Psalm 46
Matthew 25:34-40

Five WPC youth reflect on their week serving Durham during the Youth Mission Stay.

Over the past week, instead of going somewhere else for our mission trip, we decided to stay here in Durham to help our whole community. Today, I will talk a little bit about Housing for New Hope. “Established in 1992, Housing for New Hope is a non-profit organization serving the needs of people who are homeless and those at risk of homelessness in the Triangle. The mission of Housing for New Hope is to prevent and end homelessness by providing increased access to housing, services, and healthcare.”

During that time there I met a really nice guy name Michael. He wasn’t like one of those shy guys who just sits there – he actually gets in with us and talks to us. In scripture it says, “I was a stranger and you took care of me.” So he started just like a normal guy – had a wife, a job, had food, a house and then… he just lost everything. So he went homeless for a few years and then Housing for New Hope came along and offered him a place to stay. Then he had to go to the hospital and he had those symptoms that made it sound like he was going to die. But he survived. Then when he woke up he had a another offer to go to Housing for New Hope and said no – and he kept saying no to them when they offered him a place to stay. So over that month he went to the hospital 3 more times for internal bleeding. Then one night he started bleeding and called a hospital. Then when the paramedics got to him, they realized it was Michael. Then the paramedics who were there said to him, “I’m sorry sir you called way too many times and you have to walk.” When they left him there he decided to just walk. As he was thinking on the walk, God was calling him to take that opportunity and go to Housing for New Hope. Now he is still one of the first people to live there at Housing for New Hope and he has a job, too. Now he wants to just change his life like stop smoking and just wants to have a fresh start.

While I was listening to Michael’s story, his words inspired me to do different things in my life. God was calling me to pay attention in my life and make good choices, take care of my health, and to enjoy my life. Michael’s strength really inspired me to do big things in my life. So that is my highlight of my week at the Mission Stay here in Durham.

This week I volunteered at several organizations with my group, “the banana split”. One of the organizations was called Meals on Wheels. On the very first morning of service, my group loaded into the gracious Amy Stanfield’s mini van and went to the Meals on Wheels headquarters. There we formed a good old-fashioned Westminster assembly line and bagged cold portion of the meal to go with the pre-made and packaged hot portion of the meal. After that, we started the routes. We went with Kenzie who showed us how you must bang on the door and yell “MEALS ON WHEELS” to insure that the client hears you. Every single person was so excited to see us. All the clients were so happy to see Kenzie, so happy to see us kids, and so excited to see what might have been their only meal of the day. The people that we served varied in age, health status, and economic status. One of the people we served was a lady, who never really told us her name. She just came out of her apartment and started preaching to us, telling us how God is good, and one of these days she’ll be going up to see him, going up “where the thunder don’t roll”. She asked us all for hugs saying how we made her day. I told Taylor that I was pretty sure she would have come back with us if we had asked. There was also a retired doctor and his wife, who subscribed to meals on wheels as a supplement to their other meals. Bob and Amy were their names. Amy greeted us at the door and was so happy to see us all. Bob was not feeling well the day we went, but one of the other groups said he wanted to take a picture of them because they were just so happy to see kids. Amy was so excited to see Kenzie, saying how he was the sweetest guy, treating him as a baby since she is in her 90’s. There was also a younger man who lived in an apartment who allowed us to come to the back of his home and see him. He was lying down, and had a bar above his head for him to grab onto to pull himself up onto his elbow. He was very nice, and treated Kenzie as a best friend. Kenzie told us that he didn’t know what happened to him, but that ever since he had been serving meals to him he was like that, never even seen sitting up, always surrounded by hospice care. There were two ladies, sisters, living together. One of them was in a wheelchair and needed help getting around and getting to doctors appointments, so her sister moved in and helps her with her needs. They were both very funny and nice, joking that when Kenzie was absent the last week they thought he wasn’t coming back. They said things like “we thought our Kenzie left! We thought he wasn’t coming back!” for some, seeing Kenzie was the highlight of their day. There were also very quiet people who took their food and said thank you, then shut their door without another word. Others would yell all around overjoyed to have company for even just a minute and to have their food. The meals consisted of a cold portion, which included an apple, milk, and a roll. The hot portion for that day was chicken drummers, mashed sweet potatoes, and vegetables. We were told that the meals had to be pretty plain (no seasonings) because some people can’t have much salt and sugar and they wanted the meals to be healthy. The clients also got a newspaper to read. Some of them were alone and didn’t have television so this was how they got their news.

