My world got completely rocked this past week.
I took my first mission trip to New York City with a group of eighteen other students that attend UTC that are involved with The House, a campus ministry. When I signed up for this trip back in November, I knew one other person and I knew absolutely nothing of what we were going to be doing in the foreign land of New York. All I knew was that I wanted to do something worthwhile during my spring break that was still months away, so this seemed like the appropriate thing to do.
When the week of the trip finally arrived, the team was so excited, a couple of us knew a couple of us, but none of us were super close. That changed very quickly. We drove down to Atlanta where we boarded our flight to New York. Everyone had a positive and encouraging attitude as we mapped our way through the cold city to find the church we were going to be staying at for the first two nights.
Saturday night, the first night in the city was really neat. We took a bus from the airport then walked a couple of blocks to a church, lugging our suitcases the entire time. Then we found a really cool pizza place that had two pieces of pizza AND a drink for $2.99. IT WAS AMAZING PIZZA.
The next morning, we got up around eight and got ready for a full day of exploring. We all doubled our socks, pants, and shirts and had on huge jackets. We used the subway during the week for our main line of transportation, which was always interesting and pretty confusing. During our day of exploring, we got the most amazing crepes. We got to watch them be made and my mouth watered the entire time. They were so delicious. We went to Central Park and walked around there. It was so pretty with the snow everywhere. There were horses and buggies all over the park. After that, we made our way to Grand Central Station to eat lunch. It was so big and pretty busy, but a really cool experience. Then we went to the 9/11 memorial and the 9/11 museum. It was so sad to see pieces of the twin tower and read some of the stories. But it was a very unique experience. We ended our “tourist day” hanging out in Times Square. It was so hectic and busy. I can’t imagine being there during New Years, I’m sure it would be so stressful, but it was neat getting to see it.
Monday morning we left the church and headed over to The Bowery, the nonprofit organization we worked with the entire week and where we stayed at the rest of the trip. The Bowery is an incredible program. They work with mainly men that struggle with addiction, but also men that are struggling to make ends meet. The Bowery serves three meals a day, offers a shower program two days a week, hosts a chapel service three times a day, provides clean clothes and toiletries to the community members, sets up mats every night for the community members to have a safe, warm place to sleep at night, and they also have different programs that help men get jobs, apartments, and beat some of the addictions they’re struggling with.
One program they have is called Gateway. This program last typically between 45 to 60 days. The members of this program get to live in the Bowery and go through a transformation. They have to help with every meal and attend every chapel service. They don’t really have a connection with the outside world. They also go through Bible studies to transform their lives. During the week, many people in my group got pretty close with a lot of the guys in this program. They had such incredibly positive attitudes and were encouraging. They opened up very quickly and told us their stories of what they have been struggling for a lot of their lives. They talked about dreams they had once they graduated the program.
One guy in particular that most of our group immediately all loved told us about his daughter that lives in Georgia. He pulled out a school photo and showed us her and told us how excited he was for her to see him sober once he graduated the program. He told us of his dreams of starting a comedy show and making it big. He talked about writing a book of his journey and including all his stories he’d lived through. We all prayed over him and his journey and that he’d be able to stay sober once he went back into the “real world.”
Another person my group got so close with was the most precious Chinese man. It seemed like every minute he was giving gifts to our group. He gave us Dunkin Donut gift cards, bracelets, coffee mugs, scarves, gloves, hats, tee shirts, and so many other things. He was so sweet and hilarious. At first, he was kind of hard to understand, but we all quickly begin to be able to pick up on what he was saying. His testimony was absolutely incredible; he struggled with gambling for a period of his life, losing almost 2.7 million dollars, before he found the Bowery and transformed his life. When our week came to a close, he walked us to the subway and rode it with us. Saying goodbye to him was so sad, but I’m so thankful I met him. He graduated from the program about five years ago, but stays at the Bowery and volunteers all his time to it.
The pastor of the Bowery really touched the hearts of my group also. I have never met someone who loves Jesus so much. Everything he says and does is centered around God and it was so incredible. He lived on the subway for about five years and was addicted to crack, before he finally came to the Bowery to seek help and change his life. When he entered the program, he barely knew who Jesus was. Now he’s getting his Master’s degree in Theology. Watching him interact with the community members was incredible. He had so much patience and was so kind. One day he came in and asked a couple of members to share their favorite bible verse and why it was our favorite.
“Should we get our Bibles?” someone in my group asked.
“Nope,” he replied, “you have to know your scripture or how do you expect to be able to share the gospel?”
That was definitely a wake-up call for me.
The chefs that prepared the food were mostly volunteers. One chef joked around a lot with our group and gave us all a hard time. He talked to me and one girl in my group a lot about boys and relationships. He told us that when him and his wife first got married, he told her to make him breakfast and she smacked him upside the head with a frying pan, leaving him needing seven stitches. Since then, he asks his wife to do things for him and treats her like the daughter of the King that she is, and they have such a wonderful relationship. He told us we weren’t allowed to date until we were 25 years old OR until we got our masters, which ever came first. He joked around a lot and was very easy to get along with, but he was definitely a guy that didn’t allow people to mess with him or people he cared about.
My group was responsible for doing Chapel twice a day. The first day, my group leaders asked me to share my testimony. I automatically said no. I didn’t want to get up in front of 50 community members and talk about myself and my struggles because they all seemed so small compared to what some of them went through/ are going through. But they talked me into sharing and it ended up not being so bad. I was kinda nervous, but I was glad I did it. A couple of the guys in the Gateway program told me they enjoyed hearing my story and it really meant a lot to me. They also told me that I said “y’all” a lot. I laughed and had to agree about that.
During my week serving at The Bowery, I though a lot about Luke 10:38-42:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home him. She had a sister
called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset
about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary
has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”
I was there to serve and help out with this mission, but I also had to remember to build relationships and genuinely show that I cared about these community members.
One day I asked a community member how his day was going and he began to tell me about an interview he had later that day and how nervous he was for that. I encouraged him and told him I’d pray for him. His face lit up and you could tell it really meant the world to him.
“Can we pray for it right now?” he asked me.
“Absolutely,” I told him. So we went off to the side and I prayed for his anxieties to be eased and for him to get that job. He told me that he couldn’t express in words how thankful he was for that. I felt so much joy in those few moments. Later that day around the time his interview was going on, I said another short prayer for him. A couple of days later, when I saw him again he automatically lit up and came and told me that he thought the interview went really well.
God is so good.
One thing that I learned while serving at The Bowery was humility. I went to serve those people but I walked away feeling like I had been served. The presence of God was so evident in that place. It also made me so thankful to have such a wonderful family and support system. I learned the importance of serving, but also slowing down and taking the time to ask about someone’s day.
I walked into that week not really knowing any of my group and walked away with new best friends. It was so sad leaving all the people that were involved at the Bowery, many bonds were made that I’m so thankful for. It was definitely a week I’ll never forget and if I have the opportunity to return to the Bowery to serve again, I’m going to do it.