It isn't every day that a group of 21 students between the ages of 13 and 18 on a studenet ministries trip find themselves, alongside their adult advisors, in Chicago's north side.
The contrasts …
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The contrasts between this part of urban Chicago and suburban Broomfield are quite numerous to say the least. And that is what made all the difference in this faith mission sponsored by the Broomfield United Methodist Church.
A history of youth mission trips
The church has sponsored a youth mission trip within the lower 48 states for the at least the last ten years, with the youth group selecting the site each year - within certain parameters.
Mike Orr, director of student ministries, uses Christian non-profit organization Youth Works, which sets up the housing, food and work assignments. They offer between 60 and 70 options for the youth groups to consider.
The cost per participant is $500 and is paid by the participants or their family or through fundraising. Last year, they were on Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The abject poverty on the reservation was quite a contrast from the north side of Chicago with its dense urban.
Dense, run down but proud
Let's set the stage for this year's destination. Humbolt Park is located in the Hermosa area of the north side of Chicago. It is a predominately Hispanic area with a high percentage of residents being Puerto Rican. The area is older and run down. The residential area is dense within each dwelling unit with as many as three families living together per home.
There has been very gradual improvement in the physical structures in the neighborhoods in recent years thanks to groups like the Broomfield church and City of Chicago's own funding. Regardless of the condition of the neighborhoods, it goes without saying that the residents are quite proud of their heritage.
A mission of love and helping
The purpose of the mission trip was to share Christ's love by helping people with their various needs. These included painting and repairs to both houses and two churches as well as gardening.
Two of the groups of youth were also assigned to work with the children at a non- faith based educational day camp. In reality, the lessons at the day camp evolved to the point where BUMC youth learned so much at the same time they were helping in the teaching of the children.
A variety of experiences and emotions
When I asked Mike Orr what were the takeaways from the eight day trip, he said there was the experience of being exposed to things that are not usually seen or imagined by Broomfield youth.
Those included a lack of resources, the chance of violence and hearing from some who had experienced violence. Ghost bicycles - memorials for bicyclists killed on the street - and other street altars were visible throughout the hood.
The Broomfield youth didn't know how to react or what to feel where there had been shootings, stabbings and other violence. Teaching by action or inaction was present.
The vast majority of the Colorado kids were often seen and labeled by the locals as hipsters, who were viewed as threatening to the residents. However, the kids' conduct, outreach and verbal expressions of love quickly turned the local impression from threatening to compassionate. The Broomfield United Methodist Church kids' greetings of "God bless you" made a profound initial impression in the relationships that were started there in this Puerto Rican hood.
Making a difference in others' lives
The Broomfield group's actions among the locals, both adult and young, spoke volumes as far as being equals, wanting to help others and demonstrating their genuine intentions.
They had not come to take over or control the neighborhood or their culture. It was a mission of love, sharing, understanding and being helpful.
What was especially intriguing to me was Mr. Orr's observation about the whole Broomfield group. As the days and the experiences evolved, he noticed that their own group felt and acted more like a family. There was a closeness and sense of belonging that permeated the group. Love was all around.
When asked if he would do this trip again, there was no hesitation. "Absolutely" was his response.
So, 21 teenagers return to suburban Denver, Colorado in late July with experience under their belt. They have seen and experienced challenging living conditions, the residue of violence, cultural pride, the rewards of reaching out and helping others, spreading God's word and making a difference in other people's lives.
On the other side, Hispanic youth and their families have seen and felt the work of God through these enthusiastic Colorado youth and learned that not all outsiders are hipsters and should not be feared.
A common understanding prevailed.
Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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