Centern Stories: Week 4 with Natalie

Last week, I worked with middle school youth from Eastside Baptist Church (Marietta, GA) at week three of five of the Rosemont Community Interfaith Coalition’s summer camp. Each day, we heard a different parable of Jesus, sang songs, learned math, read stories, played field games, and did arts and crafts together.

“I’m not a bad kid. I’m a good kid. They’re calling me a ‘bad kid,’” is what a third grader said to me after he was sent away for almost getting into a fight with an older camper. I hadn’t called him a “bad kid,” I’d only asked why his day wasn’t going well as this was the second time I had to pull him out of our group that day. I assured him that I knew he wasn’t a bad kid and that God loves him no matter what.

This made me think of other labels we give humans and spaces in the world. “Bad neighborhood,” “rough city,” and “dangerous people” are all labels I’ve heard people use to describe Baltimore. These voices haven’t gotten to know Baltimore the way its citizens know Baltimore. Most of these voices haven’t even set foot in Baltimore.

At camp, we got to work alongside leaders in the Rosemont neighborhood who recognize the good people, good resources, and good potential that already exist. Furthermore, these leaders represent faith communities that likely would have never organically worked together if it were not for the coalition they have formed. Regardless of theological differences and preferred praise styles, these leaders and the groups which they represent love this city and love their neighborhood.

One of the many things I have learned while working at The Center is that when we use words like “violent” or “scary” to describe people and places, we put them in a box and the box becomes a system that takes away their potential. This boxing in functions the same way as referring to the third grader as a “bad kid.” Giving him that identity teaches him that all he can amount to is misbehaving and making poor choices. When we take a step back to determine why we perceive a neighborhood as “rough,” we are able to see the pile of factors that contribute to that viewpoint.

-Natalie

Centern Stories: Week 4 with Laura

Last week, we had a group from Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. There were about 30 people that stayed at The Center. Since this was such a large group, we spilt them 3 different worksites. The sites for the week were Babcock Presbyterian Church, Rosemont Community Interfaith Coalition and Knox Presbyterian Church. I had the pleasure of working with a group of 7 youth and 2 adults at Knox Presbyterian Church. My group also worked at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church. The week was filled with mural painting and relationship building.

On Monday and Tuesday mornings, we went to Amazing Grace Lutheran Church to help with restoring a mural with their summer camp and doing some gardening. Amazing Grace has had a mural on the ground that need some fresh paint to restore its beauty. We had the opportunity to work with the campers in their summer camp to start this process. The Eastside Baptist group and I got to hang out with the campers while painting and eat lunch with them.

Our Monday through Friday evenings were filled with going to Knox Presbyterian Church and helping out at their Vacation Bible School (VBS). Their theme was God’s Water Heroes so we learned all about saving water and being nice to our environment (ie. not littering and recycling). We also had the opportunity of helping them paint a new mural that is on the side of their church. Both of these worksites lead to lots of new relationships between the youth and the campers. This was the first time we had a group working with Knox Presbyterian Church. After service on Sunday, we had the opportunity of eating lunch with the members of the church. We all instantly felt at home and I knew that this was going to be a great partnership. All the adult volunteers were friendly and so open to us being there! Through the week, we all built relationships and went out of our comfort zones to have a great week of VBS. By the end of the week, you could tell that some true friendships were made with the campers and the Eastside Baptist youth. One evening, one of the campers came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me that she would miss me. This instantly melted my heart. It is always crazy to me when I realize what a big impact by just being present with kids can be for them and you.

As I have said, last week led to a lot of new relationships and really showed how mission is relational. Thursday morning, we started the day with a devotion on The Road to Emmaus and I asked the group to think about where they see Jesus along their day. After, the group and I went on a scripture scavenger hunt. We were given 10 different scriptures and we had to find something that represented the scripture. As we were completing the hunt, we walked into a park and I decided to say hello to a man who was sitting on a bench. He said hello and asked what we were doing. I told him and instantly thought that this conversation would abruptly end and we would continue on. However, I was wrong. We ended up having about a 30 minute conversation with him and learned that his name was Dwight. Dwight was very excited about our scripture scavenger hunt. We learned that Dwight went to seminary and was also in the military. Somewhere a long his life journey, he became homeless. Yet, he did not let that keep him down and derail him from his faith. For 30 minutes, we shared our scriptures with Dwight and he shared his interpretation with us. This moment was exactly what mission was about. It is about meeting people, who may be different from you, and being able to talk with them and get to know them despite those differences. As the was conversation happening, it was heartwarming to see how engaged the youth were when talking to Dwight. I also couldn’t believe that we talked about The Road to Emmaus that morning and were blessed with meeting Dwight. Each one of us were crossing a boundary we don’t normally cross and doing it respectfully and gracefully. This conversation was definitely a highlight for not just me but for Eastside Baptist. We talked about it all during our debrief that day. The youth talked about how it was uncomfortable and awkward at first but they were glad to have met Dwight and hear what he had to say.

