This past Thursday - Sunday, Middle School Students descended on South Pasadena for a weekend work trip! For many it was their first work trip experience and they arrived eager and maybe a little nervous. Every year when we start planning this event, we come up with a passage that speaks to what we want our students to come away with. This year we chose James 2:14-17
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[a] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
During Middle School Mission Weekend we wanted our students to get a sense of what it means to serve others in our communities and why it is vital for us as Christians to engage in that work.
We started off Thursday morning bright and early and work at a local Food Bank in Highland Park. We did everything from setting up tables, sorting the food, unloading the trucks, helping guests to their vehicles to just being a smiling face and greeting those who had been in line since early in the morning. The afternoon was spent debriefing the morning and cooling off with some water balloons as well as an in depth talk about how we serve and how we need to watch ourselves when we think about the people we serve as "other" as opposed to thinking about them as our "brothers and sisters".
The second day was all about thinking of poverty and service differently. We had experience a Food Bank the day before, and this day we were going to talk about other ways that those in need can be served. We had a guest speaker, Dr. Jen Buck, join us and speak to us about homelessness in Los Angeles County. She really put into perspective what it is to struggle with poverty, and that it is not just a loss of money but of family and community connections. She went on to speak about different organizations that strive to not only provide shelter and sustenance, but a pathway out of poverty.
We ended the day at Homeboy Industries where we got a tour of the facility and a man in the programs at Homeboy shared his heart breaking story. This particular man had been in prison since he was 16 years, having committing his first gang related crime in 1984. His life in prison was a tough one, and he shared how he had to make peace with his past, be accountable for his actions and move forward down a new path which Homeboy is helping him do. This man was paroled 11 months ago and has now been at Homeboy for 8 months pursuing his GED, taking writing classes and truly working to, in his words "own his future". This was a great example of a place that helps people find new paths and avenues of success.
Our third day started at two different sites: Harambee Ministries in Altadena, and Faith in Christ in South Central Los Angeles. My team went to Harambee, and if those of you are not familiar, this is the wonderful organization that COS has gotten involved with over the years. Harambee is Swahili for "Let's get together and push" which perfectly describes their mission. For over 30 years on the intersection of Navarro and Howard, Harambee Ministries has sought to improve the surrounding area through education, community and opportunity. That particular corner of Altadena at one time was the most violent place in Los Angeles County, now it's a much quieter street with the Harambee location right in the middle. Harlan, the Director of Harambee, introduced to the site and had tasks for us to do in the gardens and in the amphitheater. We were able to clean the steps of the amphitheater just in time for it to be used for their Summer School Program.
We finished the day with an Urban Encounter in which our students were given scenarios that they had to live out and try to survive. For instance, once group was give the scenario that they were 18 year olds that have just aged out of the foster care system. With $150 to their name, how would they survive? Where could they get a job? Could they find an apartment? These were all tasks there were asked to "complete". With their adult group leaders, they walked through Old Town Pasadena looking for answers to these questions and really learning how difficult it can be for people with no resources, education or friends and family. In our debrief on the steps of City Hall in Pasadena, our students shared their experiences and had a better understanding of a person struggling.
All in all this was an eye opening and wonderful experience for our Middle School Students and I think they came away with a deeper understanding of the blessings in their life and what it means to serve people.