Sunday, August 16, 2009

the promised follow up

I said, in my previous blog post, that I was going to post more about my experience with the Denver Rescue Mission. What better time to do that then the day before I leave on another trip when I should be packing or going to bed? I'm not sure I can think of one!

We were only there for two short days, but they impacted all of us. I'm not sure I can adequately put into words the effect that this experience had on me. But I will definitely try.

Let me start by telling you the basics - what we did while we were there. As soon as we got there, which was around 10, we got to work getting ready for lunch. Some of us chopped fruits and vegetables for fruit salads and lettuce salads. Some of us made lemonade or cut pork and potatoes. Some of us sorted bread and desserts. Some of us rolled silverware into napkins. Some of us also spent time in the laundry room folding sheets. But we kept working and moving doing stuff to get ready for lunch. Then we got everything in place so that we could begin serving when 12:00 rolled around. As soon as it did, we opened the doors and began ushering people in to eat.

When lunch started, I was in charge of handing out silverware and using a clicker to count how many people came in. We served five at a time, so I'd pick up five pieces of silverware and hand them out as the people walked in, and then I'd click the clicker 5 times. This gave me a great opportunity to chat with the people as they entered. We didn't really have time to talk about much, but we'd talk about the weather, or the food, or how it was important to have a clicker to keep track of numbers. We served more than a hundred people each day, I think the second day had more with around 170. The other people working there said that they were slow days, that they usually had over 200 people coming in for lunch.

When lunch was over, we'd clean up and then go back to working on other things. The first day we were there, they got a huge donation of food so I spent a lot of time sorting bread. We'd separate them into categories such as sandwich bread, french bread, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, etc. and then we'd stack them on pallets against the wall. At one point I said that I was surrounded by more bread than I'd ever seen in one place in my life. Our second day we went out and got a tour of the neighborhood and picked up garbage.

It was surprising to me how much of the work we did surrounded food. We were always chopping and mixing and sorting and slicing and getting stuff ready for the different meals. But then I guess that makes sense, that if they feed 150-200 people three times a day, that a lot of work would go in to preparing the food. And it was good food. We would make sack lunches everyday, but when we were at the Mission we were given the option to eat there for lunch. Both days I chose that option, and I was pleasantly surprised with the food. It was good, considering how much of it they made everyday. If we didn't eat our sack lunch, we had the option of taking it across the street to Triangle Park and sharing it with the people who were over there.

Denver Rescue Mission also has a residential drug rehabilitation program as part of its ministries and we worked alongside of the men in this program in our daily duties. It was amazing, and eye opening, to hear the stories of these guys, what they had gone through, often times how they had almost died, and then how they had ended up at the mission and how they were working to turn their lives around and what their dreams and hopes were now. One guy I got to know quite well said that he hoped to be a youth pastor in a church, so that he could work with kids who were the age he was when he fell into drug abuse. It was awesome to hear these stories of resurrection and redemption, and I hope that these guys continue on the path toward new life.

One thing that hit me after seeing the people that the Mission serves is how alike we were. Many of them had good jobs and families and friends before something unpredictable happened, before circumstances in their life took a turn for the worse and they were unable to cope or to recover from them, and then they ended up homeless and living in Denver. It's like that quote, "There but for the grace of God go I." As I looked around at all of those various faces and people, I realized that I was lucky to be on the other side of that crate of silverware. I was fortunate to be the one handing it out. But I could very easily be on the other side, as the one receiving it. Life is unpredictable. You never know when you might get thrown a curveball.

It's like I said before, I don't think I can adequately put into words the effect that those two days had, and continues to have, on me. Those experiences continue to weigh on my heart, and continue to make me ponder and pray about a lot of things. I'm not sure what this means for my journey, but it will be interesting to find out.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

i have returned!

I came.

I saw.

I'm tired.

We returned from our mission trip to Denver today. As in about 4 hours ago. It was quite the experience. Allow me to tell you a bit about it.

We set off last Sunday at 4am. We took three 15 passenger vans (one with a rear seat taken out to allow for extra storage space), a trailer and a car. The car came along because one of our adults had a relative who was not doing well and she brought her car just in case something should happen during the week and she would need to come back for a funeral.

We drove through southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa, most of Nebraska and eastern Colorado. In my van, we were excited because for the beginning part of the ride we were ahead of schedule. That meant we might actually make it to one of our mission trips early, instead of rolling in right at the last minute when they are wanting to start serving supper. And we were doing good until about lunchtime when we were in Nebraska and were wanting to stop at a Runza, which is one of my favorite restaurants and are only found in Nebraska, except for a few other locations (like, four) in Iowa, Kansas and Colorado. It wasn't even my idea to stop there, it was another adult leader in my van. So that made me even happier.

So on our way to Runza we noticed one of our vans was not following us. Turns out that the people in that van had to use the restroom, so the driver had pulled off assuming we'd continue to follow the directions we had printed out, not realizing we were planning on a lunch stop. So about 45ish minutes later they arrived at the restaurant and ordered their food. So much for being ahead of schedule.

After driving through Nebraska, and eastern Colorado, and after a few more restroom breaks (a few too many, if you ask me) we rolled into the church parking lot right when they were wanting to start serving supper. It never fails. This is our way, apparently.

After supper we had an adult orientation meeting (I knew what was going to happen. This is my third mission trip through this organization. I'm an old pro.) and then we had to assign our youth and adults to work crews. I knew that one of the sites was the Denver Rescue Mission, and I desperately wanted to go there, so I made sure I was the adult assigned from our church to that crew. Then we placed everyone else in a fairly quick and random way. Our main criteria was not putting large groups of friends in the same crew. This turned out to be a fairly serendipitous process. How's that for a big word?

