Easter Sunday

Rise and shine everyone! Christ has risen from the dead!

This morning, the Indianapolis team woke up relatively early to attend the “Sunrise Service,” the Shepherd Community church hosts this service annually. During worship, we interchanged the language from English and Spanish, which was really fun and interesting.

Next, we all walked over to the cafeteria, the other side of the parking lot, and we ate breakfast. During breakfast, Cameron was showing Nicki how to do hand motions to a children’s song, but then Cameron hit Erica’s hand which caused her to spill her coffee all over the floor in epic, Disney-Channel-esque extravagance.

After we had finished breakfast, we all helped set up chairs because there was a much higher turn out rate than expected. The best part about the service was people’s testimonies. The way they shared their testimonies was by writing on a poster board who they were before on one side, and then wrote about where they are now on the other side. One person was a “crack addict,” but now they have been “clean [for] 1 year 5 months and 27 days.” One person was “homeless,” but then “God provided shelter” for them. Also, there was one person who was a “convicted felon,” but now they are a “devoted counselor.” There were too many testimonies that had been shared, and I can’t cover them all. From just reading about some of those testimonies in the church, I realized that God can make us “new” again by Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice.

After the service we passed out “spring break bags.” Spring break bags are bags filled with food products that are then given to families who need food through their spring break. Most of those families don’t even know when their next meal will be, so Shepherd provides food bags to help the parents out.

Later in the afternoon, we all went to the Eiler’s house to play with their children and eat dinner (Mrs. Eiler is a 3rd grade teacher at Horizon Christian School within Shepherd). At the park, we all did an Easter egg scavenger hunt. While we were all waiting for our leaders to hide the Easter eggs, we started singing children’s songs to pass the time. Yes, of course we had hand motions, and of course people stared at us.

Next, the team had a debrief session, which involved discussions of the highlights of the trip, reactions to returning to Taylor, and writing notes of encouragement to each other. After that we all played a new mafia game that we made up, which involves the cast of Harry Potter. And to wrap up the last full day of the Indianapolis Spring Break Missions Trip, we all decided to watch “A Cinderella Story.” It was a full day, but a great (“lit”) end to our week together.

Thank you all for partnering with us all! We have grown so close as a team and we have all learned so much about God, ourselves, and poverty. It has been a truly rewarding experience. We would love to share our experiences with you after the trip, so feel free to ask! Thanks again.

“The ground began to shake
The stone was rolled away
His perfect love could not be overcome
Now death where is your sting?
Our resurrected King
Has rendered you defeated

Forever he is glorified
Forever he is lifted high
Forever he is risen
He is alive, He is alive!”

“Forever” by Kari Jobe

 

-Jordan Hardesty

Joy

I sat in a tiny chair, legs tucked underneath a tiny desk, hands folded on the surface and head down. I looked to my left to see a young first grader Ashley mimicking my behavior. Her face was composed but her eyes held a glimmer of a smile. Beside me was a girl who had been forced to grow up too fast.

Throughout the week at Shepherd I had the chance to talk with Ashley several times. She told me about her family; her aunt had just moved away this week and her and her brothers had gotten a new bunk bed to share between the three of them. Ashley didn’t play childish games during recess. She didn’t participate in wacky Wednesday or pajama Tuesday during spirit week. She is subdued, respectful, quiet. Ashley has faced hardships and conflicts that have pressured and shortened her childhood. However, Ashley has persevered. She doesn’t wear silly clothes to school, but she laughs at my silly faces during quiet time (I might not be the best influence 🙂 ). She doesn’t doodle on her homework, but she hides behind me giggling and shrieking during dodgeball. She runs up and tackles me during recess, she laughs and skips around the playground- at 8 years old she has grown up, but she has not lost her grasp on joy.

This is a common theme at Shepherd. The first grade classroom I was in was full of children who are not always allowed to be children. They have faced conflict, threats to their danger, and lack of resources. They have been pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. They have endured hardships and yet this week they have taught me so much about joy.

