Experience from the DOOR Mission Trip

August 9, 2015, Proverbs 31:8-9, I Corinthians 11:26

5 members of our youth group, Jamie Glover and I went on a weeklong Mission Trip to the DOOR in Chicago the last full week of June. Two days after we returned 6 of the 7 people who went on that trip shared a small part of their experience in worship. Even then, I knew that we would have to say more about what we saw, felt and experienced. This church was The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King’s Chicago headquarters and this window shows him. [All the pictures I’m going to show this morning were taken by Jamie Glover. She did a great job, and I thank her very much]]

DOOR is an acronym for Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection. It is a well-organized program run by the Mennonite church. This was the 19th Mission Trip I have been on and the 14th that I’ve led. I think of myself as a Road Warrior when it comes to mission trips; I’ve travelled to more than 20 states on mission trips. I grew up calling them Work Camps, but it’s the same idea.

The DOOR does a really good job of sending groups off to do important, hands on, service work, and giving them a chance to reflect on their experiences and integrate what they have done with their faith. Each day we started with a devotion based on a short Bible reading. Randy read two of those devotions are our scripture lesson this morning. An essential part of this is to put people in places and situations where they might be uncomfortable or might feel out of place. I feel very blessed that I have had time to reflect on this week, and to process those experiences and memories before sharing them here this morning. It’s tempting to try to share everything, but without organizing my thoughts it might just feel like a chaotic travelogue. I hope that having some time to reflect and sort of have my memories mellow will make this a little more accessible.

I need to start by thanking you, the congregation, for recognizing that trips like this are essential for faith formation, as is sending kids to church camp, as is Sunday school. Your support and participation are the surest way that the church of Jesus Christ will continue into the next generation.

Each of the four full days we were at the DOOR we worked at a different ministry site. We got a wide range of experiences, we also saw a lot of distinct neighborhoods in Chicago.

I’m going to tell about each of the days’ work.

Our first day we worked at Turkey Chop, an award winning restaurant on the westside. We took the bus about two miles to get there and walked about two blocks to and from the bus stop. Just 2 of the seven people on the trip had ridden the city bus in Oshkosh. Turkey Chop is owned Quentin Love. Two posters on the restaurant’s walls convey Turkey Chop’s mission:

To develop communities through your appetite by opening great restaurants and serving healthier food where they’re needed most, right in your neighborhood.

A healthier version of soulfood, endorsed by Southern mothers all over the world.

Turkey Chop is open for business from 11 until 8 Tuesday through Sunday. On Monday it offers a free, restaurant-quality meal between 1 and 3.

This was hard work. We arrived about 8:30 and Quentin put us to work right away. We cut cabbage, carrots, onions and chicken. We worked to separate frozen pieces of chicken and fry them. We made Gatorade, mopped the floor, took out the garbage, cleaned up the back yard, and from 1 until 3 we served 411 meals to hungry people. They said it was a slow day. After the last of the guests left, we spent another hour cleaning up and putting things away. It was a long, hard day. We were on our feet nearly all the time.

I worked almost the whole time in the kitchen, cutting vegetables. For a while a man who works at Turkey Chop joined us. Garland was a very skilled chef. At one point he said, “Excuse me, I just need to dice an onion, I’ll get out of your way in a second.” He was an artist with a knife. I asked him if he’s a trained chef and what cuisines he cooks. He said he teaches cooking and his specialties are Mexican, Caribbean and Soulfood. As we worked together for a few hours and got to know one another, he wanted to talk about the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that had happened a few days before. I know you remember hearing about the white man who visited a Bible study the church. He was welcomed and spent an hour with the people. Then he drew a gun, opened fire and killed 9 people. It is a horrific, tragic crime. (Last month the Justice Department labeled it a hate crime.) How can one feel safe in church when something like that happens? And how could one who was welcomed and included have done such a thing? In the days that followed the media reported that the shooter had visited white supremacist websites. My metaphor for this is that he drank their poison.

At 1 o’clock, guests started to come and be served. In the kitchen we formed a kind of assembly line putting chicken, cooked cabbage and bread into Styrofoam boxes. And someone turned on music. It was pretty loud in the kitchen and the play list would be called “Dusties,’ that’s what they call oldies on the westside of Chicago, like you’re listening to dusty, old 45s. One of the songs was “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. I played it as “music to call us to worship” this morning.

Mother, mother, there’s too many of you cryin’
Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dyin’
You know we’ve got to find a way to bring some
Lovin’ here today
Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
What’s going on

This album was one of the first efforts by a famous, prominent African-American entertainer to call attention to the problems in American cities. It was released in 1971, 44 years ago. In 2015 there are still too many mothers crying and people dying needlessly in American cities. This album was considered daring and prophetic in 1971—but its message is still, tragically, very timely.