Then after our meeting we went downstairs for Club (singing and listening to a speaker) and then church group time before heading for bed. Then Monday began our work days. And Monday is the day I first ventured to the Denver Rescue Mission. This was an amazing experience, which I'm still processing and thinking about, and it will get a post of its own. So no more about that now.

Monday night we ended up heading to Lookout Mountain, in the foothills of the Rockies, for some fun and we also had club out there. It was a great experience for the kids, many of whom had not been to mountains before, and even those that had enjoyed it. I love mountains so I was happy to be there, as well.

Tuesday I went back to the Denver Rescue Mission in the morning, and then in the evening we had guest speakers come and talk to us. The main guy used to work at the Denver Rescue Mission and I think all of the other guys had gone through the Mission and shared their experiences of being homeless and/or addicted to drugs. The kids were mesmerized by the speakers and I got a chance to talk with the main guy afterwards for a bit. It was good to talk to him and to process some things that I had experienced.

Wednesday we changed work sites and worked with Brothers' Redevelopment, which is an organization in Denver that works with elderly, disabled and low income people to help them do things that they are either unable to do or cannot afford. So Wednesday we drove over to an older couples' house and painted the trim on their house for them. This took us until about 11am. I guess we finished much earlier than they were expecting, and so we spent most of the rest of the morning and afternoon in the car. After eating our lunch we set out to join the other crew who was working with Brothers that day, but due to an accident on the highway, and our foreman trying to avoid it, it took us nearly an hour to get to the other crew. So we filled in for them painting a stucco house while they took a break and ate their lunches. Then we went back to wash off our brushes and unload the truck before going to take our daily showers.

Now providing showers for this many people can be tricky, I know. Often times they rely on community centers and schools to open their spaces to them for such reasons. The first two days we showered at a community center in communal showers. When we switched work sites we were told that we would need to go to a different facility for showers. This was a recreation center and we had been told that the showers were private. So we were excited about this. When we walked into the locker room, we were greeted by a small, cramped room with about an inch of standing water on the floor. About five young boys had come in from the pool and were just standing under the four nozzles of the shower, which was very much communal and not at all private. As we stood there, after our long and frustrating day, wanting nothing more than to take a shower, we stood there and looked at these boys in defeat and disappointment. But, we showered, and were thankful for a shower, and then we went to a Sonic Drive-In for food afterwards. I thought the kids in my crew deserved it.

That night we went to a church service at a local congregation. It was packed full of kids and parents and was abnormally hot. Us poor Minnesotans thought we were going to melt. They had a lot of music provided by young men and women from the congregation, and they had some really great young dancers strut their stuff. The outreach pastor got up and shared a message which was good, although I was a little disappointed in him because, in an attempt to get the kids to be quiet during his message, he said, "Remember, no talking when I'm talking. If I see you talking while I am trying to talk I will embarrass you." Nothing better than embarrassing a kid to get them excited to go to church.

On the way back to the church, I witnessed an automobile accident. The jeep in front of us (luckily a little ways in front of us) hit the front end of a car that had pulled out into the intersection too far. I just happened to glance up and see it right as it happened, and I said, "Holy S***, Kirk, that was just an accident!" The driver hadn't noticed it right away and he slammed on the brakes. Yes, I admit I cursed, but I had just witnessed an accident. And besides, the kids in my car didn't hear it. I got out and saw that everyone was ok, and we waited around for the fire fighters and police officers to arrive. Because I hadn't seen enough of what had happened prior to the accident I didn't need to stick around very long, but it was long enough for the staff members and our other church members to drive by and see the firetrucks and police cars around our van. So, needless to say, they freaked out. But when they saw that everything was ok, they were thankful, and I got thanked numerous times for being calm in the midst of this.

Thursday we went back to Brothers and actually spent an entire day painting one house. We then went back to the same shower facility, but we were prepared for it this time. Thankfully (maybe) there was already a guy showering when we got there, and as he was naked this discouraged the boys from coming into the shower. As I was getting ready to go into the shower one young boy came in from the pool, walked into the shower, stopped in his tracks and declared "Ew! Nasty!" Before running back out to the pool. After showers we drove back out to the Rescue Mission to say hi to our friends and to invite them to our community cookout that night. I'll write more about this in my other post, as well.

Thursday evening is always footwashing worship. After we hear the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet, the staff members wash the adult leaders feet and then we wash the feet of our young people. It's always a moving experience. It seems to bring a lot of emotion to the surface and the kids can start to cry. We had our share of tears, but not as much as we had when we took our mission trip to Pennsylvania. That was a little crazy that year.

Friday we cleaned up the church and said our goodbyes and took a drive to Pike's Peak. We figured since we were near the mountains it would be a shame not to go there. So we did. And it was a lot of fun and the kids enjoyed it. Afterwards we started our drive home and 25 hours of driving later, we made it.

Needless to say, I am thankful to not have to ride or drive or sleep in a van for a while. But I miss the experiences and people of this past week, especially those from the Rescue Mission. All of our kids had great experiences and many of them are already talking about our trip next summer. I have to say, you can't beat doing a mission trip through an organization that provides for all the details, feeds and houses your kids, sets up the mission work opportunities, and also helps the youth process what they've done and seen, all while doing it in such a way that makes our kids want to keep coming back and also invite their friends. But most of all it is amazing to see the changes in the young people after they experience a week of Christian service. I feel like I should copy one of those Mastercard commercials and talk about how much we spent on registration and van rentals and whatnot, but the overall result - the changes in the lives of our young people - is priceless.