Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day Eight: Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip

Well, it was our last day. Some of us went to Mass for the last time at St. Mary of the Lake Parish Church. We will miss it. We had our last morning prayer group. Some of the folks cooked and cooked and cooked. Tiffany cleaned out a fridge and Amanda cleaned the apartment.

There were lots of occasions to say goodbye. We said goodbye to the staff, to the Kaio community, to the M.C. staff and to the guys. We also said goodbye to Cody, a 13 year old dog who learned to accept us.

Nora had a portrait made of her by Nick. Nick is one of the art interns at Kaio. Nora had a colorful veil on and the portrait is a keeper. Amber had the satisfaction of seeing her left-over lasagna go home with one of the guys. Scott got to see the E.M. folks appreciate his plumbing work in the kitchen and bathroom. It was a time of tying loose ends together.

The final meal at Emmaus was bitter sweet. It started with Amanda singing The Servant Song. It is a beautiful song that fit the week and Amanda has a beautiful voice. It was clear the students and the guys really connected. We were no longer surprised at the heart felt prayers the men expressed. Some of our students were surprised at the tears some of the men shed at our leaving.

So, it was an exhausting week and an incredible week. Our worship and reflection time got better each day. I particularly appreciated Nora (our Muslim student from Malaysia) leading worship. She taught us the Muslim teaching on compassion and caring for your neighbor. It felt very familiar. It was a week of experiencing all that a multi-cultural city had to offer. It was a week of walking, of the lake, of worshiping at many different houses of worship. It was a wonderful week.

There were lots of lessons to learn. We did a very good job and next time it will be even better. However, we came to serve and we were servants. We came knowing transformation was possible and we left changed. We brought a little bit of Indiana to Chicago and we leave bringing some of Chicago back to the University of Saint Francis. It will be good to be back home. It was great to have been in Uptown and with the men of Emmaus Ministries.

Peace and all Good,

The Servant Song

Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip 2010

So, why work with men who participate in prostitution? Well, spend just the briefest time at Emmaus Ministries in Chicago and you will find out why. You will find out that these guys are easy to care about. Surpassingly, they are like us. The idea carries with it a substantial “yuk factor” but the guys do not.

As a Secular Franciscan I am called upon to be a servant to the disfranchised, the lepers of today. Well, that is our guys at Emmaus. These are the guys who are looked down upon by all of the other folks in shelters. There are programs and ministries for homeless, for the poor and even for female prostitutes. This is the only program for men who participate in prostitution in the entire city.

You may have noticed I refer to the guys as “men who participate in prostitution” and not simply as “prostitutes.” The label by itself does not capture who these guys are. It judges the entire person on a behavior that may be sporadic and crisis driven. It misses who these guys are, it can prevent us from seeing them as our brothers made by a generous Creator. .

Some of the guys identify themselves as gay, most would not. Many, in some studies as many as 68% of guys who participate in prostitution identify themselves as heterosexual. Many have wives or girlfriends and children. Most of the men have no marketable job skills. Most have some learning disability and many have serious mental illnesses. These are men who are struggling as best they can to survive.

There is no doubt that many are also living with the consequences of their own bad choices. Many have spent time in jail or prison. Many have serious drug problems. However you would have to work with a very large number of these men for an extended period of time before you find a man who came from an intact, nurturing home. Most have experienced neglect and/or abuse as a child and many have run away from home as teenagers.

At Emmaus Ministries they men find a safe and welcoming place. They do not find a place that enables. They do find a place where acceptance, caring and even love is unconditional. Emmaus Ministries is there to help these men move out of the night community. However, if they do not they are still welcomed and cared for. They find a place where they can shower, have a home cooked meal, get mail, make goal-related phone calls. They find a place to laugh or cry, to talk or contemplate. They find a place where they can pray with others or silently.

Spend time at Emmaus Ministries and you will see what transformation looks like. It is not big and splashy like some after school special. Rather, it is gradual, deep and real. It has fits and starts, it plateaus and then starts again. We have faith in the transformation because it does not come from us.

So, some of the men will get into a program. They will get a real apartment and not have to search frantically for a place to spend the night when the weather turns nasty. Some will get their GED, some will get a job and some will go on to college. Some will simply be happy to rest at Emmaus, among friends, when they are depressed or lonely.