The children of Shepherd reminded myself and my team that joy is everything. They embodied the joy of the Lord in the way that children do- through their laughter, their curiosity, their acceptance, and their hospitality. They refreshed my soul and reminded me that through the business, through the heartache, and through the trials of life, joy remains. Joy continues, it refreshes, it encourages, and it reflects the attitude of Christ.

Tonight my team sat around singing worship songs. We sang gospel music and clapped along, we sang children’s songs with motions and old 90’s worship songs we hadn’t heard in ages. We got up and danced around laughing and praising the Lord. This is just one example of the ways in which the Lord allowed us to feel His joy this week.

I have loved this week. Through the ministry of Shepherd, through my team, and through the children of God has allowed me to see his joy in new and refreshing ways.

-Nicki Mortland

Recess

Four-year-old Emily invited me to make the biggest castle in the world with her. Although skeptical of the stability of a building made of mulch, I undertook the construction project. Then, I played tag with her; it was basically a game of let’s-run-super-fast-until-we’re-laughing-too-hard. That was such a fun recess.

As the week progressed, I would smile at Emily as she came into breakfast, but never had the chance to talk to her again.

During the final hour of our time at the academy, the kids were in the cafeteria preparing to be dismissed. At one end of the 4-year-old table, a large group of children were laughing and playing. At the other end, Emily sat sobbing while watching them, making no effort to wipe the tears from her face.

I ran over and sat next to Emily. I rubbed her arm, asked her about her troubles and assured her that everything would be okay.

Before the trip, a prayer of mine had been to tangibly feel God’s love through me for another person. In that moment, I did. It is hard to describe what it felt like, but I had real compassion and an intense desire for Emily to know that she was loved.

I just continued to rub Emily’s back as her sobs slowed. A couple of minutes later, Emily was called by her teacher to go outside. Her parents had arrived to bring her home. She was still sniffling and shuffled to the door.

As she left, I began to cry. I felt such grief. She was leaving and she did not know that I loved her because God loved her. I barely knew her and may never see her again, and yet I want her to know her value so badly; I want to see her understand the love of Christ. I was overwhelmed with a surprising wave of emotion, a bittersweet pang of love.

I think that in that moment, God was teaching me about His love. Often, when I try to show people my love for them, it is partially selfishly motivated. I want them to appreciate ME appreciating them rather than just wanting them to feel appreciated. In that moment with Emily, my focus was not on myself; I was overcome with a longing for her to know her value. I know that this did not originate in me. The only way that this happened was God giving me His love for Emily.

I believe that this experience was just a taste of God’s love and the way that He feels for us. He was so pained by our separation from Him that Jesus came to die for us. He desires a relationship with us in which we can love and be loved. I know this deeper now.

I am being taught that to truly love someone else, I must share in Christ’s suffering. Wow, actually caring about people means that you hurt for their brokenness?! It is risky business. However, the infinite, beautiful Christ is the strength and love flowing through us. And there will always be recess.

-Julia Noonan

Relationally Rejuvenated

It was another beautiful day at Shepherd Community Center. We woke up (rather sluggishly, I’ll admit 🙂 ) to a bright blue spring sky and robins singing in the tree branches. As we reach the halfway point of our spring break trip, we’re processing more and more the deeper themes behind our trip.

I’ll speak for myself for the most part, though I know that many of the team members have felt the same way as I have. I think our team as whole is quite exhausted. Our mornings are early, our nights are late, and our energy is poured out for the kids at Shepherd in the time in between. I guess the students in our classrooms are filled with so much excitement and a joy and a life that it’s hard for us college students to replicate. Still, we’ve each grown unimaginably fond of our new friends. It was just today that a 4-year-old girl came up to me and hugged me around the middle for several moments, unashamed and innocent. I was glad to wrap my arms around her slender shoulders. The kids shower me with affection on a daily basis. They give shy, sidelong smiles during reading time, and they sneakily slip their hands into mine as we walk down the hallway. While I haven’t seen it personally, I know from their stories that the others have felt just as loved by their students. We can’t help but love them in return.

