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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Arrival time

I expect we will arrive around 5:45, so about 10 minutes early. 

See you all at the bus stop. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Somebody better say something, Somebody better do something, Somebody better feel something"(Mama Brenda Mathus) We must change something

Sam Gerteis-

This year we have had the opportunity to experience Chicago in a extremely impactful and personal way. From heart wrenching stories given to us during reflections, to experiencing public transit for all inner city transportation, we have seen quite a bit. With a new respect for those giving their all for those who are least off, I have seen a whole new world of mission trip service.

This week I have found a common theme in the word: "change". During the school year I saw a lot of personal growth and change within myself, and decided to bring my philosophical theme with me. 

In the expanse of the trip, we had the pleasure of hearing great and tragic stories from both DOOR Director, Juan Pablo (J.P.), and up and coming motivational rapper Ms.Lah Tere. They both spoke of the struggles they had experienced in their youth, growing up in the then very poor neighborhood, Humbolt Park. With J.P. then going into his large personal lifestyle changes and finally becoming DOOR Director, and  Lah Tere telling about her personal strive to become a very powerful independent women who "doesn't take nothing from nobody" and gives her all to help others.

Within our group I am very proud to say that I have never felt this group to be as close together as we have on this trip. I would say that all previous social groups have been combined into the most hardworking group of "neighbors" that I have ever been a part of. I am so happy to have our new Youth Pastor, Corrine, introduced into our group on what I would consider my best mision trip so far.

Although I would love to descriptively run through all that we have done, heard, and seen, it is truly to much to put onto one post. So all I can say is that y'all who weren't here should ask us youth if you would like to hear more!

Back to the topic of change, I saw great things. It is with this that I was able to see  that although how tragic the past, it is with change that we see greatness. Change is what brings communities back together, it is the product of personal growth and learning from our mistakes, it is a process of spiritual movement, and most of all it is a philosophy on life that brings out promise and love in times of  need. We need to see the change in our own lives, in order to help change others lives, and it is in this that I must say that my most influential and spiritually grabbing mission trip has come to a close.

Special recognition and prayers for those at the Salvation Army Family Shelter, community gardens, and the Iglesias Mision Del Valle Church. 

Working at the Salvation Army, or Political Incompetency in Illinois Politics

Hey Folks,

This is Grace, here to tell you about our trip to a Salvation Army branch that provides temporary housing for families with children.  The trip was made by my work group (Lee, Emma, Max and Sam), and we were joined by Corinne midway through the day.

We started out be talking to Pam, who works at the Salvation Army as a volunteer coordinator in addition to many other things.  She was very grateful to have our help, because the Salvation Army in Illinois is very underfunded.  This is where the political incompetency bit comes in.  For about a year, the state of Illinois has been unable to come up with a budget.  This means that organizations like the Salvation Army are not getting funding from the state.  If this budget-less limbo continues, folks are predicting that the Chicago Public Schools will not be able to open.  And it looks like this budget nonsense will keep up until the governor of Illinois is out of office.

Krista, a DOOR volunteer who worked with us that day, told us that the budget has been an issue in Illinois for a while now.  She explained that the current governor was a sort of businessman turned politician, who had campaigned on the idea of being able to manage money well.  Sounds familiar.  Well, it hasn't turned out well, especially for the Salvation Army temporary housing place that we visited, that is now looking at a deficit of about 450,000 dollars.  That's quite a bit of moolah.

Well, onto something a little more cheerful.  I was very impressed with the set-up of the Salvation Army branch that we visited.  It is located in an old Holiday Inn, so residents stay with their families in the old hotel rooms, complete with the bathroom.  They offer computers for the purposes of finding employment or more permanent housing, as well as three meals a day for the residents.  Since children are the main focus the branch, Salvation Army staff are especially diligent about making sure that each child attends school, as well as all the meals, especially breakfast.

Talking about meals brings me to the main purpose of our visit - doing a vigorous deep-clean of the tables and chairs in their cafeteria.  This was, surprisingly, a lot of fun.  We played some Contact.  We used WHEAT, this conversation starter that Corinne introduced us to.  And it was very satisfying to see the changes to the furniture as we moved across the room.

It's too late at night to come up with a resounding, coherent conclusion to this jumble of thoughts.  I'd just like to say that it felt good to do a day's work for an organization and place that does good work, even while it is hindered by a lack of funds.

Recap and Reflections

Hi blog,

It's Ben

Today is Friday, and I haven't yet blogged, nor have most people. It's been a fun, busy week, which is why I haven't been blogging, I swear.

Quick recap:
Sunday- Arrived and met JP (Juan Pablo, NOT just "Juan") the guy who runs it down here at the First Church of the Brethren in the Garfield Park neighborhood. As JP informed us, it's in the top ten most violent and impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago. Sleeping in the balcony of the sanctuary. There are three other groups also staying in the church-- one from Raleigh, NC, one from Greensboro, NC, and one from Wisconsin.

