From Bullet to Better

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This is the outreach team I was with!

Kelsey walked down the street, saying,
“We have an appointment today! We have to be at this lady’s home at 10 am.”

We walked up the stairs and knocked on Rosa’s* door.
“Hola! Vengan aqui. Gracias por venir.”
(Hello! Come in. Thanks for coming.)

After her screen she proceeded to tell us, with a beaming countenance, of how God worked in her life and the life of her son. Not long ago her son had a serious gunshot wound which landed him in the hospital. Her son’s condition caused considerable anxiety for her and caused her not to be able to sleep well for many months. She is a woman of much faith and she prayed very fervently for her son. She eventually came to the US and when she did, the way her son looked was devastating. He was on multiple IVs and a ventilator and was knocked out in bed. He had lost a lot of weight and was steadily declining. The doctors said he would never walk or talk again. As soon as she could, Rosa came to the hospital and prayed for her son, saying “I speak life over your eyes, I speak life over your mouth, etc.” continuing to speak life in the name of Jesus over his entire body.

There came a point when the physical state of her son declined so far that the doctors decided that the next best thing to do was to make a hole through his neck into his trachea to give him the amount of oxygen he needed (called a tracheostomy). For this to occur, the doctor needed Rosa’s approval. On the way to the hospital, Rosa stopped to get gas and during that time, her son coughed into the ventilator, which is a sign of strength in the lungs. Because of that delay, her son did not have a tracheostomy put in and is now walking and breathing without supplemental oxygen.

There was another occasion where her son had large masses of blood coming out with his urine. Rosa prayed about this too. When a screen was done to figure out what was wrong, they found nothing and the problem ceased to exist.

The son she spoke of was in the house when we were there, he was friendly, but eyed us from a distance. His only obvious lingering issue was a slight unsteady gait. He has come such a long way from where he was!

Rosa told us as she wrapped up her story, “Do not tell yourself you have big problems. Tell your problems you have a big God.” She was so right.

By the end of her testimony we were all floored. The things she spoke about are not normal medical occurrences and her faith in God was inspiring. As could be imagined, she was animated and radiant throughout the story. We prayed with her in Spanish at the end before we left. It is so good for us as Christian health care students to hear stories of God’s hand in health crises. It inspires up to look up and to God’s goodness. We can use our knowledge and skills to help people, but ultimately God is the Giver of health and gives as He chooses—we are merely instruments of His grace. That is humbling.

*Name changed to protect identity

-Patience Normoyle
SMI 2018

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A Letter to Heaven

Dear Heaven,

Meeting you was the highlight of my day. After knocking on a row of unanswered doors, the sight of your sweet smile and sparkly eyes greeting us at the door of your babysitter’s home was refreshing.

Thank you for acknowledging us. I enjoyed learning about your best friends at school and your favorite teacher and why you want to be a nail salon owner when you grow up. Thank you for listening to this auntie talk to you about my first love and what he means to me.

Do you remember? His name is Jesus and I want to tell you again that He loves you. He is God’s beloved Son who humbled himself by becoming a man and came down from heaven to live among us. Though perfect in every way, Jesus died on the cross in the place of sinners (of whom I am the worst!) and rose from the dead three days later, proving He is God and the Way to restore our broken relationship with God.

Now I am free to love him because he first loved me! Jesus shows me love is not merely a feeling or a one-time declaration. Love is laying down your rights for someone else. It’s sacrifice. It’s displayed in action. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Heaven, you said you only get to see your mama in the morning and at night. She works long hours at her job to provide for you and your brother, so she’s not able to spend as much time with you as you would like. I know that’s hard. It was probably hard for her to make that choice too. But maybe that is one of the ways she is loving you. She has made that choice so you can have more choices. Don’t forget what you promised me: that you would obey her rules and be a cheerful helper. I bet your mom will appreciate that so much.

You also told me something about the neighborhood. You said that it’s bad, so last year your mom moved your family to another neighborhood a few miles away. I asked you what made this particular neighborhood bad, and you said, it took your father away. My heart broke when you said that.

There are people who walk around here looking like they’re sleepy, you said. Yes, I think I’ve seen them too. You once saw through your front window two strangers sprawled out on your porch after dark. You saw blood. Your mom scolded you for looking. She didn’t let you go outside the next day. I hope that in your new home you are permitted to go outside freely and play to your heart’s content. I pray you make good friends there too.