However, our immense love for the kids at Shepherd means that goodbyes will be incredibly difficult. Tomorrow is our last day to see them. As soon as the school day ends, the students will roll away in their car seats to enjoy their own spring breaks, and we’ll be left without any assurance that we will see them again. I know we will genuinely miss our Shepherd kids. I also truly believe that we will be missed by them as well.

-Clayton Cina

Right on Pace

Today felt like the first “real” day of our trip in the sense that we woke up prepared to serve how Shepherd needed for the majority of our day. The weekend provided our team a great opportunity to get to know the organization we’re working with, meet some of the immediate community members they serve at church, and connect with the larger Taylor community by sharing dinners and performing acts of service with various alumni who live in the greater Indianapolis area. I believe most of our team was excited and ready to get to work today, discovering how we can partner with the mission of Shepherd Community Center during a normal, operating day.

We began the day by joining the students enrolled in the school located at Shepherd at breakfast. Then, each team member was placed with a classroom for the morning, assisting the teacher and students as they needed. For some grades this was helping with math homework or handwriting lessons. For others it was engaging in free play with the preschoolers so the classroom teachers could finish required observations of each student that are difficult to complete in a regular day. After joining the students for lunch and recess, our team helped say goodbye to the younger students who dismiss midday. In this process, we passed out large totes of food to each student that are intended to ease the burden of providing food for the children over the course of Spring Break that begins on Friday for these students.

During the afternoon, we took a break from work and had the opportunity to take a tour of Indianapolis with a Shepherd staff member. This tour provided our team with a better perspective of what poverty looks like in the city, why and how it has developed over the years, and what role Shepherd is playing to serve the neighborhood in which it is located.

On this tour, one of the points that was of special interest to me was the fact that the immediate neighborhood Shepherd serves is a food desert. This means that within the defined neighborhood limits, there are few to no restaurants and/or grocery stores. Specific to this location, the only restaurants are small, family-owned establishments. These families have very little access to fresh, affordable, nutritious food.

Provision of food is one of the largest outreaches Shepherd offers to its community in several different areas. Our team saw this enacted three times today alone as we ate two separate meals with the students at school. These meals are free to all students twice a day when school is in session are are more nutritious than the average school meal. Volunteers and staff spend the morning in the kitchen to prepare these meals for each student present that day.

The school also sends home weekend bags of food with many families to ensure their students have access to food when they are not in school. Many students are only guaranteed the ten meals they are served at school, but Shepherd knows that the time from Friday lunch to Monday breakfast is far too long for a student to go without a meal. The center does its best to meet these needs. This is also being done for every student over Spring Break, as seen through the bags of food our team had the opportunity to pass out today and will continue to pass out throughout the week.

The center also provides food for other community members through a food pantry, community garden, and hen house. These outreaches require some effort from community members to receive their goods, such as cleaning the hen house one day a week, in return receiving any eggs that were laid that day. It was both humbling to view the city from the eyes of someone who works with the community members receiving services from Shepherd as well as encouraging to know that the center is truly working to meet relevant needs that exist.

After lunch today, our team discovered that Shepherd had been given a handful of Pacers tickets as a donation from the team itself! The two organizations have a longstanding relationship, and the center will occasionally be given tickets to use. We had a chance to see a bit of local color and pride at the Pacers game and walking through downtown Indianapolis. Opportunities arise in unexpected places, but we didn’t have other evening plans, so we spent our time enjoying each others’ company!

As we enter into the rest of the week, we would appreciate your continued prayers for our team health. Two members of our group started the trip under the weather, but they’re on the upswing now. We’re praying they heal fully and the rest of the team remains healthy so we can serve and partner with Shepherd most effectively and be ready when God provides opportunities for action.

-Paige McCourt

Poverty, Palm Sunday, and Ping-Pong

This morning, we joined the community for breakfast and church at Shepherd Church of the Nazarene. At breakfast, I talked with Steve, a Shepherd cafeteria volunteer.

