children (although white people are G-d's children too).

The weekends weren't much of what we normally associate with a weekend. Saturday became an all-day affair trying to get laundry, groceries, and cleaning done in a the short span of a day. Sundays we went to church. Most of my team was involved in one ministry with the church or another and all but two of us were involved in young adult Sunday school. I was on the praise team providing backing vocals. After church we had our retreat of silence. The retreat of silence was a time we could spend in silent reflection, sleep (napping was almost a necessity for most of us), or just time to be by ourselves (six people in a two bed-room apartment can be a little claustrophobic).

I say all of this to say that I learned so much. I've studied a lot on Biblical narratives of justice and reconciliation, but experiencing it first hand is another thing entirely. I also learned a lot about my limits as a person. I never realized just how much I could do if I pushed myself to do it. On a more sentimental note, I feel like I also got a taste of what my parents have gone through for the past 30+ years of their lives. I actually e-mailed my mom and basically told her how sorry I was for any time that I've ever made her life more difficult than it already was. Being an adult with responsibilities is tough, not without advantages, but it's not for the faint of heart or the person looking to coast on the lazy river.

Finally, I miss my team. In person, I typically refer to them as my Austin family. Each one of them is near and dear to my heart, they are truly a unique and wonderful group of people.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

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