Thursday, July 25, 2013

We are Different & We are Connected

Carefully holding a blue crab.

A year ago, when I designed the cross-cultural God Squad partnership with McKendree-Simms-Brookland Church in Washington DC,  I imagined an outcome that would bless our local churches. I anticipated two very different United Methodist congregations discovering their connection in mission and celebrate their uniqueness in ministry. I further guessed that, as it happens with any mission trip, we would stretch ourselves as we stepped outside our comfort zones trusting in the Lord to provide, protect and guide. What I didn't anticipate was how this partnership between a rural and an urban church might shine a light to the world in how we are to go about combatting stereotypes.
That is, not until the verdict on the Trayvon Martin case was announced. At that moment, it seemed everyone from offered up opinions and explosive criticism of where we are as a nation and how far we haven't come since the civil rights movements. This took me back to think about the moment last month, when our two congregations took a tour of DC and walked the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We all walked the steps and paused at the site of Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech. A speech that took place fifty years ago this month. I had the kids put their their feet together on the spot where he spoke those famous words and as I took their photo, I realized that these kids are the dream and every one of them is trying the best to live it out. And they are finding a way to live it out through their local United Methodist Church. United Methodists are  connected across race, geography, age and even across theological opinions because that is a reflection of the diversity and connection of God's world. 
Olivet and McKendree-Simms-Brookland churches are working to be communities of positive solutions. When our youth got to know other while working together in common mission, they discovered that there is much more to each of us than what appears on the surface. Stereotypes about urban or rural communities (no, not all people in the south are like the guys on Hillbilly Handfishing or Duck Dynasty) are born out of lack of opportunity to know each other. By each church hosting each other, we get to know what it is like to appreciate the hospitality of a stranger and the joy of hosting others and sharing with others. 
Twenty-seven students and 30 adults participated in the God Squad mission work. This has been a testimony to of what young people can do to overcome stereotypes and make a difference in their local community. The youth took  leadership in modeling cross-cultural partnership to a world that looks at teenagers of any color through a lens of  suspician.
The blessing of this summer project will not be just for our teens. it will not just be for any who attended. It will not even just be for the churches involved. Rather, the blessing I believe will ripple out into the future. Like the voice of a speech given half a century ago, the sound diminishes but the message remains. 
The message for this summer was our discovering anew that indeed God made each of us different and yet God also connected us all. Isn't that the dream that Martin Luther King jr had hoped could be realized one day? 

Monday, July 1, 2013

God Squad 2013- Cross Cultural Mission Experiences

In June, the God Squad partnership became real as five students and 12 adults from Olivet United Methodist Church participated with over 120 others in a cross-cultural mission experience in Washington DC. The “rural United Methodist youth” of Lusby, Maryland packed their bags to live and serve in the urban neighborhood of northeast Washington, DC. The adults of Olivet church visited them for a fellowship meal with McKendree-Simms-Brookland UM Church (MSBUMC) and took a tour on the Old Town Trolley together.  Uncertain of what it would be like in a busy, crowded city everyone was set at ease by the hospitality of the people at MSBUMC. The students of Olivet discovered first hand how a church can be an outpouring of Christ’s love. Then they became a part of the sharing of Christ’s love as they came together for combined mission called “Hip Hop Hope.”

The youth from three churches worked together in ministry reaching out into the community with a gospel message for all ages with service projects, music and multi-media.  MSBUMC, Olivet and Palos Park Presbyterian Community Church in Chicago gathered daily for breakfast and hip-hop worship before going to their service projects. This became a great time for them to play and talk with each other and the younger pre-k and elementary children. The Olivet girls all took quickly to a nine-year old boy from the neighborhood that loved to dance. On the first day, he grabbed their hands to dance with them. This broke the ice and got them all laughing. On the last day, there were tears as they said goodbye to each other. The Olivet girls each remarked that they liked getting to work with the children, they made sure the children had enough breakfast, which was part of the neighborhood outreach, and helped them with their Bible lessons. All the students worked on a variety of service projects which included serving as teaching assistants, table clean up, urban gardening, and creating faith-based messages using a variety of social media. 

Mr. Mason of MSBUMC led the many teens and young adults in the gardening project. Thanks to the local Home Depot, we had many plants and flowers donated. The beautification project transformed ta barren area along Rhode Island Ave. NE into a flower garden.

I enjoyed teaching students how to express their faith using multi-media tools. Videos and photo montages were created by over 30 different kids throughout the week. Many can be seen on the facebook page for either MSBUMC or Olivet. Each student was challenged to create public messages of hope, love and salvation through artist expression and capture it on camera. By posting the videos on the church Facebook page, parents, parishioners, and friends could peak in on their mission week and comment on the ministry. This became a source of encouragement for the kids who saw the “likes” and the thumbs up. Collaboration and learning was multi-directional because once a student discovered how to do something on the computer, I would encourage them to show others which fostered an environment of sharing and collaboration.

Reverend David Hall, the pastor McKendree-Simms-Brookland UM Church says that through of the inspiration of the God Squad Grant, a new computer lab was brought to completion at his church. Our mission week laid the foundation for a creative, multi-media afterschool ministry where kids can create and teach one another. His next goal is to have a recording studio at the church for even more creative expression of faith by young people!