Missions Week: From Excursions To Everyday Life by emily klassen

May 2, 2019

The purpose of this article is to discuss the things that I noticed during missions week as well as the problems we know face back in Rhode Island. When discussing the difficulties here at home, I don’t intend to sound judgemental or hypocritical, as these are certainly things I struggle with as well. I just want to share how I experienced the missions trip and talk about the things we can learn from. Hopefully this article can be meaningful for everyone, despite if they went on a missions trip or not.

During our time in Philadelphia, we were able to serve in many different arenas. As described in chapel, we helped in a community garden, played with kids in aftercare, and cleaned up the trash on the streets. However, I really only want to focus on one serving site: Hands of Hope. Of all the ways that we served, I was the most nervous before this one. I had never given out lunches to people experiencing homelessness before, let alone sat down and truly talked with them. Before we split up into our small groups, our city leader said that it would be just as successful if we only handed out one lunch but still had a meaningful interaction. My group later called him a prophet as that is exactly what happened.

Two things surprised me during our conversation with Amy (the woman we got to talk with that day): how she got there and her attitude about it. To briefly summarize her story, she had been in an abusive marriage in which her spouse had intentionally hit her with his car, sending her to the hospital. After the surgeries, they asked if they should call her husband to pick her up, which of course she declined. Having nowhere to go and needing to get away from her husband, she moved through several shelters (some being harmful) and found her way to a church-run organization where she could spend the nights. During the day, she sits outside Reading Terminal Market and tries to look for a quick part-time job, despite the fact that she has a college degree in criminal justice. Because she doesn’t have an address, she in unable to get a job in the area where she is qualified, sending her in a ruthless, endless loop; you need a job to buy a home, but you need a home to get a job.

Despite all this, plus the harassment she faces living on the streets, she said that she just tries to live by what her mom told her when she was little: “If you have an attitude of gratitude, there’s no room to be angry, sad, or mean.” This completely awestruck me, as I have gone through far less and have done a lot more complaining. I don’t know whether or not she was a Christian, but her inner perseverance and hope was inspiring to me, and the conversation that we had with her has completely changed my perspective. (An interesting side-note was that when we went inside Reading Terminal Market, there was a restaurant called Amy’s Place — if only there were a place this Amy could call her own.)

I know that I, along with others in my class, felt like the world of Philadelphia was completely removed from the timeline of Rhode Island. It felt so easy to take action in that community because the opportunities were handed to us under the guidance of the city leaders. However, it can feel much harder to take action back at home without our daily scheduled serving sites presented to us. Something that I think we need to remember is that the significance of service is not determined by the numbers. What I mean is that giving your lunch to a person experiencing homelessness and having a meaningful conversation isn’t worth less than handing out lunches to 40 people. It’s my personal opinion that this is a situation where God appreciates quality over quantity; taking the time to show someone that you really care about them is more important than how many people you reach.

Being a teenager, you probably don’t have connections to local organizations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Ask the youth leaders of your church if there are ways your church can help the community, like soup kitchens or clothes giveaways. Also, if that seems like too big of a step for now, making blessing bags takes a trip to CVS and 10 minutes to pack them; all you have to do is keep them in your car for when you need them. The next time you see someone on the side of the road at the stoplight, don’t look away. Smile and give them a blessing bag; it’s a much better way to spread God’s love than pretending to look for something you dropped in the car. I’m guilty of doing this, and after our conversation with Amy about willful ignorance, my perspective on the situation was spun on its head. We hear the phrase What Would Jesus Do all the time, but really ask yourself that question. If Jesus (who was homeless himself) saw a person experiencing homelessness on the side of the road, what would he do? I can tell you that he would be sure to treat that person with all the dignity that a masterpiece of God deserves, and I hope this is something we can remember in the future. This does not only apply to those that are homeless, but anyone that you’re serving. People are God’s loved creations, and deserve to be treated as such. Remember that.

Until next time,

Emily Klassen