Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Isaiah Project L.A.

So wow, we're back from our LA mission trip. Different from Mexico in almost every way, and yet, still SUCH an amazing trip.

There is so much to tell but I'll share the main stuff. We drove down Monday, found the CSM headquarters, unpacked our stuff, settled into bunkbeds, and then were taken out to dinner. Every night they took us to a different ethnic restaurant so we could experience different cultures and foods (I thought this was a great idea because many of our students are picky and don't try new things when it comes to food). Monday night was Honduran. Mmmmm, sooo good.

And then our worlds got rocked.

They took us on a prayer tour. We drove around south-central LA and stopped in certain areas so our two hosts (Nikki and Chris) could tell us about what was going on in those communities and how we could pray. Our second stop was hard. It was an elementary school with gates 20 feet high surrounding it. Across the street, we saw a warehouse-looking building and Chris told us it used to be a prostitute house. Right across from the school! The teachers (who are severely underpaid, overworked, and had the most difficult kids) would come early to school every day and clean up everything on the block that little children should not have to see. As someone who used to be in education, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have these difficult kids with such sad stories of home life (if they even had one). Not to mention teaching right across the street from a brothel! Heart...breaking...

Toward the end of our prayer tour, things got worse. We drove through Skid Row. You guys, I have NEVER seen so many homeless people in my LIFE. I have seen homelessness before. But nothing like this. I went from shock to disbelief to anger to sadness to hopelessness. We drove by block after block of people settling in for the night on the sidewalk. It was freezing outside and I saw men covered in tiny blankets with their feet sticking out the end. There were so many. Hundreds all in this one area.


(this part makes me sick)

Literally two blocks away, was the LA Financial District. Skyscrapers! ESPN Zone! Convention Center! Starbucks on every corner! Swanky bars and restaurants! People dressed fancy! Lights! Huge TV screens flashing images!

I seriously thought I was going to throw up.

Two blocks away.

We stopped at City Hall and got out of our cars. I noticed I wasn't the only one who had been hit by the two extremes. Many of our group were crying. I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. How is it possible there are that many people living on the streets? And how there could be people two blocks away, not knowing or caring.

We shared what we were thinking and feeling and the main words I heard were "hopeless" and "helpless". What can we do? We are just one person. Or 17. Whatever. It didn't matter. This situation was beyond any and all of us. We all went to bed that night with heavy hearts.


This is why I loved this trip.

Yes, we saw the reality of south central LA. BUT God is at work. Every day, our hosts would take us to multiple organizations to help. Whether it was a soup kitchen, a mission, a church, an after-school program for inner-city kids - we would show up and they'd put us to work. We got to see and be a part of what God is doing to bring HOPE to that area. I was amazed at how many wonderful organizations there are in the city. How many people God is using to be a light in the darkness. I was honored and humbled to be a part of this. And these people do it every day! We were only there a week!

Some places we got to serve:

* St. Francis (soup kitchen - we sorted and made food bags for families)

* Grandview Retirement Home (we played Bingo with the folks - the lady I was with, Loretta, told me her second husband produced Gone With The Wind. I always complain about how old I feel, but now I realize "Man, I am YOUNG.")

* Central City Community Church (we tutored and played with the children at their after-school program every day. I fell in LOVE with those kids!)

* Project Angel Food (they make meals for people with AIDS, cancer, or other life-threatening illnesses. This was my favorite place. The vibe was SO great. 50 of us working, laughing, cooking, encouraging, volunteering. Myself and 2 other ladies made 235 quiches in 3 hours. Whew!)

* Breakfast challenge - taking someone on the streets out to breakfast. It's so interesting when you stop and take the time to really get to know someone and hear their story.

* Midnight Mission (awesome organization! They offer meals, sleeping space, a courtyard, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, counseling, job and skill training, and tons more! It's the only mission on Skid Row. We helped serve lunch. I have to admit: I don't like seeing anyone homeless, but I got especially sad seeing the women there)

* LA Regional Food Bank (largest food bank in LA. This is where most missions and organizations get their food. We sorted and examined food, to make sure it had not expired)

For dinner we had Honduran food, Thai food, Nicaraguan food, and Armenian food. All delicious, hole-in-the-wall places. Places where you bet they're family-owned and use grandma's recipes.

The last night, Chris and Nikki took us up to the Griffith Observatory to watch the sunset, see the night lights come out, and have a final debrief time and prayer over the city.

None of us wanted to come home. We were so tired but so full of joy. It was crazy to think back on Monday, how sad and hopeless we all felt. And then by Friday we were like, "What's next!? Where else can we go and serve?!" We felt so alive. No phones, no computers, no TV, no distractions. Just a desire to go out and continue being a part of what God was doing in the city!

Such a good trip. Here are some pixs from the week. Thanks for reading!


Emily B said...

Oh Sarah, what a fantastic trip! When I was on staff with the jr. high ministry at Church on the Hill, we took a 3-day missions trip to work with the homeless in San Francisco. I totally relate to the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and then the joy that comes as you serve.
There are two books you need to read.
1. "Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.
You MUST READ THIS BOOK!!!!! It's incredible!
2. "Under the Overpass"
by Mike Yankoski.
Another fabulous read.

Amy said...

Wow Sarah, that's awesome. I'm sure it's an experience you will never forget. Thanks for sharing!

Jody said...

I'm so so glad things worked out and you were able to go on a missions trip in spite of current events in Mexico and having to cancel the trip. It sounds like God had something else in mind all along.

CSM said...

Hey Sarah!
Love, love, love your CSM trip reflection. THANK YOU for serving the people of LA. We pray that the changes don't end for your group now that you're home.
Would it be ok to post your blog on CSM's (csmurbanupdate.blogspot.com)?
Feel free to let us know!
CSM Home Office