There is no doubt that there will be set backs. There will be guys who refuse help. Some guys will have multiple relapses. However, it is not up to us to decide who will succeed and who will fail. It is up to us to serve and to care.

So, why care about homeless males who participate in prostitution? Because they are our brothers, because they are not that different from us, because we should and because we can. .

Emmaus Ministries volunteer spotlight: Rex Slagel

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day Seven: Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip

Well, this was our last full day at Emmaus Ministries and in Chicago. Just for a change we had Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes’s Church instead of St. Mary of the Lake. Today’s church is where Jon Green, the fonder of Emmaus Ministries serves in his capacity as a Permanent Deacon.

The day was busy and full of distinct activities. We made a ginger pork tenderloin meal. We had great fellowship with the guys. After lunch our female members went back over to EZRA. They were invited to a Russian concert in honor of International Women’s Day. The entire concert was in Russian and most of our members loved it.

We had our last full day prayer with the guys. These guys really know how to pray and what to pray for. Afterward we all took the “L” downtown. First we went to the Chicago Cultural Center. This is a beautiful building with the world’s largest Tiffany class dome. Next we walked around Millennium Park, that was fun. Finally we spent the remainder of our free time downtown at the Art Institute of Chicago.

We could not go back to Emmaus right away because Al was doing Immersion Night training. So we had to eat out. We went to Exchequer, a famous Chicago pizza joint for some really good pizza. Then we stopped for coffee.

Finally we could go home! We then joined the interns of the Kaio Community. I loved that because Kaio was my home for three weeks last year and will be home for sabbatical next year. Al and Andi Tauber joined us and sang a few songs from Stories of the Streets. We prayed, processed and shared experiences the events of the week and then just socialized. It was a great way to begin to say our good byes.

Day Six: Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip

This was our long day and I mean long. We get up early for Mass. Then we have our morning prayers. Then we started cooking for lunch and dinner. The lunch was lasagna and the dinner was turkey with all the fixins. While that was going on three of us drove to Elmwood Park to pick up a donated freezer. One worked on plumbing. Others worked on various chores.

The place was packed with guys. It was loud and felt like being it your grandparents for Thanksgiving.

There were games, conversations and lots and lots of laughter. There were also some serious conversations going on. It was a long day, an exhausting day but a great day. The Kaio folks were happy to have time just to interact with the guys while we cooked and interacted with the guys. Besides card games the Kaio art interns were doing portraits of the guys.

We were tired after our long day. Still, we had our worship and reflection. Some of us then walked to the lake. We stood on a pier and looked at the skyline of downtown Chicago and we talked about the city. We then went to a neat coffee house, Dollops and enjoyed one another company. It was yet another good day.

dollop & ice paw from philcoextra on Vimeo.

Day Five: Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip

Well, we had another full day. For the second day in a row the Ministry Center was full, the guys were everywhere. The guys were enthusiastic. It was a great day.

The students are proving to be good cooks. We made Korean beef, hot, hot rice, vegetables and brownies. They are proving to be creative and flexible. More importantly, they are walking beside the men, accepting the men and seeing the men as unique individuals and not as stereotypes.

After the shift was over we all walked over to the American Indian Center. This is the oldest and largest Indiana Center in an urban setting. While it clearly could use an infusion of money it also was a power house of pride and transformation to the community.

Classes are offered to First Nation peoples to introduce young ones to the various cultures and languages. There is an effort to connect elders with the you. There are community rooms for Powwows and other ceremonies. There is a healing/medicine garden and a small museum.

Afterward we all had our communal dinner and worship and reflection. Finally, many of the members went out into the community simply for some R&R. It was another good day.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day Four: Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip

Well, today we did our first full day of “regular work.” First it was Mass, and then we all met for prayer and worship. At 9 AM we met with Sil, the director of the Ministry Center. He introduced us to the issues and procedures related to men who hustle and live in the night community. Then we moved into high gear.

We cooked lunch, BBQ and BBQ chicken, hot (spicy) rice, and corn. Half of the team went upstairs to work in the office. Then the guys began to arrive.

