Life in the 46201

 

UnbelievablIMG_6096e that Spring Break is almost over (SPRONG BROCK).  Our team has some last minute thoughts that we want to share with anyone who still cares, so buckle up, kids.  It’s gonna be a wild one.

With less than one day left of our time at Shepherd, it strikes me as odd that we often feel as if we must validate local missions.  Somehow, serving those from our own countries and states, cities and communities takes on a very arbitrary form in Christian culture.  We understand its virtue, but not its urgency, as if the people nearest to us are not equally as broken, equally as underserved, equally as worthy of dignity and love as the ones we travel thousands of miles to meet.  The story we tell of local ministry is not a full one, and it is most certainly valid.

I am also guilty of trivializing local missions to a catchy slogan or punch line, yet my cynicism has been squelched this week at Shepherd.  Never have I been more challenged, more convicted, more uncomfortable, and more humbled than in this vibrant city only thirty minutes from the cornfields of my hometown.

Our time at Shepherd has been marked by accidental nicknames, Catan betrayals, and more than a few original memes, but at the risk of sounding too dramatic, it has also been sort of tough at times.

Wednesday saw our team helping out at the Horizon Academy, prepping for a senior community luncheon, canvassing the streets of Indy to invite the community to Shepherd’s trimonthly Block Party (an outreach event featuring hot dogs, health screenings, and bouncy castles), and administering food items to community members from Gleaner’s Food Bank.

At the end of the night, our debriefing was heavy with the things we had seen and heard and their weighty implications.

The most jarring event of mine and most of the team’s day was the community walk.  I headed out with Kelsey, Gabe and Carissa (two Shepherd staff members), a health specialist, and an IMPD officer to walk through two streets in the 46201 zip code, streets of people Shepherd aims to serve.  Though this area isn’t the safest, IMPD didn’t accompany us for protection.  Because of the negative connotation of the profession iIMG_6117n the near East Side culture, the IMPD tries to be super intentional about community outreach to try and shift the paradigm.  Hence, policeman.

Walking next to the 6’ 4’’ officer, I could sense the fear in the air.  People who called the street home became stiff at the sight of the black uniform and the power it represents.  The reluctance of homeowners to answer the knocks at the door spoke volumes with the silence that followed, and the ones who did answer had the panic written in their eyes.  Though you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t be terrified if five strangers and a cop came banging on their front door, the context added layers of meaning behind those confused tones and inch-wide wood openings.

The community walk widened my privileged perspective, and showed me a different side of a city I knew but had never fully known.  Boarded up homes and trespassing warnings had not been my experience growing up, but for so many Indianapolis children, it’s that experience an
d then some.  When inviting the community to the Block Party, I was haunted by the children who answered the door.  The girl that backed away at the sight of the officer, running up the stairs for her mom.  The other that waved to us from behind her dad’s legs.  These kids are the ones our team has gotten to know at Shepherd through coloring, playing cops and robbers, and hoisting them onto our laps for story time.

But life out there is not a game.

The kids of Indianapolis, kids Shepherd is trying to reach, are up against some serious challenges barring them from financial, educational, and social success at no fault of their own.  Kids no different from me besides my pure luck at having been born into a white middle-class evangeliIMG_5986cal Christian family.  The unfairness of it all strikes me again when I see their faces – but in the place of a face I see a steak knife in the yard in the midst of bouncy balls and toy cars left out from the day before.  I see “Beware of Dog” signs and graffiti-decorated porches.  I see tired faces and bloodshot eyes, and I remember that in the dog days of childhood innocence, these kids are dealing with a struggle I know nothing about when they walk out of Shepherd’s doors.

And, honestly, I don’t know what to do with that.

I could quote some hopeful Scripture or tell you I had a moment of clarity and began to understand the purpose behind perpetuated injustice, but that would be an aggressively cheesy lie.  There is nothing that you or I or anyone else can single-handedly do to “fix” the issues of systematic racism and the cycle of poverty so prevalent in Indianapolis or anywhere else on this earth, and that is life on this side of Heaven.  The men and women at Shepherd Community Center and local ministries like it are trying to do some good, not in the hopes of changing the world, but of changing the life of one child for the better with the knowledge that it is God who loved them first and it is God who is in control.  And I am so thankful that they’ll be here long after my team and I have arrived back at Taylor.

