Monday, January 12, 2015

New York, New York

Bradlee and I have just returned from a mission trip to New York City. It was an eye-opening trip, one that involved some of the coldest temperatures I have had to endure for multiple hours, and one that helped us see the vulnerable in our society with new eyes.

We taught ESL classes in education centers for people from Southeast Asia and Western Africa. The centers were located in different areas of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States. It is home to over 2.3 million people, and about 48% of its residents were foreign-born. Some of the students had lived in the US for more than ten years and still working on basic English skills, mostly because the need to learn English wasn't needed in day-to-day life where, because of the segmented populations in Queens, they had very little contact with English-speaking people. Walk five blocks in Queens and you are in a new community with new primary languages and new food specialties.

We then served food to the homeless in some of the coldest temperatures I have ever had to endure for an extended amount of time. It felt like needles were pressing into my toes, then my heels, then most parts of my body. It was brutal, but it also helped me get a small feel for what homeless people are enduring on a daily basis. We served them soup, bread and hot chocolate, and we ate and drank the same alongside them in the cold while talking about a myriad of subjects. (We served through The Relief Bus, which is a great organization that offers more than food and hot chocolate.)

Later that day and the next morning, we walked the streets to find homeless people, strike up conversations and offer them food and water along with a map of free services and an info card for the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, where they could find additional help and support. This sort of thing is hard for me to do, as I'm not a natural conversationalist or extrovert. However, it was good for me to realize that, while it is unfortunately natural for most of us to avoid eye contact with homeless people, it doesn't mean it's right.

On our last day of missions, we helped give out food in a church, filling rolling baskets brought by homeless and/or low-income attendees of an afternoon service. The food was donated by three Trader Joe's stores around New York, and the church received surplus food four times a day, every day. This provided PLENTY of food to give away, and the church organized distribution to other churches for their services, as well. The food baskets we filled were packed to the brim with fruits and veggies, bread, meat, eggs and even fresh flowers. Church members who assisted with the service project, including a pastor from a nearby church, also got to shop for their families, which was a huge blessing to them as well. While we were filling the baskets, the people who brought them listened to a gospel-filled sermon from a pastor. (Word on the street is that Springfun is getting a Trader Joe's...you'd better believe I will be checking on their surplus distribution process.)

We did some tourist things as well, such as the ferry tour, The Today Show, a Top of the Rock tour, and taking in a Broadway play. We ate food from Afghan, Paris, Italy, India, West Africa, and America (SHAKE SHACK, anyone?!). And we experienced a lot of smells.

And then we came home, and I was thrilled to be back with my boys.