Thursday, February 11, 2010

a new series...

Many of you may not know this, but back in 2003 I worked for an organization called Center for Student Missions (CSM). Our purpose was to facilitate three- to seven-day missions trips for junior high, high school, and college students in the inner-city. My job as "City Host" was to welcome, orientate, guide, and debrief my group's experience in the city -- essentially, we were the bridge between the groups and the ministries with whom we served. We worked in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, after-school and summer daycamp programs, food banks, churches, and other parachurch ministries. We led prayer tours the night of the group's arrival to introduce them to some of the issues the city faces. We took our groups to a different ethnic restaurant every night so they could experience the rich and diverse culture of the inner-city. We even dedicated an entire night to walking through the city with nothing but a dollar to experience the reality of a runaway or homeless person trying to make it on the streets. And we led debriefing sessions at the end of each day, often witnessing the shock, the admissions of ignorance and guilt, the pain, and the disgust our groups felt as they saw and processed the harsh reality of poverty in their own backyard.
During the first five months of my time with CSM, I lived with a former Hell's Angel and his wife in a little brick house on Queen Street East in Toronto. I worked mostly at the homeless shelter down the street, a food bank, and at our office a block away. Just before our busy summer season hit, the directors of the organization visited from California and asked if my co-worker and I would be interested in hosting at the Chicago base for a couple of months. I gladly said yes, and my experience there was completely unique from the previous months spent in Toronto. There, in the Windy City, I worked almost strictly with children -- homeless, fatherless, displaced, and broken kids. Chicago had a completely different flavour than Toronto, and to be honest, I loved it most. I loved the challenge (although painfully hard at times), meeting new people, being uncomfortable, learning new things, and serving serving serving.

The truth is, I fell in love with the inner-city that year. I learned SO much, especially being the 20-year old prairie girl that I was. My eyes were opened to a world I never knew existed; to poverty, injustice, and serving (and even more, seeing) Jesus in the dirty, messy ways I had never before experienced. My heart started to break in ways that were new to me, and I think that was the year I truly realized that the world was a lot bigger than me and that following Jesus was going to cost me something.

For the past six years, I've intended to write about my experiences with CSM. I've found little tidbits in random notebooks and journals here and there, but overall, I've been very unfaithful to that desire. Two nights ago, as I lay in bed telling David a story from that time in my life, my eyes filled with tears and I remembered how much I loved that adventure. I remembered the kids I met in the projects and how much they affected me. I remembered the passion I had to right the wrongs in the world. I remembered that in so many ways, I've forgotten the needs of the broken and poor and have gotten a little too comfortable in my safe little suburb.

For the next little while, I'm going to be sharing some stories of the people I met during my time in Toronto and Chicago. I'm calling it "In the Shadows" because I think that's where these people are often found and why they are overlooked. Or perhaps where we keep them.

But they are so beautiful, if only we'd take the time to see them and know them.

*check out to get a taste of what this organization is all about. despite the debate on short-term missions, they do incredible work and i whole-heartedly support their vision. if you've got any questions, feel free to ask me.


  1. I'd almost forgotten about that experience in your life. Totally looking forward to reading your memories and love that I can get a more regular glimpse into your life here. Much love. Jana

  2. I too have flashbacks and am reminded of the meaningful moments I had and shared and the determination I felt not to forget. But, ahh, how easy it is to forget when my life is so different now. Way too easy. So I'm looking forward to reading your stories and interested in what memories they'll spark in my own mind.
    Remember Charlie's Angels? Didn't we see that together on one of our afternoons off?

  3. Beautiful, Alisha. I'm so glad you still remember what God showed you that summer, since I'm one of the Californians that asked you to make that move! Blessings on you!