See ya tomorrow, TU

Writer: McKenna Gold

 

Block Parties and Bad Puns

And with some delicious, authentic tacos from a grocery store on the East side of Indy and Italian Ice on the canal (10/10), our Fri(y)ay and the week at Shepherd is quickly approaching an end. We apologIMG_6670ize for the lack of updates on our work here at Shepherd’s Community, but hopefully, I can relay four days’ worth of activities in a relatively short blog post. Here are some highlights:

            During the mornings, we continued to work with Horizon Christian Academy in the classroom and in the kitchen preparing meals for the students. We were usually placed with 3 & 4 year-olds (a personal favorite) and 2nd graders, helping them with classwork and running around with them during recess. Tuesday we had a special assembly where Glen Robinson III from the Pacers came and spoke to the kids and donated sports equipment to the Academy. For those of you who are as clueless as I am about NBA basketball, he won a slam dunk contest which, apparently, is a pretty big deal. Needless to say, the kids were very excited. Today was their last day before their Spring Break, so we helped hand out food packages to the kids for the week. Energy levels were at an all-time high, even our team with the help of a couple cups (gallons) of Folgers coffee.IMG_6142

            Afternoons were dedicated to work-projects, whether it was clean up around Shepherd or working at a house of a family in the community. Tuesday, we made encouragement goodies for a local public school for kids taking the ISTEP, complete with Rolo chocolates and really bad puns. Wednesday was a little different since Shepherd hosted a giant Spring Break Block Party for the neighborhood. We began with canvassing the neighborhood, inviting people to the party, with different staff members and the IMPD. Admittedly, many of our team members were uncomfortable and nervous about walking around the neighborhood with the police officers, but the experience was a very rewarding and eye-opening experience, and one of our most memorable moments of the trip. At the black party, we partnered with Gleaner’s Food Bank to hand out groceries to the families who attended. On Thursday, we helped clean and replace gutters at a local man’s house, and today, Friday, we cleaned trash from around the church and helped close the school for Spring Break.

Some things you can be praying for us on our last days here would be:

  1. Time to process all we’ve been learning and experiencing here at Shepherd
  2. Energy, sleep and no more sickness!

Thank you for all your prayers, and sorry once again for the late update!

Writer: JoHannah Lindsay

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What God is Doing in Indy — in the Heart of a Team Member

Unfortunately, I can’t quite update you on what the team has been doing the past couple of days and how it’s impacted us. You see, I’ve been sick since Tuesday night (today is Thursday) with something that resembles the flu: fever/feverish, achiness, headache, don’t wanna eat, sinus things, ear ache, sore throat, no energy, the whole shebang.


Reasonably so, I slept for almost all of yesterday, and, even when I wanted to socialize with the team, I could only be up for about an hour before I could barely keep my eyes open.

As you can imagine, I felt pretty powerless and helpless. And I don’t like that. And God knows that very, very well.

Since the first team meeting, I have felt the need to prove myself, specifically my worth. Even when everyone else started to let their guard down and be themselves, I still felt like the black sheep and that I needed to earn my place. Who would want to deal with a crazy, impulsive, hyperactive person for more than a week? (Well, now that I think about it, that describes at least a quarter of our team…)

On Monday night, three of us (including me) was cooking dinner for the team. I ended up burning myself pretty bad by picking up a super hot, melting plastic spoon. (I wish I was kidding.) Instead of camping out by the sink to take care of it, I would keep cooking until I could no longer bare the pain, and would run to the sink to relieve it, but only be there for a minute or two.  I wouldn’t allow myself the luxury of relaxing and letting go because I needed to impress everybody on my cooking skills and show them that I could, at least, contribute in this particular way.

As you can imagine, I got this HUGE blister on my pointer finger, right where I’d hold a pencil. Even when it was tender, I didn’t let it stop me and I made sure not to make a big deal about it. I’d still help load/unload suitcases and such because, well, I couldn’t let something as small as a blister stop me from my mission of showing the team how valuable I was.

So, if God wanted to get to me this week, He knew He had to do something BIG to force me to slow down and come back to Him. So when I have to stay back on the first day we don’t have to move our mattresses into a storage room, and when the building isn’t going to be used on the day I feel like walking around, it became obvious that God was being purposeful in His timing and knew exactly what He was doing. It sometimes requires us to be brought into the most helpless and miserable state to remember how much we need Him and how little we actually can accomplish on our own strength.

All my life, I’ve had a tendency to revert back to feeling like I need to prove myself: to my peers, my co-workers (in spirit, in a job, in school, etc) and to God. It’s easy to believe that I was thrown into the reject pile during the quality control check, or that I have a few missing parts or loose screws. However, God’s been reminding me that He not only made me — and you, too! — and invited me personally into His family and adopted me as His own daughter. I’m not an illegitimate child in the Kingdom, but a full-blood member, having the same access to Him as the spiritual giants in my life. Not only that, but He loves me just as much as the “put-together” people too! He doesn’t have this sort of pity-love, but real, true, full-hearted love and passion for me. I truly belong here, not because I earned it or deserve it, but because He saw me and loves me and sees who He made me to be instead of my shortcomings and failures.

Friends, God is so full of love and compassion. I could go on and on about His goodness and love and grace. Regardless of how weary we are or how much work we have to do, we can find the rest we need in Him.

And speaking of rest, it’s about time I grab some myself…

I’ll see you on the other side!

Remember, you are beautiful and loved and cherished by the one who made you and knows everything about you, and don’t ever believe the lie that you have to prove anything to anyone, because a lie is all that is.

In Christ,
Your Sister,
Mary/Mirabelle Cyr

PS: For your enjoyment, here are some pictures of us being our spontaneous, beautiful, quirky, wonderful selves. Despite the eclectic collection of personalities and assets, we’ve all come to accept each other for who we are, and it’s been a blessing to be a part of. I hope you get to hear from all of them as we continue to write to you throughout the rest of the week!

