McKendree University students engage in a mission to remember
Front Row: Jared Winters, Jake Smith, Blessing Tupiri, Brad Gebbon, Tricia Straub Second Row: Chanel Taylor, Tim Harrison, Erica Blair, Chelsea Lehr, Courtney Motl, Ben Pollard, Erin Totten, Nykhala Coston, Ashish Bhandari, Adam Schwind.
Photo courtesy of Erin Totten
By Nykhala Coston
CHICAGO -- Early on a Saturday morning, 14 students from McKendree University were up and ready to embark on a trip to Chicago with McKendree Campus Ministries.
Although some students had an idea of what would take place on this five hour train ride, some only had a general idea. The trip would be for one-week during their spring break and the anticipation of what sort of adventure would take place in this urban city was high. The group consisted of a combination of people who have been on mission trips in the past and those who were relatively new to it all. The team of college students consisted of Jared Winters, Brad Gebben, Adam Schwind, Courtney Motl, Erica Blair, Erin Totten, Tricia Straub, Ben Pollard, Ashish Bhandari, Blessing Tupiri, Chanel Trammel-Taylor, Chelsea Lehr, Jake Smith, and Nykhala Coston (me); who would be led by Chaplain Tim Harrison.
Upon arriving in Chicago, the group teamed up with an organization called Jesus People USA or JPUSA (Ja-POO-za). As a brief history of the organization, it started as small group of young adults who wanted to change their outlandish lifestyle and devote it completely to becoming disciples for Jesus Christ. After traveling to many different areas from Milwaukee to Florida, they eventually arrive in Chicago. The JPUSA community currently consists of about 500 residents from the Chicago area as well as other places across the United States. They operated and manage four major sites; Cornerstone Community Outreach, Epworth Men's Shelter, Chelsea Hotel, and Friendly Towers.
Each day we were there, there were new activities in which the group participated. Our team did split into two groups; one group spent much of their time working at the JPUSA sites, while the other group worked at the Marcy Newberry Association (A United Methodist Center) with numerous Chicago locations. Those who went to the Center were Erica Blair, Tricia Straub, Adam Schwind, Chelsea Lehr, and Erin Totten. They were able to work at three different child and young adult sites under the organization of Marcy-Newberry Association; the Marcy Center, Newberry Center, and the Fosco Center with kids ranging form two months to 5 years of age. Their activities ranged from supervision of the kids to remodeling an office space for a library. Chelsea Lehr states “After washing the walls and making a craft supply run, we turned the boring, unwelcoming former office into an ocean-themed library." Despite the children’s limited educational resources, students were able to use their creativity to liven up the resources to help inspire the children.
Throughout the week, the students were required to write journals and offer devotions. The devotions were held twice a day, one in the morning and one at night. Some of them include scripture readings, reflection of the day, songs, and poems. Through this experience each of the students had a chance to share their personal faith.
At the JPUSA sites, the group had the chance to interact with the residents and gain more hands on experience of what it felt like to live in poverty. They help prepare, serve, unload, and distribute food. In addition, they worked at a thrift store called the Free Store where they collaborated with another group of students from South Dakota University in separating and hanging clothes, and organizing shoes.
In the evenings, their walk to the Epworth Men’s homeless shelter was also very inspiring. The students went twice during their week, which was a little out of the norm for many of the college mission groups. This heightened the atmosphere of gratitude felt by the men at the shelter. Courtney Motl remembers her conversation with one of residents named Wallace, “We (Ben, Jared, and I) sat there as he told us his view on life … of food parties and making sure you stay close to your family. He told us that when we got home that we should be sure to hug our families. By the end, both Jared and I were crying!”
Another up-close and personal experience included a evening devotion with one of the founding members of JPUSA, Glenn Kaiser, who was also a member of a Christian band called the Resurrection and one of founders of their record company called GRRR Records. After a night filled with blues played on the guitar and Glenn’s reflections on life, Ashish Bhandari looks back on the moment and remembers one of Glenn’s quotes, "If it’s not from heart, and it’s not with love, then it’s not from God." For Ashish, this quote meant that if one lives life, he or she should live it with compassion and with feeling as well as having a divine connection.
When asking some of the students on whether they learn something from our mission trip and if it changed them in some way, Chanel Trammel-Taylor states, "It helped me to think more about others than what I currently do. The fact that you were able to build a brief relationship with the people on the street helped me as well. I felt it was something they would greatly appreciate.” Courtney Motl reflects, “It helped me to mature and not to take life for granted.”
Much of the trip consists of learning about the homeless on a more personal level. This type of service really required students to get out of their comfort zones as Tricia Straub notes when she states, “At first, I was somewhat apprehensive since we wouldn’t be assigned a construction project… instead, we would be working with homeless and impoverish children in an attempt to develop relationships with them.” Each day the groups were able to form relationships which helped to change their perspectives, give them more appreciation of life, and heighten their sense of gratitude and empathy. When planning the trip, Rev.Tim Harrison, Chaplain and Director of Church Relations, thought the urban city life, in contrast to previous mission trips, would be a good learning experience for the students. He noted that working in Chicago would have some marked similarities because homelessness is everywhere and what the students gained from the trip, they could readily apply when they return to campus and the surrounding communities.