Inside the Meals on Wheels headquarters, there were heaters for the heated portion of the meal, refrigerators for the supplies, and many volunteers. They always need more volunteers there, they said. Whether you deliver food, package it or help around the building, it is always very appreciated. You have to be 16 to deliver food, and I hope when I’m 16 I’ll be able to do it and maybe have my friends help me out. Meals on Wheels serve meals in many areas of Durham and helps hungry people in north, south, east, and west Durham. I recognized many areas that we were serving in, some even by my elementary school. Those would be easy runs for people to make who live nearby Westminster.

The people that I met through this organization were all amazing and my experience was amazing and it really touched my heart.

In Matthew 25:34-40, when there is hunger food is given, when there is thirst a drink is given. However, when there is homelessness is shelter given? The answer to this question relies on a nonprofit organization called “Families Moving Forward”. Families Moving Forward focuses on providing homes for young families who are homeless. Jesus gave people a helping hand to guide them to a happier life, Families Moving Forward does the same. These are young families who use Families Moving Forward for job training as well as a temporary shelter.

These families are in poverty and have nowhere else to stay. Jesus said to give to those who do not have enough to give back, which is what we are doing by providing a shelter where they will have the time to rehabilitate. I find that we focus too much on what we are missing in life and not how much we have to give. It’s as though everything we have in life is a ceiling tile and everything that we don’t have are empty spaces where a ceiling tile would fit. Yet we don’t seem to notice that most of the spaces in our ceiling are full, and those without homes have ceilings which are mostly empty.

While working on the living room of the home and painting the walls, I was reminded of something. I was reminded of a service project that I worked on last year. Last year I volunteered for the Appalachia Service Project, or ASP. We repaired the homes for families in poverty in Appalachia. The family of the home I was working on was a family that I will forever remember. They were funny, kind, and extremely thankful for the effort that we put into repairing their house. The fact that they were always so thankful and so joyful was always surprising to me with the quality of life that they had. What was even more surprising though was the fact that while we were giving to them, they were also giving back to others. The family whose house we were working on was also involved in their church youth group, they have even participated in service projects of their own.

What I learned from that family when I took part in ASP and how I did something very similar this past week really made me think of Matthew 25:34-40 and our faith in general. I learned that as Presbyterians we always try to give whenever possible, and that we should love our neighbors such as those in our own community, and other communities farther away. I felt that it related to scripture because we give shelter to the homeless similar to how we feed the hungry as written in Matthew 25:34-40. I’m happy to know now that with Families Moving Forward that I am giving a family a chance to escape the supposed rock bottom of homelessness, and giving them a stronger chance at living a better life through giving.

So, as you’ve probably heard by now, this past week, the youth have had the extraordinary opportunity to take part in a unique mission “stay”. Instead of traveling to Washington DC, Chicago, Asheville, or someplace like that, we stayed right here in Durham. I think this was due to a desire for us to learn more about this place that we call home, but no matter the reason, this mission trip illuminated a lot of things, and had a profound effect on me and the rest of the youth. Often, while working at the mission sites, I forgot that I was still in Durham.