Some of the comments from our group at the end of the day was that it was hard work, a great experience, heart-warming, satisfying, an amazing atmosphere that accepted every one.

On Tuesday we drove to Vital Bridges, a food pantry that serves families of people affected by HIV/AIDS. I learned an important distinction this day. Some people are infected with AIDS, that’s a medical condition. Others are affected by AIDS, that is, their families and friends.

Vital Bridges is a very well-organized agency. The volunteers were well-trained and friendly. This day we served 26 families, again, that was a low number, but many families had come in the week before and they get two weeks’ supply of food at a time.

I met two extraordinary people at Vital Bridges and I want to tell you about both of them. The first one was Madeleine, though everyone called her Maddie.

Maddie is 92 years old and has volunteered at Vital Bridges for 25 years. She got involved with Vital Bridges when the daughter of her temple’s rabbi picked Vital Bridges as her service site as she prepared for her Bot Mitzvah. Maddie’s temple hosts a homeless shelter one night a week in Oak Park, a suburb just a few miles west of Vital Bridges. She told me about this arrangement…that all the other churches that host the homeless shelter are, you know, regular churches. “Maddie,” I pointed out gently, “we prefer to be called ‘Christian.’”

The other memorable person we met was Roy Ferguson. Roy is an AIDS activist and a Vietnam Veteran. He runs a support group for veterans with AIDS at a local VA hospital. He told me that 7% of the population of the United States are veterans, and 25% of the homeless people in the United States are veterans. Veterans, especially those who have seen combat, suffer very high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, many also suffer from guilt—or what some call ‘moral wounds’—from their combat experience. Veterans are much more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their suffering. They also are more likely to engage in risky behavior of all kinds. The more he talked, the more I understood how complicated it is to care for veterans and their families.

Some members of our group had their most satisfying day at Vital Bridges.

The third day we went to Cornerstone in Uptown.

We heard a lot of statistics and stories about people who are homeless. Too many. We really wanted to get to work. The work was hanging clothes that had been donated. There were lots of women’s clothes and kids’ clothes, but very few pajamas and men’s clothes. Cornerstone serves all the needs of homeless people. The average age of the homeless in Chicago is 9! Most homeless facilities do not accommodate families. In Chicago there is no public homeless shelter that takes boys between the ages of 13 & 17.

We saw a sign that said this at our work site:

KEEP OUT!

THIS ARIA 

OFF LIMITS!

We did not start singing opera

We worked on the 5th floor of a warehouse that had very little ventilation.

The smoke detector had a low battery, which we kept hearing about! This was the day Mikey was running late.

We had two staff members from the DOOR who travelled with us each day. Marquitta, who had just graduated from Valparaiso University in Indiana and Mikey, who was going to be a junior in high school. On this day Marquitta had to be away, so Mikey was going to be our group’s only “shepherd.” Mikey was running late. When it was time for us to head to the el--it was about a 90 minute trip to Uptown--Mikey had just arrived at the DOOR. This really wasn’t a problem for us this day. We were going to Uptown, neighborhood I am very, very familiar with. Now I was having a good day, I was off to a good start, and I was really curious to see how Uptown had changed. As we walked to the el Mikey told me why he was running late. He was delayed because there had been a shooting on his block the night before. He had to take a different route to catch his bus because the police had blocked the street. Then he had to take a different bus, because the bus he usually would take had been rerouted because of the shooting. He didn’t see it, but this is what he heard--police approached four men standing on his street. One of the men ran away, then turned and pulled a gun, at that point, the police shot and killed him. Mikey went on to say that the man who had been shot was implicated in the murder of his brother about a year and a half before. All this and Mikey made it to work on time.

Mikey and I got better acquainted on the long train ride. He’s a very good student. And he plans to feed 17 homeless people to celebrate his 17th birthday.

Remember I said I was having a good day? I knew where we were going and all that. I imagine how I’d felt if I weren’t having a good day, or if I was anxious about arriving at our work site on time, or fearful that I’d get our group lost and how frustrated and angry I could have been because Mikey was nearly late. I could have been the entitled, noble crusader, “My church paid a lot of money to bring my group here to help you people, the least you can do is have the decency to show up on time…!” I’ve been that guy. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been that guy and I could have been again to Mikey.

Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying.

Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying

It was in Uptown that the Jamaican evangelist trying to get us to accept Christ. Izzy told him that we’re already on a Mission Trip with our church. It was a miracle. Izzy made the evangelist disappear.

