Nashville Short Mission Trip
“God showed me reality on that trip and I know he wants me to remember it. He wants me to remember that there is inequality. He wants me to remember the faces. He wants me to remember the stories. He wants me to remember his people.”
Things I saw
What I saw…
I saw a beautiful, close-knit city that sparkles from the banks of the Columbian River. Its glossy skyscrapers seem to bounce of waves of light into the surrounding parks, and in these little oases of green grasses sits a little lake where little toy boats rule the waves. On Broadway one can hear the music coming from the bars, clubs and the sidewalks. From Country to Hip-Hop, from Toby Keith to Young Buck, the sounds of America can be heard from the tree-lined streets. Around the bend sits Vanderbilt University- a place where knowledge abounds in its highest form. Beneath the skyscrapers sit delicious ethnic restaurants that brought tastes from thousands of miles away. Like the many tributaries that flow into a mighty river, all of these aspects make Nashville a city surging towards the future. But towards what future is Nashville headed?
Beneath the progression, however, I saw those left behind in the society’s game. They are the homeless, the abused, and the addicts. Many of them become homeless for many reasons. Most of the time, however, it’s through the wrong decisions they made while they were young, while they still had a feeling of immortality. They realize the repercussions, and they are trying to rebuild their lives with a new wisdom learned from hardship. Others are, like the politically correct term we use for them today, less fortunate. Everything seemed to be on their side, even God. However, because of unfortunate events, the path has been broken and they are in the streets. To society, though, these stories don’t matter. They’re all equally treated with a sense of non-existence and disgust, and very few people care to even acknowledge them. Is it because of prejudice or fear?
I saw the two Americas. I saw America the Plenty and America the Tough. They are the renovated houses along with the 40 year old crumbling housing projects sitting side by side. They are neighborhoods that can look across the street and see suffering or from the other side comfort. One side has bullet holes, the other has trimmed bushes. One seems remembered, the other forgotten. If America is blessed by God, if everyone has the same chance, then why the big disparity?
I saw the faces of bright kids. Even though they do live in the tough neighborhoods, their bodies have endless amounts of energy and their brightness will blow you away. But I wonder, what will become of them in 20 years? What will the system do to them? Will they be live, being blessed by rare character and opportunity? Or will they be dead from drugs and from a 9mm hollow-tip bullet?
I saw Joseph. He is a homeless man we met at the park in front of the library. He introduced himself using a bible story to let us guess his name. He went on to talk about his life and how God has been working for him. Even though life hasn’t been kind to him, he has a sense of happiness that only comes through God. What amazed us all was the heart he had to people. As we were talking, another person came up and just asked for his sandwich and the McDonald’s care we gave him. The man ended up taking both without even thanking Joseph. Our group has mixed reactions. Some were heartbroken, and I was pissed. However, he told us that he didn’t mind and that God allowed him to have the big heart he does. As I look back on that scene, I couldn’t help but seeing Jesus as well. His heart is just amazing. How do I receive that passion, that heart, that love that only comes from God?
I saw my real friends on that trip. People that I can rely on to give me an honest answer. People who I can confide in and people that I know will be there for me when the obstacles fall on my path. Why, then do I still try to impress them? Is it my nature, or do I fear that I will loose their interest in me?
Throughout this trip, I saw many things, and I’m still trying to process everything and come up with its meaning. Will they last?
Finally I saw the workload and the commitment ahead of me. I know God doesn’t call you on a mission trip to have you forget what you learned. God showed me reality on that trip and I know he wants me to remember it. He wants me to remember that there is inequality. He wants me to remember the faces. He wants me to remember the stories. He wants me to remember his people. However we can remember everything and do something about them, but we can miss the biggest purpose of all of it. He finally wants me to remember that I must have the heart of God when I mission to people in any way. Only with the heart of God will any work we do in his field bare any fruit. We can receive his heart, and have God’s blessing in everything we do for him. If that’s the case then, what the heck are we waiting for?
Homeless not always Hopeless
Walking through downtown Nashville, I knew we would encounter many homeless people. After all, that was our mission as a church: to seek out the homeless and listen to their stories. However, growing up in the suburban bubble caused me to view the homeless through poisoned eyes. To me, it was a fact; the homeless are drug and alcohol addicts who beg for money and reek of urine and desperation. But after spending a week in downtown Nashville, I discovered that what I previously knew to be true, in reality, can be far from it. Even though there are the homeless with addictions, there are also those with jobs and those with something greater—hope.
Certainly, there are those who beg on the streets for money to buy drugs and alcohol. Stereotypes do, after all, originate from some truth. Those addicts waste their money on drugs and alcohol instead of food. But do we truly understand why? After talking to an ex-addict, I learned that the majority of the homeless don’t have anything to do the whole day besides thinking about their circumstances, an action that causes severe depression. Therefore, hey take the money and spend it on getting high, which causes them to forget their sorrow and pain for at least a while. Moreover, they are already depressed to an extent that they do not care about living anymore; in fact death actually sounds better than their current way of life. They have the same mentality as many slaves, for they are actually slaves themselves—slaves to capitalism and oppression. Stuck in the cycle of poverty, the homeless feel hopeless and drink to their deaths.
However, not all homeless people ware addicts. In fact, there are even homeless people with jobs. For instance, I met a man names James in downtown Nashville who has a janitorial job at the Gaylord Entertainment Center (equivalent to Atlanta’s Phillips Arena) and gets paid minimum wage. However, minimum wage does not suffice to pay for rent in addition to heating and electric bills, so he is forced to live on the streets. Despite his homelessness, he firmly believes that people should not depend on others for food or money but to uphold their dignity and to provide for themselves. Finally, there are the people who strive to bring hope to their own people by humbling themselves. For example, we met a man named Sam who is a homeless that volunteers in his free time. A homeless man volunteering? Usually we’re volunteering to serve them! We were all shocked when he told us that he volunteers at a place called Dream Center by writing letters for grants to keep the place running. Dream Center is an organization that helps the homeless get back on their feet. He told us that more homeless should volunteer because they know what the homeless really need, as opposed to “benefactors” who shove food down their throats. Another man named Joseph really broke my stereotype of the homeless. That day, we just happened to be passing out care packages and McDonald cards. As we handed Joseph a McDonald’s card, he saw a couple passing by and told us to give them the card because they needed it more than he did. While we gave the card to the couple, Natasha (a sophomore from our church) saw what he did and her heart broke. She took another McDonald’s gift card from her bag, and gave it to him. He gladly accepted it saying that he hadn’t given the other one away expecting another card. Later, another homeless man approached Joseph and looked through the care package and at the gift card. He asked if he could have them, and Joseph cheerfully gave it to the man. Joseph read Natasha’s face and said, “Don’t be sad. Don’t think of it as me giving away everything but as me opening the other man’s eyes to sharing and to God’s love.” Through Joseph, I realized that there are homeless people, often seen as beasts, who are better human beings than I am; they humble themselves by serving others and being the change that they want to see in the world. There is hope—hope for themselves, hope for others, hope for the poor, hope for the rich, hope for mankind.
Through my experiences meeting the homeless, I’ve come to realize that stereotypes lie. Not all homeless are bums. Not all are addicts. Some have jobs. Some volunteer. Some are We, as a society, must get rid of our stereotypes because they are not true. However, getting rid of stereotypes is difficult because it is the foundation of how we see certain groups we don’t personally know. Therefore, to fully get rid of stereotypes, we must go and experience first hand who people really are.