We always hear the statistics; you know, “One in four kids in America does not have enough to eat,” “Over 50% of DPS students get free or reduced price lunch,” but they never truly register. We do service in places like Washington DC and Asheville, places that aren’t our home, and it’s easy for us to distance ourselves from their misfortune—we tell ourselves, “surely this hunger and homelessness doesn’t happen where I live”—even though it does. I was the exact same way. It never really clicked with me that people in Durham were suffering when I always had food on the table and a full score of extracurricular activities ready to go. This trip was the first time I really saw Durham—saw the homelessness and hunger and hopelessness of the poorer neighborhoods, as well as how privileged I really was. After serving this week and getting to know new people, the statistics turned into faces and names, and really came into focus.

Matthew writes, “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Not only are these people who rely on the food bank and urban ministries people, they have a little bit of God inside of them too, just like all of us. When we serve them, the least of us in terms of income or opportunities, we’re also serving God.

One agency we worked with this week that really stuck with me was Habitat for Humanity. On Thursday afternoon, all thirty-something of the participating youth were carted out to Northeast Central Durham to work on several projects to add to the houses that Habitat was helping to build in the area. We made birdhouses and stepping stones, wrote thank you letters to donors, volunteers, and elected officials, and took a walking tour of the block where numerous homes were being built. We also had the opportunity to talk to some of the buyers of the new houses.

Several people spoke of the restorative effect the new houses had had on the neighborhood. Crime levels had dropped dramatically. Kids were now free to play on front lawns without worry. Houses were owned, not rented at absurd rates. And this was only with the addition of 5 or so new houses. One of the most memorable people we talked to was Juliette, the four-year-old daughter of one of the home buyers. She was always the center of attention, whether she was giving high fives from her perch on the kitchen counter, skipping ahead during the tour of her neighborhood, or telling hilarious jokes. (Here’s a sample: What do you call a giraffe with no face or legs? A giraffe with no face or legs!)

Juliette’s father, a single dad and army veteran, got through his struggles with PTSD with the help of the Habitat for Humanity community. And now, they own a house too. Looking at Juliette’s smiling face, it was difficult to imagine her without a house to call her own. It was easy, though, to see the little bit of God inside of her. Habitat for Humanity saw it too. In Juliette and her father, as well as all of the other families living in their neighborhood, they saw God in need of a home, and they sheltered Him.

When I hear the statistics now, they’re not meaningless numbers. They’re names and faces. They matter to me. This mission trip gave me that gift.

Good morning, this past week our Youth Group traveled around Durham doing mission work to benefit our community. We went to places like Urban Ministries of Durham, Durham’s branch of the food bank, Families Moving Forward, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, and Durham Nativity school. And then there was a place called Threshold. Threshold is a day center for people with mental disabilities. Threshold is run in a clubhouse style. This means that each member has a chore for the day that they must do and everyone follows a routine schedule.

In the scripture Jesus’ basically says that if you help a child of God, you are helping me. So by making a new friend and making both of our lives better I was fulfilling God’s mission for us. That one friendship has made me feel like I’m called to do more service there. Everyone was so kind and welcoming just like a family reunion.

Going into Threshold I didn’t know what to expect, I had no previous experience with adults with mental disabilities. I was afraid that I would be unable to communicate with some of the members. But within five minutes of being on the property those fears were doused with a man saying to us ” hello hello hello, what’s your name” …”mines david or david earl or earl or davey”. He was one of the nicest, most kind hearted people I’ve ever met. I had lunch with him for about half an hour and he loved everyone. He said to me “God bless you for coming to help us, I love you” . Even though David has had many struggles in his life he still is able to love everyone he meets. The way david greeted us was exactly what I believe Jesus want all of us to do, to welcome strangers with open arms.

But this wasn’t a meet and greet, it’s part of our mission trip, service work if you will. So work had to done. To start off we got a tour of the clubhouse by one of the members named William, he showed us each room and gave us a quick rundown of what that room is used for. Then we got to work, to start off Mercer and I raked out mulch to turn an area of uneven white clay into a nice clean mulch area that you could plant flowers on, maybe some, um *snaps* snap dragons. Next Mercer and I moved to a utility closet to organize and catalog everything. Finally the group got together to tie flowers together to make the club house more lively.