From July 9-16, 2016, members of our GPC youth group traveled to Baltimore, MD for their summer mission experience. These faithful young members of our church embarked on the trip with open minds and hearts to discover what Christ is doing in the world and how they can get in on it.
We stayed in the heart of Baltimore at The Center. The Center partners with congregations in the Presbytery of Baltimore who want to participate in Christ’s transforming work by finding ways to improve life in the community around them. We had the opportunity to participate in the efforts of one of these partner churches – Harundale Presbyterian Church, located in a Baltimore suburb 20 miles south of the city called Glen Burnie.
Harundale Presbyterian has a vibrant hunger ministry. Every Tuesday, they provide groceries to county residents through their food pantry. Three days each week, they prepare and share a meal, welcoming any and everyone to join in the nourishment of food and fellowship. Other ministries throughout the year include Operation Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving food basket distribution, and an annual food truck event that serves about 250 families (close to one thousand people!). From October through April, Harundale participates in a winter shelter for homeless folks. They rotate with a few other congregations to provide shelter, showers, and a hot breakfast for about 35-40 guests for a week at a time.
We participated in each facet of the ministry – we spent a day packing boxes of food at the Food Bank, which distributes goods to Harundale and other local food pantries; we distributed food to guests at the Harundale food pantry; and we prepared meals and met new people through table fellowship.
Many of our youth have participated in hunger ministries in the past, but all have been in urban settings (Sharpsburg, Philadelphia, and the South Side of Pittsburgh). Our time in Glen Burnie helped us all to see the realities of poverty and hunger in a suburban setting that is much like the community that surrounds our own church.
Harundale members have a kind of motto that they apply to all their ministry work – “Welcoming all with respect, love, concern, and friendliness.” Our youth have returned with that motto imprinted on their hearts, profoundly ready to discover God’s call to service here in our own community.
Throughout our time in Baltimore, we experienced a lot of hunger in the suburbs and learned a lot about it too. We also discussed how we can get to know and help the surrounding community of the church. I feel like God is calling me and us as a congregation to possibly start our own hunger ministry or another ministry for us to serve the surrounding community of the church.
If interested at all in helping me research the demographics of our community, please contact me.
This year’s mission trip topic was hunger. Our call was to help and experience the work of God in Glen Bernie. We traced the path of food backwards from serving at a table fellowship program at Harundale Presbyterian, to the food bank placed in the old Crownsville Hospital Center Kitchen building. We saw food being served, distributed, and boxed. We worked with the church community and with each other, laughing, learning and building relationships. Through the week we learned the truth about America’s hunger problem and how there has been only a little work done on this issue in the past 30 years. We also learned that healthy food is way more expensive than unhealthy food. With America’s growing population in poverty, it becomes more and more difficult to afford good, healthy food, even with our kids. I walked into the mission trip not concerned or thinking about where my food comes from, how it’s given, and where it is given. Now, I have been shown the scary real food crisis in America. As a Christian, it makes me want to act to do better. Thankfully with my college degree requiring service to our communities for course credits, I can continue to work with service organizations while receiving my professional education. This will set me up for fighting hunger in every aspect of the world it inhabits.
An easy trap to fall into with service-based mission, at least for me, is to feel like you are “fixing” something. Working at the food bank and serving a community meal are great things to do, and I’m glad I could participate, but it’s the equivalent of a Band-Aid on too deep of a wound. Working men and women, people who work hard, work for their families, will be back the next week, and the week after that. That realization will be what calls me to action in the future, because there is clearly a lot of work to do still.
In Baltimore, I witnessed great work being done. The weekly meals and food pantry supplied by Harundale Presbyterian Church endeavor to make people’s lives better, and they succeed. While the work itself was inspiring to watch, the thing that struck me most was the people doing the work. They were truly dedicated to doing the work of Christ. These were people who put others before themselves every single day, even when their own lives were overwhelming. In the profound commitment of the men and women at Harundale Presbyterian Church I saw what I should strive to be here at Glenshaw.
While we were in Baltimore, the staff of The Center led us in activities and discussions about race relations and about boundaries. I was overwhelmed to discover all the ways – big and small – that I experience privilege just because I am white. Usually, we go about our lives worrying about our own struggles without even realizing the very unfair struggles that minorities experience in America – struggles that white citizens can never really understand. Now, I have a new perspective on the way that Christ calls us to love one another – especially those who are different from us. We are called to cross, and even break down the boundaries of race in order to discover the image of God in all people and to love them as our Lord does.
Believe it or not, before this year I had never been on a mission trip, youth or adult, with GPC. In my day we did retreats, to the old Fairfield and Crestview camps, to Jumonville Methodist camp, and other places. It was a time to get away from the stresses of daily life during the school year. Mission to others was never much of a focus. I’m not sure when that changed at GPC. I have heard this before many times from previous mission trip participants, but I know I will never be the same as I was before this last trip to Baltimore. Here are a few things that happened for me:
One thing that left a big impression on me was seeing how committed the kids were to the “work” part of the trip, a part with which, unfortunately, I could not fully participate due to my employment. They listened carefully to the intro about the week’s work ahead at Harundale Presbyterian Church. They asked pertinent questions. They did not seem to be overly concerned about the possibility of personal risk they might be taking. They did not appear to mind the physical work they would be doing. They seemed stoked about the impact they would be making on the lives of these homeless folks. I know I would have made a contribution too had it been possible because A) the mission was to involve helping others less fortunate than those with whom we normally associate (which I personally find attractive) and B) it was also to involve food, with which I have some skills!
One activity our GPC group did was to walk a three-mile stretch of trail from the church to the rail head from which the homeless folks walk each time they come to the church to participate in the program. We walked in contemplative silence for some of the hike. It gave us a new perspective on part of what these folks go through. This middle-aged engineer had tired feet at the end of the hike. I can’t imagine walking six miles each day for a meal.
One of the best parts of the trip for me personally was that I had an opportunity to sit and chat with Kendra for more than just a few minutes here and there, as had been the case since she became Youth Director (other than at YMT meetings!). We talked about Garret and his pursuits, what youth group was like in my day, the future of the current youth group and of the Church in general (not just Presbyterians). We talked about what God was calling her on to do, some of my faith journey, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I can’t remember all the topics we touched upon, but combined with the other experiences our group encountered that first two days of the trip, this little chat really shook me up. This is what left me a different person than I was. I really saw/continue to see God at work through Kendra. I saw that indeed God does work through all of us in similar but unique ways. I knew this before, of course, but it’s only when you see such an obvious instance right before your eyes that it really makes one stand up and take notice. I really came to appreciate the person Kendra is, all the work she is doing in the Presbyterian Church, including her contributions to the life of GPC and to Seminary.
This combination of experiences also brought home to me the importance of maintaining a viable youth program at GPC and of continuing the mission works it does.
In conclusion, I see now why everyone I know who has participated in a GPC mission trip has emerged a changed person. Some aspect you encountered, whether during part of your actual service time, or as in my case, after hours during free time, changes you. It’s like you find a part of yourself you didn’t know was there. And I didn’t even get to do the “hard” part!
Although I am sad Kendra is leaving the youth director position, I am confident she will continue to contribute to Presbyterian life in Pittsburgh. I wish her and Garret all the love and success of which they are so richly deserving.ast