Mansions, Duplexes and Piles of Sticks

Mansions, Duplexes and Piles of Sticks

The Indianapolis team arrived at Shepherd Community Center safely on Saturday afternoon after a long and arduous hour a half journey from TU! Okay, so maybe the hour and a half drive we had wasn’t as arduous or adventurous as some of the other spring break teams, but none-the-less, we are grateful to have made it safe and sound to Shepherd.

Saturday mostly consisted of getting settled in to our new home for the next week at Shepherd First Church of the Nazarene, and as a result we didn’t have much interaction with any of Shepherd’s ministries. Sunday was when we finally got to experience all that Shepherd is about as well as explore the wide range of socioeconomic backdrops of Indianapolis.

We began our Sunday eating breakfast with one of the multiple congregations that meet in Shepherd’s facilities before the start of their church service. Breakfast (as well as the church service) was served in Horizon Christian Academy’s cafeteria room. Horizon is a prek-5th grade private Christian academy that is located on Shepherd’s campus, and the cafeteria is often converted to all sorts of rooms to accompany the needs of Shepherd’s various ministries. The congregation of this church consisted of the widest range of people our team has ever seen: all sorts of people from all different walks of life. This church was started years ago in a section eight housing complex and moved to Shepherd’s cafeteria space when the amount of people coming could no longer squeeze into the housing complex’s spare room. All sorts of broken people (including every single person on our team, after all, we’re all sinners in need of grace) from different socioeconomic classes: middle class families, lower class families, drug addicts, alcoholics, elderly, young, the homeless. Families, single people, single mothers, lonely people, joyful people, people of color, white people, people with felonies, and people with college educations. There were well over 150 of them. One man told us that’s what he loved about this church. In between mouthfuls of flimsy pancakes and grey scrambled eggs, this older gentlemen explained how the pastor of the church had a past that was relatable to his, and how this congregation made up of alcoholics and drug addicts was “not like a traditional church”. That comment haunted our team the rest of the day. Why was this church, one full of diversity, over flowing with complete and open honesty, and one that had a congregation completely in love with Jesus, considered to be a “non-traditional church”? Hmm.

The rest of our Sunday consisted of driving throughout Indianapolis. We were in awe driving through Hamilton County (a suburb on the fringes of the inner city, one of the wealthiest counties in the country) and seeing elaborate mansions lining the streets for many miles, only to be harshly brought back to reality when our cars turned the corner to enter the actual city of Indianapolis. It was like driving into a brick wall; streets of clean and proper rows of green grasses and hedges were instantly replaced with weed infested sidewalks and street corners. The impressive mansions instantly turned into dilapidated duplexes. It was clear where the line was drawn between the haves and the have-nots. Again, that stark contrast haunted us well into the rest of the evening.

Finally, this morning, we started our work in the classroom’s of Horizon Christian Academy. The majority of the students at Horizon come from the neighborhoods surrounding Shepherd, which means many of them come from lower socioeconomic families. Everyday they all eat breakfast together in the cafeteria, and are whirled away to math, reading, vocabulary, social studies and penmanship lessons. Students are as young as three years old and as old as 10 or 11 years old. Our team split up and had lovely experiences being teacher aids in three/four year old preschool classrooms as well as one second grade classroom. The majority of the students were Latino/Latina, and thus spoke both Spanish and English. Our team was blown away by their excitement and eagerness to learn, not only about math/reading/social studies, but also about Jesus, who loves them so dearly. Once again, our team loved our time with the children, but were deeply haunted by the fact that over 80% of the students were either Hispanic or Black. Clearly the past of our country is still rearing its ugly shadow across the lives of the people groups who make up the majority of these disadvantaged neighborhoods, and we will struggle with the questions that come with that disturbing fact far beyond this week.

In the afternoon, our team was guided throughout Shepherd’s campus and the surrounding community to perform tiny work projects: first, unloading a truck full of food for Shepherd’s food pantry. Then  picking up large dump piles of sticks and branches in the yard of a house Shepherd was renovating in the neighborhood for a family who attends the ministry, and loading them into a truck. Then coming back to Shepherd’s campus and unloading them into the dumpster. Then organizing a random storage room in the church full of all sorts of random boxes full of random things, and finally carrying various useful random things we found to the food pantry for use in Shepherd’s ministries. Flexibility was the theme of our afternoon, but our team found great joy in performing simple things with great love for Shepherd and the families our work would eventually impact.

Okay! That is it for today. To anyone who actually made it this far…thanks for reading! I (Erica) sincerely tried to make this blog post short and sweet, but I can never seem to do that, ever. For anything. There’s just so much our team wants to share with you! The good news is that from now on, other members of our team will be able to contribute to our blog posts! So…be on the lookout for their posts!

Thank you for supporting us and praying for us, we can’t wait to share with you again in a few days!

 

Spring Break Eve-Eve

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!