Thursday, May 19, 2016

A good use for a church basement in Washington DC

Center for Student Missions (CSM) DC
A young woman from West Virginia had been to Washington, DC, a number of times. Her grandparents live in the city. To her, the District was a place to vacation, to have fun. It's a beautiful city. When her church youth group came to work with the Center for Student Missions in DC, she spent time serving the poor and disadvantaged of Washington. And when the trip was done, she said she'd never really seen the city before. Her eyes were opened.

In the basement of Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church, there are two rooms with rows of bunks (and two restrooms of questionable reliability) that welcome students, leaders, and even families for an urban adventure. The groups are sent out to play with children, serve meals, make beds in rescue missions, and provide a wide variety of other chores designed to make the lives of those in need in the District of Columbia a little bit better.

Mindy and I spent some time with Jessica and Rachel, the city director and associate city director of CSM DC. Spring Break groups had all left, and Rachel and Jessica were prepping for groups coming in the summer. Jessica has served in DC for a year -- previously she'd been with CSM Boston as assistant city director. Rachel has only been in DC a few months, though she also served with CSM in Boston previously (where, coincidentally, she worked with a group from Saint Matthew's Sterling, where we were last week).

In addition to having the opportunity to serve, visiting teams learn about the city in other ways, such as visiting a variety of ethnic restaurants. They may also participate in something called the "urban plunge," with groups sent out for a number of hours to fend for themselves in the big city with extremely limited cash and resources. If it rains, gets hot or cold, they need to find shelter somewhere other than CSM.

Jessica told me about a firefighter who came as a group leader when she was working with CSM in Boston. The man terrified her when he drove a van through the streets of Boston like, well, a firefighter. He was a tough guy. But when the week was over, he cried. He said that after seeing people in such great need he realized those people could be his loved ones in different circumstances.

CSM has ministries in other places than Boston and DC: in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Philadelphia, New York, and most recently, the ministry is looking to expand into Tijuana, Mexico. Jessica said they do have an advantage in Washington, DC -- they can take college groups into the House and Senate and learn how to advocate for the needy in the halls of power.

But every city CSM works in has unique needs and unique opportunities for ministry. We hope to see some more of their work as we continue down the road.