It was the beginning of the month and so we only expected two or three guys. There were ten. So the guys, Emmaus staff and our team ate and prayed and talked and laughed together. It was a loud almost celebratory day.

Some of the team members participated in the art classes Emmaus offers the guys. Finally the day at Emmaus ended in prayer. It was a good first day.

Next we walked over to EZRA Multi-Service Center. This is a Jewish community Center that is funded by the Jewish Federation of Chicago. We were there for a tour of the JUF Uptown Café. This is the only kosher anti-hunger program in the city. What we got was a tour of the entire building. What a surprise.

The three story building is home to multiple services. There are job prep services, case management and language classes. The third floor is the senior citizen center for Russian Jewish immigrants. There are music classes, social rooms and Russian newspapers. What a place.

Monday, March 8th is International Women’s Day. The center is putting on a concert Thursday to celebrate this event. It will include professional musicians and opera singers from the former Soviet Union. We were invited, it is pretty exciting.

The center was created after a survey found that 15% of the homeless were Jewish, there was a need to address. The center was supposed to end homelessness in three years. That did not happen! However, this agency works with other agencies and does wonderful work. It was a good tour.

We then went back to the Ministry Center and made supper, Jan Patterson’s famous Tortellini and Spinach Soup. We had salad and bread, it was a wonderful time cooking and eating together.

The meal was followed by worship and reflection. It was clear we were all beginning to relax and enjoy one another and the guys. Finally we had some of the team members went out for coffee and others to go talk to the guys. It was another good day.

St. Mary of the Lake: Our Local Church in Chicago

Day Three: Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip

This was a day of worship and a tour of religious tourism! First we attended Mass at St. Mary of the Lake Parrish Church. This is a beautiful Catholic church that is walking distance from Emmaus. The church was restored in the 80s and looks wonderful. Nora attended; Nora is our student from Malaysia. This Muslim student supported each of us and we supported her. We really were becoming a team.

Next we went to Oasis Ministries. This is a Pan African Church that meets in Walt Disney Magnet School. The service was loud and energetic. The preachers preached, the choir sang, men danced and we all clapped. Two and one half hours later we were frantically trying to get to Chinatown for another tour.

We arrived at St. Therese Mission Church but our guide was not there. Luckily we were allowed in and I was able to give a modified tour. I pointed out that the statue of the Buddha outside in the yard was to remind them that they and their neighbors share a common heritage and that they must therefore treat them with respect. I pointed out that the statue of Mary in the yard and the painting of the Madonna in the church reflected an Asian face. I showed them the alter for the veneration of ancestors and the crucifix donated by Al Capone’s mother. Finally they looked up at the ceiling and the words painted there. In Chinese the words expressed the need to unity through Christ. I was told that there were six different groups that did not always get along and they understood that it was only through the love of Christ that they could act as one. The group then spent time walking around Chinatown.

We then drove to Polonia. We briefing went inside of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. It is an enormous church with beautiful artwork. There was a Mass going on so we took our peeks and quietly moved on.

Next we drove to Ukrainian Village. We first came up to Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. Louis Sullivan built the church and in fact it is the only Sullivan church still standing. It was a beautiful example of a smaller but breathtaking Russian Church. We then moved on to the Ulkranian churches.

We went past St. Volodymir Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is a huge church that clearly had been a Protestant Church in an earlier life!

Finally we arrived at St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. It is a huge church with green onion domes. It looks like it was lifted our of Russia. Only two blocks down is St. Volodymyr and Olha Parish Cathedral. This is a huge church with a golden dome. It looks like it is from Constantinople. We all walked around with our mouths open. We took pictured and we marveled at the building.

We then headed for home. We then made spaghetti, with Italian sausage on the side, a salad and bread. It was good to cook together and to eat together. We then had worship and reflection. That was followed by a loud and silly night of card games.

Finally some of the team went back out to do a modified Immersion Night. It was along day. It was a good day. We were finally beginning to become a true team.

Day Two:Emmaus Ministries Mission Trip

We all got to sleep in a little. We began our day at the Ministry Center for breakfast. Afterward we had a brief prayer service. Next Al arrived and we began to process our Immersion Night.

