It is Spring Break Missions Eve-Eve for the Indianapolis team here on campus! We are entering the last 24 hours of what has been a crazily busy and demanding week before Spring Break. All across campus, students are studying feverishly for their final midterms tomorrow, suitcases are filling up with swimsuits and sunglasses, and luggage packed cars are slowly trickling out of the parking lots of residence halls. At this time tomorrow, the only students left on campus will be those waiting to leave for mission trips, spring athletes, and a few stranglers who cannot leave for home until Saturday morning.
My name is Erica, and I am one of the team members for the Indianapolis Spring Break Mission team! I will be in charge of updating this blog while we serve at Shepherd Community Center over the next week, and I look forward to sharing the thoughts, emotions, and reactions of our team while we witness the incredible movement of God through the ministries of Shepherd. Shepherd Community Center was founded in 1985 and has been working near the Eastside of Indianapolis ever since. The mission of Shepherd is “…to break the cycle of poverty on the near Eastside of Indianapolis by engaging and empowering the community to cultivate healthy children, strong families, and vibrant neighborhoods through a Christ-centered approach that meets the physical, emotional, spiritual, and academic needs of our neighbors” (taken from Shepherd’s website). In other words, Shepherd faithfully and lovingly participates in the hard part of serving those who need an extra helping hand. They go beyond donations and quick handouts (which are good in nature but sometimes can do more harm than good) that only seem to bandage the true underlying problems of poverty. Shepherd comes alongside the forgotten people of Indianapolis and are with them for the long haul. They build friendships with the families they serve, they live and work with the residents in the neighborhoods that surround Shepherd’s campus, and they treat all who walk through their doors as valuable and beautiful creations of God. They understand the complexity of generational poverty in America, acknowledging that poverty comes in multiple forms, and that all people, regardless of socioeconomic status, are important, intelligent, and created to bring goodness and flourishment to their own communities. Shepherd seeks to empower the people they serve to lift themselves, their children and their communities out of all forms of poverty in a dignified way. Our team is humbled to be able to join hands with Shepherd staff and volunteers.
In preparation for our trip, our team has been meeting weekly for a two-hour class during which we discuss Shepherd’s history, study the history of Indianapolis, share our excitements and fears about serving alongside Shepherd, and read and pray over Scripture about the people we will be meeting at Shepherd. We have also been reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This book has given our team incredible insights on the potential complications and awkwardness short term missions can cause in vulnerable communities.
Personally, I’ve been made incredibly grateful for the insights it has given me, as all of them have forced me to humble myself. This book has caused our team to reflect on tough topics such as racial and ethnic oppression in the United States and how certain social structures exist that keep minorities deprived of opportunities and pushed to the outskirts of society, and how our appearance and our middle-class status can subconsciously communicate negative messages of superiority to the people we are simply trying to serve and love in a Christ like manner.
If I am being honest, they have made me nervous about engaging with the people I am going to Indianapolis to serve. I am fearful of communicating to them things that I would never desire to communicate, I am fearful of unintentionally offending or degrading or hurting them, and I am fearful of navigating the treacherous territory of reconciling certain realities about poverty in America that have been set up throughout history to disadvantage so many vulnerable people groups.
And yet, my team continues to remind me that the work of our God transcends this treacherous territory, and that He does His most transformative work when awkwardness abounds in the name of self-sacrificial love. I am confident in His ability to teach our team incredible lessons when we bravely step into our week of humble service. The moments of fear and hesitation that we may experience are exactly the moments we need to grab His hand and leap into the situation He placed before us. Our team is aware that our week with Shepherd, as beautiful and wonderful as it no doubt will be, will at the same time push us out of our comfort zones in order to reflect and grow in potentially difficult ways. However, God and all His goodness awaits us beyond the confines of our personal comfort and ease.
So, as the members of our team finish up our studying tonight, our packing tomorrow, and set out on our long and treacherous journey to Indianapolis on Saturday (I’m kidding…Indy is only an hour and a half away from Taylor!), and as our hearts begin to swell with excitement and anxiety, please be praying for us. Pray that the Lord grants us a spirit of humility, servanthood and empathy for the people we will be meeting. Pray that He moves our hearts with compassion, and pray that He leads us to respond to the stories we will be hearing with competent acts of love, kindness and humility. Finally, pray for the people we will be meeting, both the families who attend Shepherd and the volunteers of Shepherd. Pray for their hearts as much as you are praying for ours.
Thank you to everyone who has prayerfully made the decision to support our team. Your support is so incredibly valuable to us, and we look forward to sharing with you all the ways we get to watch God move during our time in Indianapolis!