Monday- My group (Lauren, Kat, Len, and Miranda) along with group 1 went to Cornerstone, a community of people who live together and work only to feed the hungry. We helped prepare and serve lunch, did some prep for dinner, and cleaned. Good work.

Tuesday- My group went to the "Spanish Church" as JP, and now everyone, calls it. It is a church named Iglesia Misson del Valle in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, adjacent to Garfield Park, unfortunately they are moving. Before going to the church JP took us on a gentrification tour.  Humboldt Park, the neighborhood that JP grew up in, is a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood that is quickly gentrifying. Affordable subsidized housing is being torn down and replaced by upscale condos. People that have lived in Humboldt Park their entire lives are being displaced. We worked at the church splitting hostas and moving stuff around in preparation for the church move. They are moving for multiple reasons-- They want to capitalize on the rising property values and move to a location that will be mortgage-free, they want to follow the spanish-speaking residents as they move further west, and they want a location that is more accessible for their elderly members.

Wednesday- My group worked at a community garden in the North Lawndale neighborhood. According to Margaret, the local volunteer that we worked with, the garden started around ten years ago and has a 99-year lease with the city. It lies next to two vacant lots that we helped keep up which the community garden technically illegally develops. The work was nice and hot. In the evening we went to millennium park, Lou Malnati's Pizza, and then watched "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in the park behind the History Museum.

Thursday- All of the MPUC youth worked at the Spanish Church, packing tons of stuff into a big van and hauling it over to the thrift store that the church operates a few blocks away, and putting it into the basement. After a few hours of work the other groups joined us and the women from the Spanish Church cooked us fried chicken and rice and beans and it was delicious.

Friday- I went with the group to wicker park, a trendy hipster neighborhood. We went to a great bookstore, a thrift shop, Cheesy's: an all-grilled-cheese place, a bookcafe, and an ice cream spot so good that it may even be the best I've ever been to. Another group went to the Art Institute. We did our closing ceremony in central park, near where we're staying. We went to the Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen for dinner which was also delicious.

Two things have really struck me this week: The way that the city is changing, and the people that are working to change it.

It's hard not to have mixed feelings about gentrification. I look around and think "Wow, this neighborhood looks really nice," but I know that the people who have lived there their entire lives don't get to experience that niceness because rising rent and property tax pushes them out. How can gentrification be good for a neighborhood if it loses its community in the process? So much to think about. I still haven't figured it out.

The people we have met and worked with are incredibly passionate, strong, and hopeful. The seemingly impossible challenge of bringing peace, justice, and harmony to the impoverished and violent parts of Chicago has become the lives of these people. JP has inspired me to no end. His story is one of so much pain and confusion and despair, but isn't really mine to tell. I can say that he has mounted overwhelming odds because of his strength and god's help. He has become a person that devotes his life, not just his job but his life, to the service of people and the community. He has gotten through so much personally, and still retains an amazing ability to be selfless. On Tuesday, while we were at the Spanish Church, we needed work gloves. He offered to walk down to Wallgreen's to grab some, and out of nowhere, he told me to come with him. I got the chance to tell him about the Twin Cities, and and myself, and I got to hear more about him. We didn't find any gloves at Wallgreen's, but on the way back he told me to duck into this Puerto Rican restaurant. "I want you to try this" he told me, and explained to me the selection of fried foods in a glass case at their takeout counter. I ended up with a fried ball of meat and plaintains, a malto soda, and some bread pudding. My walk with JP was probably the highlight of the whole trip for me. There were so many others: Latere, Pastor Rosa, the women at the Spanish Church, Margaret, and more that I hope others blog about, because their stories are so incredible.

It has been such a blast. I've managed to read two books already, between the ride down and all the time on the Blue Line.

Love you mom, see you tomorrow.

What a trip.

Until next time,
Ben Bushnell

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stones there forever

Tonight when we went with our staff member J.P. for last reflection, he took us to the little church where he had been a member. As he spoke he talked of one of those passages from the Old Testament, from Joshua, it seems pretty far afield from our experience. It was the one were Joshua took 12 people from the 12 tribes to take stones and made a monument of sorts, to be there forever.

Then J.P. asked us after passing out small stones, to write a word or two on the stone based on our experience in the week and we were to then go leave it in the park, to stay there forever. So we took Sharpie pens we took the stones and wrote a word or two, agape was one, privilege was another, and also justice. Another was simply love.

I chose "walk humbly." It's from this snippet from Micah, "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

This came out of a discussion we had after cleaning the gunk off the tables and chairs in the cafeteria of a transitional housing center run by the Salvation Army on the north side. The tables had a little edge on them, where the gunk had built up, and we found that plastic picnic works were the perfect tool to clean the gunk off.