The reactions were not all that different than the night before. There were some who wondered why they had agreed to join the spring mission grip. Others were excited. Most were happy to be at Emmaus but still acknowledged some apprehension.

Next we had a tour of Jesus People USA. Across the street from Emmaus is the Friendly Towers. This building is home to Jesus People USA, 500 folks living in intentional community. They share all of their income. They live in small hotel rooms. They own and run homeless shelters, art galleries and music bands. They were unconventional looking and unconventional in their lifestyle.

The tour was not very organized. The guide was really the weekend coordinator, he had other responsibilities. Still, we got to see the chapel, the dinning room and the skateboard coffee house. We learned that the building was once a hotel owned by Al Capone. Pretty interesting stuff.

Next we inventoried our supplies and went grocery shopping. It was actually fun to work as a group. It was even more fun to be a human caravan carrying all the bags home.

The evening was special, we went to Bahia Temple. This is one of only nine Bahia Temples in the world and the only one in North America. It is on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is surrounded by nine gardens. We learned a little about their faith. We learned about their respect for the equality of men and women, the the belief that science and faith should be in agreement and for the belief that we are all one family. This emphasis on unity was powerful and congruent with our own faiths.We all had private, silent prayer and meditation in the temple. Afterward we went out for pizza. Another long day but also a good day.

Spring break and Emmaus Ministries

The first day of our alternative urban spring break proved to be a long one. Seven students; Amanda, Tiffany, Laura, Mike, Scott, Amber and Nora, resident life rep Lovey and I embarked on a week of volunteering with Emmaus Ministries in Uptown Chicago.

Emmaus Ministries is an ecumenical ministry that serves homeless men who participate in prostitution. We would be working in the Ministry Center making home style meals and we would experience Immersion Night in Boystown. This would prove to be different from our previous mission trips to Eastern Kentucky working with Christian Appalachian Project. In Kentucky we were physically challenged. This trip would challenge our ability to give up our judgmental natures and to simply be compassionate.

The students were excited driving along Lake Shore Drive. We stopped at Montrose Harbor for our first of many worship serves. We were becoming a team. We ended the4 services when Lovey placed a Tau from Rome and blessed by the Holy Father over each members head. For me the service was doubly moving. My daughter had brought the Taus back from Rome so they could be used for a special occasion.

Once we arrived we unloaded our belongings. The women stayed in an apartment behind Emmaus. The guys stayed in the chapel of Emmaus. We had some brief introduction and then we all walked with Al and Andi (Al is the director of ministries and the two are Stories from the Street) to a Thai noodle shop. There we had an exotic dinner with fantastic sticky rice. To be honest, there was diversity of opinion of the food! It was however a great time for all of us to begin to get to know one another and Al and Andi.

We then returned to the Ministry Center and our training for Immersion Night began. We were told of the desperate lives the men live. Many never had close caring families; many grew up in abusive homes or multiple foster homes. Many but not all are intellectually challenged or have serious mental disorders. Whatever the contributing factors are, these are hurting men that others shun. These are the lepers of today. These are the folks that even the homeless in the homeless shelters reject. These wee the men we would be serving.

We learned about all of the safety precautions. We prayed and we prepared for the night in Boystown. Now Boystown is the GLBT neighborhood around north Halstead Street. It is the home of many clubs as well as gat friendly restaurants and businesses. Our job was not to “fix” people. Our job was to walk around the area, interact with folks when we could and simply form relationships. We were to look at ourselves and try to discover what was getting in our way, what prevented us from recognizing god in each person we met.

We then took the “L” to Belmont. We then broke up into 4 teams of two. I floated among the various teams. From 9:30 until 1:30 we walked around the area. Some of the members walked the streets observing and interacting with the people they met. Some sat in coffee shops watching and talking. Some went into clubs to observer and interact. Nobody had the same experience and nobody had the same reactions. Some were surprised at how much they were not surprised. Others commented that it was not all that different form anyone’s going out to the clubs. Some were clearly out of their comfort zone and felt almost violated. Whatever the reaction, we had all be exposed to the environment in which our men worked. We took the “L” back home and got to bed by 3 PM. It was a long and intense day. Ahhhh spring break!