“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me”
This week is LA City Pilgrimage. It is an exciting, exhausting, inspiring and sometimes uncomfortable 5 day experience that is designed to challenge students to think about how they are called to bring what they have heard in church the rest of the world. Over the past few years, this trip has become my favorite trip that we do because of the “realness” of LACP.
First, there is the intentional language: this is a pilgrimage NOT a mission trip. The week starts off introducing the students to this idea that on this week, we are not here to rescue people or bring them what we think they need, but rather learn to listen and walk with the people that we encounter, then see how we can assist. This exercise is front loaded Monday morning as we venture out to Skid Row, and spend an hour listening to a resident (or former resident) of the Midnight Mission. Then, along side the current residents of the “Healthy Living” program of the Midnight Mission, we assist with lunch. The lunch is frantic and loud, but it is a well oiled machine that is vital to the daily lives of the people that live in the 5 blocks around the Midnight Mission. It is all about hearing the voices of these people and in that moment, trying to get them what they need.
Second, we are here to be uncomfortable and embrace new, challenging experiences. Urban Safari is a scavenger hunt of sorts, where students are given a several block radius around Pershing Square to learn about Downtown LA. What does housing cost? Where can they get a job application? How do you get a library card, if you don’t have access to a computer? What is the cost of temporary housing? You search and you find these answers through the course of 2 hours and students start to realize the challenges that face a lot of the people experiencing poverty in LA (and lots of other places). And then we through in a curve ball of dinner: every night we go to a restaurant that aims to be a new cultural experience. My favorite, in the last couple of years, has been Messob. This is a traditional Ethiopian restaurant on Fairfax, that is owned by the most welcoming and beautiful people you could ever hope to encounter. Every year students stare at this GIANT plate of food and are invited to eat with no plates or flat ware, just pieces of a very “yeasty” flat bread and a few napkins. It is fantastic!
Lastly, we are here to consider our different realities of privilege, and not in away to feel guilty about that privilege, but so that we learn to recognize it and learn to advocate for others. In this Gospel reading this Sunday, Jesus speaks to us about going out into the world that is harsh, and that can be met with resistance. People, often look at our group and think “well it's just a bunch of kids coming to look at us poor people” (someone actually said this). I don’t blame them, and I might have even thought the same thing. All we can do on this week is give students an avenue to consider what they can do. We are not going to solve the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles, but we can sit with a man living in MacArthur Park and share breakfast and hear his story. We are not going find housing for people at the Midnight Mission, but we can grab them an extra trays of food and wish them well during that day. It’s all about how we can go into the world and advocate for those that need it.