Wednesday night there was supposed to be a huge thunderstorm. We kept watching the sky. We cut our trip to Navy Pier short because of the forecast. The epic thunderstorm didn’t appear, but it rained enough overnight that our work day scheduled for Openlands, an urban food garden, was cancelled. We were thrilled! Other groups had spent six hours hauling mulch and manure. Instead we joined another group at the Ada Niles Center on the southside.

This was pretty neat. Because we had a change in plans we got to ride the el again. Everyone on the trip preferred the el to the bus. The el felt more adventurous. This time we rode the el to the southside and rode past the White Sox stadium. The day before we rode the el past Wrigley Field, and saw the blue W flag flying indicating that the Cubs had won the night before.

The Ada Niles Center offers a drop-in center for senior citizens. Some guests suffer from dementia, others are just lonesome. Our tasks were to sit next to a senior citizen and get acquainted. The craft project that day was coloring baseball caps. Here’s Eli hard at work on his hat. Here’s mine. Some members of our group loved our trip to Ada Niles, said it was their favorite day. Others were bored out of their minds! It all depended on how sharp your senior citizen was. I had a great day. I sat next to Earnest. Which made me think of Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, my favorite player when I was little. I asked Earnest if he remembered Ernie Banks. Then I asked if he played baseball in his young days. Earnest was 92 and he came to Ada Niles a few days a week just for a change of scenery. I asked what he was retired from. Turns out Earnest used to be the pastor of a Missionary Baptist Church. Earnest and I had a great time talking about feeling called to ministry and the process we went through before getting ordained and having hands laid on us. I was amazed at how similar our denominations are! He couldn’t preside at communion until he was ordained, for example. And the Missionary Baptist Church also has elders, deacons and pastors. There was on distinction that I just loved, and have been eager to share with this congregation—Missionary Baptists ordain pastors and elders, but they crown deacons. Isn’t that great? Deacons, wouldn’t you rather be crowned than installed? The church Earnest spent most of his career at was at 80th Street and Cottage Grove. I lived my last two years of seminary at 54th and Maryland. Maryland is one block east of Cottage Grove, so Earnest and I might have ridden the same CTA bus together!

After lunch I drifted to another table and got to know Hattie. Hattie is a staffer at Ada Niles. We got to talking about how interesting the guests are. I told her that Earnest and I had practically been neighbors. She looked and me and asked, “You used to live down here…what was that like?”

I wanted to be diplomatic. I had only lived on the southside for three years. She’d lived there for nearly 20…but I also wanted to be honest. I said, “It was stressful.” Hattie agreed right away and kids who grow up on the southside, they’re not kids anymore by the time they’re 7 or 8. And there’s so much violence all around, and so much distrust…who could trust a police officer these days? And then there was that shooting in South Carolina, in church! “Something’s gotta change! Something’s gotta change!”

I couldn’t agree more. And I realized again, for the millionth time, that my experience in Chicago, as a student, as a white man, passing through for three years, was completely different from Hattie’s experience, or Earnest’s experience. We lived in the same place, but our lives were very, very different.

The shooting in Charleston cast a huge shadow over our week in Chicago. Everything we did, every word we said was in the wake of a white man opening fire on and killing in cold blood nine people who had welcomed him into their church home, because they were black.

I want you to hold the memory of that shooting against the shooting that happened in Chattanooga, TN, July 13. On that occasion a Muslim man opened fire at a military recruiting office and killed five people. There was a bracing and well-argued editorial in the Northwestern about a week later. It was written by a Muslim man who had served with pride and distinction as a U.S. Marine for five years. He wrote that the actions of that shooter in Chattanooga were not authentic expressions of Islam; that he was “horrified, angered and saddened” by the shooting. He wrote of Muslims, “I say to you that we know better than anyone that the Chattanooga terrorist does not represent any of us.”

Now, white people, think about this: Did it even occur to you to apologize for the shooter in Charleston? Did you feel a need to say, “That man does not represent white people. We are ashamed of what he did and assure you that white people are peace-loving and disgusted by this tragedy.”? My hunch is that you did not even think for a minute that his actions might represent our whole racial group. We’ve been not just the majority but the dominating majority for so long that those thoughts don’t occur to us.

Now I want you think about Mikey. 16 years old, growing up on a block where his brother’s murderer was shot by the police. Mikey, who plans to feed 17 homeless people to mark his 17th birthday…

Brother, brother, brother…there’s far too many of you dying.

W.E.B. Dubois said, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” He said that in 1903. Now, more than 110 years later, we could say the same thing again. We are not a post-racist society. We have a long, long way to go.

Talk to me, so you can see
What’s going on…

White people, we need to listen to voices long silenced and ignored for too long. Our experiences in the United States are profoundly different from other people’s experiences. We need to listen, and keep listening…