Saturday, October 8, 2011
Pondering homelessness and poverty
I spent the last 24 hours with twenty 7th and 8th graders, and 5 other adults. We did an "urban immersion" retreat to Milwaukee. We took our country kids out of their comfy lives and plopped them completely out of their comfort zone. I went on this same retreat with a different group 2 years ago, and it was amazing then too.
Friday night, we ate dinner at St. Benedict the Moor church at their meal program. It is an amazing program. They serve dinner 6 days a week to anyone who comes. The majority of the population is homeless or living in poverty, but anyone is welcome. For most of our youth, this was their first exposure to homelessness and/or true poverty. We did not eat as a group. 3 or 4 of us would go through the line and be seated with the "regular" participants. Most of us had discussion with the other participants and we learn a lot during these conversations. I am eager to hear their thoughts after they have had time to process everything.
From the meal program we went to Greater Mt. Sinai Church of God in Christ. Again, this is outside the comfort zone of our youth. This is an African American Pentecostal church and the Friday night worship service is amazing. The love and warmth of the congregation is amazing, their faith in God and Jesus are beyond evident in their testimonies, and the worship is filled with lively and spiritual music. A few of the youth got into it and were clapping and dancing. This is not "normal" in our church, so I was glad to see them let the Spirit move them to join in the service. The church is so welcoming of visitors, and we are obviously visitors!! This may have been the first time that these youth were in the minority by being white.
From their we made our way to Bethel-Bethany United Church of Christ. This was our host church and our sleeping quarters. Bethel and Rev. Tim Perkins run this program. It's a great trip for a youth group both in content, and the fact that we have to do little planning. They do the work for you!!! It is another welcoming place. We all bunked on the floor, well the adults bunked on cots, and spent the night.
In the morning, we got up and ate breakfast. Last time we got up and prepared breakfast for 75 men at the Guest House in downtown Milwaukee, just a few blocks from where we ate on Friday night. Another group had already signed up to serve there, so we had a different "project" this time. We talked about how people become homeless. We ran through different scenarios. We were then given a budget and went to Target to purchase items that would be beneficial to the recipients in each scenario. The youth learned what the NEEDS of these groups are, and they are learned about making a dollar stretch as they had to get the items on their list, within their budget. Yes, I know, it's a basic life skill.
We took our purchased items to Guest House and took a brief tour. A walk around downtown Milwaukee gave us a glimpse into the life of someone on the streets and where they might seek shelter.
Onward to the Islamic Center of Miwaukee. We were greeted by our wonderful guide, Inshirah, who took us on a tour of the Mosque and the school and we witnessed the afternoon prayers. We discussed the Islam religion and found that we had many things in common. There are cultural differences, but our youth discovered that we actually worship the same God.
Our last stop was for lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market. If you are in the area and have not been there, it is worth the trip. There are vendors offering everything from burgers to sushi to Mexican food and seafood. If you can't find something you like here, you're a pretty picky eater. You won't find a chain restaurant in the market. Along with being a place to eat, it's a place to gather. Their is a coffee vendor, a flower vendor, a wine vendor, and a gathering area. Every age and race are present in the market.
....and then it was back to church. We did ALL of this in 24 hours. We left our church at 4:00 PM on Friday and returned at the same time on Saturday. It is a hectic, action packed time, but there is so much to learn and absorb.
It's good for us to get out of our comfort zone and remind ourselves that we actually have pretty good lives. There are things we take for granted every day that many people do without out and be grateful if they had it. I am tired, but it is a good tired. I hope we have given our youth some things to think about and reflect upon. I know this trip make a big impact on the group we took two years ago.