This was another amazing week where what we teach during program about mission being relational was able to be shown to the group in such incredible ways. 

-Laura

Centern Stories: Week One with Laura

Last week, I got to work with a group from Des Moines, Iowa at the Soaring Eagles Learning Camp which is supported by Brown Memorial Park Ave Presbyterian Church. This is a four day camp at a neighborhood school called Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School. It is a program for Eutaw-Marshburn students to help connect the summer vacation academically. The Soaring Eagles Learning Camp or SELC started in the summer of 2012. Through the years, the volunteer staff for SELC has stayed consistent and people come back year after year, from both near and far.

As I started the week with the group, it was made known, during opening worship, that there were a lot of anxious feelings from the group about being able to relate to the campers. I kept this in mind as we started our first day. As soon as the campers started to arrive, the youth instantly started to engage and get to know the campers. At the end of the first day, I knew it was going to be a good week at this camp. As the week continued on, I could see the relationships build between the campers and the Iowa group.

One of my favorite moments from the week happened on Wednesday. The camp went to Woodberry Crossing which is an outdoor educational facility. For the bus ride, we all had assigned seats. When one of the girls in my group found out she would be sitting with me, she said “I get to sit by you?” with a huge smile on her face. I told her yes and she gave me a huge hug. This made me feel so good to know that I had built a genuine relationship with her. By the end of Wednesday, I could see that every single one of them had embraced each of those campers and casted no judgement on them. I knew that Thursday would include some hard goodbyes from both the youth and the campers.

Thursday was a fun filled day with parents and family members but it was also filled with some sadness since it was the last day of camp. It was so beautiful see the family members interacting with their campers and talking with all the counselors. I could really feel the sense of community and relationships that this camp has built. As Thursday wrapped up, we were lead in a closing debrief/evaluation. We stood in a circle and each person shared something special from the week. It was such an impactful and joyful moment to hear what everyone had to say about the relationships that were made with the campers and each other.

This was a very meaningful and emotional week for me. As someone who is a teacher and loves being around children, there were so many moments that made my heart happy. I got to see the relationships that were built with the Iowa group and the campers. The relationships that were made impacted both the campers but also the Iowa group. They crossed boundaries and made those meaningful relationships we hope that every group can make. For me, seeing that be accomplished was beautiful. Thursday led to a lot of goodbyes that I wasn’t ready for. I said goodbye to some great campers who I grew to love. I also said goodbye to a group that I was really able to bond with and who I believe took a lot away from their experience here. However, I knew that this week made for a lot of heartwarming experiences and relationships. This week is what The Center is all about: crossing boundaries and making mission relational!

-Laura

Centern Stories: Week One with Natalie

“What Do You Think Is Important?” by Fred Rogers

What what what do you think?
What do you think is important really?
What what what do you think?
What do you think really counts?
What do you think about other people?
What do you think about new ideas?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is important?

Some people think that houses and cars and lots of fancy toys
Are the things that are most important for grown-up girls and boys
Of course houses are nice if there's love inside
And cars are too if they run well
It's the things that we do with the toys that we have
That help us to feel that we've done well

What what what do you think?
What do you think is important really?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is the best?
What kind of world would you like to live in?
What kind of love would you like to give?
What is essential for you and your neighbor?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is important?

This week, the other interns and I went out for crepes and a showing of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the new documentary about Mister Fred Rogers. It’s a beautiful film about Rogers’ personal call to spread kindness to all. In the emergence of television, Mister Rogers was somehow able to form relational bonds with viewers across the nation. The Center focuses on creating and nurturing relationships that can better a neighborhood.

Many of the groups that visit The Center are groups of high schoolers who were essentially born into a congregation together. The youth know each other’s families and they have been friends since their first day of Sunday School. I had the pleasure of working alongside a group from First Presbyterian Church (Ann Arbor, MI) for Week One. In a beautiful way, this group did not fit the mold of the ‘typical’ group I have described. Before departing on a nine-hour road trip together, much of the group met each other for the first time that very morning. Sure, spending that number of hours in a van will force any group to get to know each other, but I believe it was the conversations during evening programming, the laughter while playing in the park, and the Peruvian chicken that truly brought this group together. They arrived as a group of people who were neighbors in a literal sense, but not necessarily in a relational sense. After a week of being thrown into life at The Center, they left with a clear, supportive connection. 

During our week together, we partnered with Gallery Church in Patterson Park (a bilingual congregation) and Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad (a 1001 New Worshipping Community made up of recent immigrants from Central America). With Gallery Church, we brought games and Bible stories to a large neighborhood park to play and learn with the church members as well as any families nearby who wanted to join us. With Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad, we worked alongside some of the church members on the church’s farm. We witnessed the power of these two congregations intentionally engaging with their neighbors through the power of laughter, bubbles, and fresh produce. By the end of the week, we saw Pastor Bill and Aida of Gallery forming connections with neighbors who they likely would not have met inside of their church walls. We saw the Ann Arbor youth forming close friendships with the youth of Gallery. We saw the leadership of Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad seeking out the best ways to minister to their congregants as national and local news surrounding immigrants elevated. 

