Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Baltimore Reflection

Senior Andrew Shi wrote a fantastic reflection on our Baltimore Spring Break trip.

My spring break trip to Baltimore/DC was more than I could ask for. Our team of 18 stayed at the Village Church in Baltimore, a young church whose members reflect the diversity of its local neighborhood. Our week consisted of an assortment of activities. In Baltimore, we toured the city, handed out flyers for the church, did construction work on the church, went on a prayer walk in the surrounding neighborhood, tutored with an after-school program at an inner-city school, learned about World Relief, and participated in campus evangelism at UMBC. In DC, we toured the city, attended a prayer meeting at the headquarters of International Justice Mission, flyered for a new Hispanic Church, and met with church planters as well as a missionary inside Capitol Hill to learn about the spiritual climate in our nation’s capitol.
Andrew (center) with Michael and Dennis in DC

When I first saw the scheduled events of the week, I felt disappointed that the trip seemed to have no clear vision. I was hoping to work towards one big project--something to show at the end of the week. Now I realize how God used the little moments--from driving to YMCA at night to take showers to making food together at 10PM in the church’s tiny kitchen--to teach me big lessons. If there was one word to capture what I experienced and learned, it
would be “community.”

To be sure, being around the same people for seven straight days is itself a community-building exercise. What made this community special, however, was not the fact that we were physically together. It was the goal of each member to love one another that moved me. Not once on the trip did I see anyone complain about being off schedule or feeling too tired to sign up for the next breakfast shift. One night during our team time, we did a group-bonding activity where we took turns saying positive things about one person in the group for one minute. The exercise, as one member put it, was both affirming and humbling. As someone who loves to be independent, I tend to shy away from the messiness of groups. But my experience on this team helped me to see that to live and serve together with other Christians is a joyful rather than a burdensome duty.

Andrew using the Perspective Banners to talk about Spiritual Beliefs
Beyond our team, my experience of community came from observing how members of the Village Church served us. The Village Church’s members demonstrated their hospitality to us throughout the entire week. On two separate nights, I had dinners at people’s homes nearby the church. On two separate nights, I took showers at people’s homes nearby the church. The church members welcomed us into their homes--often late into the night--without reservation. They took us in as their own and expressed a genuine desire to get to know us.

I want to recall one conversation I had with two young professionals who lived near the church. Both emphasized to me the importance of living close to a local church and being involved in the daily life of the church. While this advice may appear obvious, it was not something I’ve taken seriously as a college student. To think of it, school is arguably the only time in life where I will be around people exclusively my age, who do more or less the same things I am doing--classes, clubs, sports, etc. It has been easy--perhaps natural--for me to pick and choose my community and to be involved in as much or as little as I want, when I want. As a consequence of the four-year turnover rate in college, I’ve grown comfortable with the transient flow of friendships and responsibilities, and in turn, my conception of community. This spring break trip jerked me out of the college pond and gave me a glimpse of the ocean of the real world. The two young professionals I spoke with talked about how God worked through their life through the church. Both belonged to community groups. Both were being mentored by older women. Both found ways to serve inside and outside the church. Their advice unsettled my narrow and selfish conception of community.

I confess that throughout college, I’ve often treated Cru fellowship time or Sundays at church as just another block of time on my schedule. God convicted me of these sinful and misguided thoughts this week. I realized that my primary obstacle to a deeper engagement with the body of Christ was not some well-meaning excuse but the pride of my heart. I wanted community on my own terms. Weary of falling into a Christian bubble, I considered it weak to develop a dependency on the Christian community. As a result, my imagination of what community looks like and what it can do has been so modest.

Praise God for revealing these truths to me in this time of my life. I am one month away from graduation as I think about these things. When I begin law school in the fall, I will have the opportunity to be involved in the law school’s Christian fellowship as well as the local church. Community there will not look the same as community here, but it will still be God’s body of believers. With what I learned on this spring trip, thanks to your prayers and support, I look forward to deeper waters that lie ahead.