Steve radiated a quiet warmth and kindness, very apparent when he talked about years of serving as a Sunday School teacher and currently at Shepherd. Steve’s willingness to come alongside the children at Shepherd reflected his heart of discipleship. He said, “Sometimes the kids learn thing about life here that they don’t learn at home. Then, when they’re older, they’ve got those values instilled in them.”   The ways in which Shepherd ministers into the lives of each individual child is apparent through the work of Steve and other volunteers.

During church, I noticed that many worship songs included a focus on human brokenness and Christ’s wholeness. Themes of poverty and restoration echoed through every song. Growing up, I had heard each song and knew the lyrics by heart. However, they never resonated with me as much as they did today. Phrases like, “Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fails,” “I’m desperate for you,” and “I’m lost without you” stuck with me. Many of the people living in the neighborhoods surrounding Shepherd face the realities of destitution and powerlessness on a daily basis. I saw an urgency in the worship of the congregation that was largely lacking when I sang the same songs at my church. The people realize their need for Christ, not only in the physical sense, but in their spiritual lives. When the money is low and the food is scarce, Christ is still good. The people I saw at Shepherd’s church largely reflected their dependence on Christ’s sovereignty through their fervent worship.

In the evening, we split up into three groups for dinners with alumni families. The family I visited, the Beaversons, welcomed us into their home with incredible hospitality. From the moment we stepped through the door, we were greeted with lots of smiles, hugs and Taylor memories. Mr. Beaverson told us stories of going to the old prayer chapel in the middle of the night to pray and give up what was weighing on his mind to the Lord. Mrs. Beaverson told us stories about how the Lord worked in her life through her career choice. The love of Christ was so present in this family and their five children. We enjoyed a night filled with home-cooked food, ping pong and incredible conversations. Before we left, Mr. Beaverson shared a poem with us called “Tell on Yourself.” The first part of the poem said, “You tell on yourself by the friends you seek, by the manner in which you speak; by the way you employ you your leisure time, by the use you make of every dollar or dime.” What a blessing to share in the lives of a family with not only a legacy at Taylor, but a legacy of Christ.

As we begin our third day at Shepherd, pray for our team to have energy, joy and compassion toward each other and those we serve. Pray for open minds and open hearts to the Lord’s will for the trip. Pray for the love of Christ to be evident in each of our lives and for us to see the love of Christ in those we meet.

-Katherine Yeager

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Our team after our mulching project on Saturday with Taylor alumni, parents, and future Taylor students.

Day One: Check

Hello all! We’re all settled in at Shepherd Community Center, and we’ve already had some great experiences in the first day. Today has given us a sense of what the week will look like, and we’re excited to see how it pans out.

When our team first arrived, we had a group discussion with Phil, a Shepherd representative who will be working with us some this week. We talked about our understanding of poverty, whether or not someone can pull himself or herself out of poverty without aid, and how we can personally help others in poverty. It was a valuable discussion, and we all learned different things from it. One thing that I (Cameron) took away was Phil’s insight that the elderly people who live around Shepherd will sometimes call 911 solely because they feel lonely. That blows my mind. There are people around here that are so hurting that they are willing to call policemen to their house just so that they will have an interaction with someone. It reminds me that people who are in poverty are lacking in more than just money: they are also in relational poverty, and they desperately want people who support and love them. This is a void that only Jesus can fill, and I hope and pray that He meets them.

Later in the afternoon, we did a mulching project on Shepherd’s two playgrounds with some Taylor University alumni. It was quite enjoyable interacting with former Taylor students as well as their highly energetic children. Also, several members of our team commented on how refreshing it was to do physical labor and to give our brains a rest from studying.

Then, after dinner, we had a team meeting. We talked about our initial thoughts and feelings from the day, sang worship songs, and got to hear testimonies from Julia and Jordan. It was a great time to both reflect as a team and to get to know each other better, and I’m excited for more debrief times.

All in all, it was a great day! We appreciate continued prayers for our team, especially that God would give us physical strength  and recovery from a tiresome week of classes. We’re anticipating learning, growth, and God-ordained ministry opportunities throughout the remainder of Spring Break.

-Cameron Eckmann