On Friday, our planned morning at Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad was rained out and our plan B was to reflect on The Good Samaritan and the treatment of our neighbors who are crossing the border. The Center’s missional theology typically leads us to focus on times when we are the one who needs help rather than the one who is helping. Generally, we would read the story of the Good Samaritan through the lens of being the person who is in a ditch instead of automatically placing ourselves in the shoes of the helper – the good Samaritan. We spent the morning recognizing that the role of being a good neighbor can and should be a reciprocal experience. Just as we know times in our lives when we have needed a neighbor to pull us out of the ditch, we are also called by Jesus to advocate for our neighbors. Called to love our neighbors, we wrote to our congresspersons telling stories of our week with new immigrant friends and demanding better treatment of families at the border.

One of my main takeaways from last week was the gift children and youth have of embracing the neighbor around them. When it comes to crossing social boundaries that limit us as a neighborhood, there tends to be less hesitation and fear for younger people. God has placed people around us who are already living out God’s call to love their neighbor regardless of circumstances. May we all “make the most of this beautiful day”[1] by going and doing likewise.  

-Natalie

[1]  “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Fred Rogers, 1967.

Centern Stories: Week Zero with Laura

Last week, the interns and I worked with FPC Raleigh at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church and Rockrose City Farm to do some gardening. (see previous post to see interviews with the youth about their week here). Going into that week, I was definitely excited about the work we were going to do and the relationships we were going to build. Despite this week not lending to a lot of interaction with community members, the youth were able to have a wonderful opportunity on Tuesday. They were able to sit down and have lunch with people from the community that came in for a meal. Given that we had just talked about crossing boundaries the night before, this was their chance to cross the boundaries that were presented to them. When it was time to eat, there was a moment of hesitation from the group. They seemed unsure what to do at first. After some direction from one of their group leaders, the youth finally were seated and people from the community joined them for a meal.

Looking around the room, it was incredible to see the interactions the youth and adults were having. They were all crossing boundaries and navigating how to do it respectfully. That day and the rest of the week, the youth constantly brought up conversations that they had with community members. Knowing the youth all step outside their safe boundaries and purposefully got to know someone that is different from them meant that they were getting what we were teaching. As someone that has been a participant at The Center, I know that the relationships made and the boundaries that were crossed is something that can really make a difference.

This was one of the reasons why I wanted to become a Center Intern (Centern). I wanted to build more relationships with people and cross boundaries, but also see other groups do the same. Last week was just the beginning to what is going to be a great and boundary breaking summer. Stay tuned for more adventures!

-Laura

Week Zero! FPC Raleigh @ Amazing Grace Lutheran

 

We hadn't planned on having a group this early in the summer. Schools in Baltimore aren't even out until next week! But God had other plans, and when First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh called in December asking if we had room, we said "Yes!" and asked our church partners if they would take on a Week Zero with us. Amazing Grace Lutheran Church and Rockrose City Farm both said "Yes!" and the rest is history.

Centern (Center Intern) Shelby Andrews interviewed youth participants on site this week so you could hear about what God is doing in Baltimore. 

Come back next week for our first week of doubles - two groups at once, serving in two neighborhoods, and two cities in our presbytery!

-The Center Staff

What boundaries did you notice today? How did it feel to cross them? Or not cross them?

What boundaries did you notice today? How did it feel to cross them? Or not cross them?

Written by Bryson and Garrett, a rising 7th grader and rising 9th grader, respectively, Burke Presbyterian Church in Burke, VA.

Garett: “I noticed the physical boundaries between neighborhoods you can see. They look different and have a different feel. Some of the houses are nicer in some places, and not as well kept in others. Same with the streets: some are covered in trash while others are fairly clean.”

Bryson: “I noticed the houses and neighborhoods, too. In some neighborhoods, the houses were boarded up.”

Garrett: “I didn’t always notice when we were crossing boundaries. But when we walked from the really nice neighborhood- it was quiet, it smelled nicer. But when we walked past the wall [from the nice neighborhood to the more distressed neighborhood] it was really noticeable. I felt like I had to be more alert outside of the nice neighborhood on the street.

At camp I interacted with more mentees today, because of what we talked about last night, and how we can cross the boundaries, especially racially. Even if just playing, and being on the same “team” when playing soccer.

I didn’t personally cross this boundary, but seeing the kids trusting the police [who came and spoke to the kids], and there’s lots of stuff with the the police officers in their neighborhoods. I thought they answered the kids questions to get the kids to trust the cops and feel safe.”

Bryson: “I didn’t always notice the boundaries when we were driving because I don’t live in neighborhoods like those.

At camp I noticed the kids really wanted to play hide and seek, but they had to do their work first. And I wanted them to do their work so they could learn to be leaders, but we had to help them focus.”