Our volunteer guide from DOOR later pointed out that to take the take a week off, drive to Chicago and clean gunk off of cafeteria tables with a picnic fork is, in fact, pretty humble walking.

We all sort of agreed that kids who are homeless still deserve to eat their breakfast off of a clean table. Is cleaning it for them "humble?" Not sure what the answer is, but we do know that there is a place for people who volunteer to do the kind of service that isn't very glamorous.

In Humboldt Park in Chicago, there is a stone now with that idea on it. The Sharpie marking will fade, but that stone will be there forever.


Today all of the groups helped move stuff and clean up at the Spanish church. Everyone we met there was incredibly kind and caring, and very passionate about what they were doing. Even with having to move, they were full of positive energy. Helping out felt not like we were doing a service so much as we were helping them as equals, and that we were an active part of what was happening. The food they made was absolutely delicious too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lah Tere

Hi everybody!

Today we had an inspirational speaker come speak to us about her life and past. I cannot explain the emotions and feelings I experienced when she came to speak. Lah Tere moved to New York when she was 19 and could no longer afford college because her dad was withdrawing money in order to buy drugs. She performed 2 raps for us that were absolutely encouraging and astonishing. 

"You are, you are, you are who you've been waiting for."

This is a section from Lah Tere's rap "You are." When Lah Tere performed this in front of is, she had all of us rap and repeat the phrase. When I was saying this, I felt very strong and empowered. It made me feel confortable being myself and living with my mistakes and choices I have made through my life.

With Love,
Emma Manderfield

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Charity v. Service... v. Change

Hey All

Today we are out at two worksites, but all day we seem to still be processing the discussion that followed the presentation last evening by our host, J.P.   A native of Chicago, J.P. told us that he found himself in social work with chemically addicted youth as after going through challenges of his own. He did, and still does, live in the next neighborhood over from ours, traditionally a Puerto Rican and Mexican immigrant community.

It is now gentrifying like mad, and J.P. talked about how mostly white group like ours visiting and living in the community does not reinforce stereotypes of white people.  Most people in his neighborhood see white people as affluent, with money and material wealth and not needing things like churches or community organizations, or they come into the neighborhood to do "charity."  And "charity" in this context meant that it was not coming inside to meet people and understand how they live, but to give stuff away and then leave.

As he talked he held his hands up, showing the white people doing charity as up on a higher level, and all involved saw it that way.

So that framed our discussion. What are we doing in Chicago, charity or service? We generally liked the term service, that felt to us like the kind of thing J.P. was talking about, meeting people and sleeping here and taking the bus. (And oh did we ever take the bus.  To get to the community center garden jobsite today Lee, Norm, Emma, Liam, Sophia, Max, Rosalie, Stephanie, Sam, Nick, Max and Grace took the Blue Line subway to the J14 bus, to the 71 bus. It was 16 miles one way in all.)

And we are doing service, not giving away something that we could spare. We are meeting people face to face to provide a little help, working alongside people in the  centers.

Then there was another idea brought forward by one of the youth. What we do on mission trips isn't charity or service. We are the project. Learning more of what we need to learn to see people as people just like us, occasionally in need kind of like we are. And the point is to change from the experience, learn when we find out the situation on the ground isn't as we expected, and to become less self-centered and find a place for service in our lives.

So there we have it:  Charity v. Service v. Change.  Maybe there isn't a best answer, but it's great that we are here all together, asking the question. It's a very good start to this year's mission trip.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Arrived safely and at work today.

For those not following Twitter. We arrived on time (by Amtrak standards) and made it safely out to the Church of the Bretheran. Today 1/3 of us are working in some local gardens while the others are at a homeless shelter that provides meals for those in need. 

Prep'ing dinner

Prepared lunch for 100, served, cleaned up and now are starting dinner. One continuous day at Cornerstone. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mission Trip Potluck Picnic

Some reminders and requests for the potluck:

Date: Wednesday, June 8
Time: 5:30pm (we'll probably make announcements/meet at around 6:15pm)

This is for the whole family; youth, parents, siblings.
Location: Vento's house (THANK YOU Ventos!!)  1710 Jefferson Ave, St. Paul

What to Bring by youth last names: 
B-H: salad
J-K: side dish 
M-W: dessert 
Also please remember to bring all your filled out forms, if you've not turned them in already and if you have a picnic chair, you might want to bring that as well.

Ventos are providing Chicago dogs and fixins and we will provide a veggie option as well.
There will also be water and lemonade provided.

If you want to grill or drink something else, please bring that with you.   

**Special note from Karen: Guests are encouraged to bring their best ping-pong game (They have an outdoor table.)