Heaven, though your biological father is no longer here, please know that you always have a Father who loves you, fully and completely, and He cares for you a whole whole lot. A lot like you love vanilla ice cream or your two-year-old brother. But even more than that! If you knew just how much God loves you, well, I suppose you probably couldn’t take it. I know that most times I cannot wrap my head around His perfect love, but I believe in my heart.

And the amazing thing about our Heavenly Father’s love is that there is never an end to it. There is no limit. You will never meet another who will satisfy the deepest desire of your heart like He can. I hope you feel it and know His love for you sooner rather than later.

Thank you for restoring to me the wonder of possessing a childlike faith. In that way, I want to be like you, Heaven. I don’t know when we’ll meet again, but I hope it will be soon.

Your friend,

Clara
SMI 2018

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A Korean Heart!

Wounds

Esperanza

Sometimes it is visible.
Sometimes it consumes the mind. Sometimes it is reflected in in their eyes.

Through our door to door screenings, this mission trip has shown me painful stories and deep wounds.

I saw the hurting gaze of a homeless man with an open wound covering over half of his leg. He was injured from a dog bite one and a half years ago and had not gotten medical care.

A lady quivered as she told me her accidental needle stick injury. She was merely throwing trash out when a needle pierced her skin. She hid this news from her abusive husband and lived in fear that she might be HIV positive.

From door after door, I ask if there is anything I could pray for.
There is a mother that lost her son to gunshot. There is a grandmother who is waiting for her grandson to be released from jail. There is a lady who had lost her mother and aunt within the past two years. There is a man who walked away from church because his sexuality was not welcomed.

There were times when my heart sunk as I heard the magnitude of their agony.

God, you’ve allowed me to experience your greatness, so will you be the healer and savior in these people’s lives? You are our almighty Father who forgives our sins, who redeems us through your blood, and who lavishes us with abundant grace. May your saving grace pierce their lives, and may your name in Jesus forevermore be glorified.

We may never hear the rest of the story of the people we meet on the streets, including how God changes lives of the drug addict, the prostitute, or the homeless. But God is at work in their lives already, swooping down with His love and healing them of their pain.

His grace is enough.

—Jehanne Hou
SMI 2018

Only God Can Give the Growth

Processed with VSCO with  preset“Hi, my name is Simon and I’m from Esperanza Health Center and Urban Hope Church. We’re offering free health screenings—would you be interested?”

It’s funny how such simple words can be an invitation into the messiness of people’s lives. Over these past couple weeks, I’ve knocked on countless doors and was greeted by a multitude of faces. Some politely declined, others yelled at us, and some just didn’t open their doors at all. But the people that opened their homes to us—and in a way, their lives—will be the ones I’ll remember.

One particular person that stands out to me was a young man who flagged us down to do a screening for him. He was very open and shared a lot about his struggles in life. He also talked to us a lot about his church background and why he stopped going. He then asked if we went to church and when we answered that we did, he asked if he could go to church with us. This was very surprising because none of the people we’ve met had been so interested in Christianity, and they certainly never invited themselves. We gladly accepted and made plans to pick him up on our way to church on Sunday.

When he actually opened his door came out to church on Sunday, we were ecstatic. Afterwards, he said he enjoyed it and we introduced him to some of the people in the church. We connected him with the pastor, who informed him about an addiction recovery small group, since he told us he was using drugs to get high. We were also able to set him up to do some construction work at the church so that he could learn a trade that could potentially be a job for him in the future. It would also take up time in his week so he wouldn’t get bored and go out to get high. It was really amazing to see God providing all of these opportunities for him and we were really hopeful for him.

The next day, we went back to visit him, but when we knocked on his door, his family said he wasn’t there and he was probably out getting high. We asked if he had gone to work or to the small group and they said that he hadn’t done that either. They also said that he was going to have a court date tomorrow and that he was probably going back to prison because he had violated his probation almost every night to get high. We were both saddened and devastated because we had tried so hard to help him by setting him up with a church and a job, but he wasn’t willing to take advantage of the opportunities.

As a short term missionary, there’s very little I can do to actually impact the people I encounter. I can do a health screening and tell them that they have high blood pressure or high blood sugar, but I can’t treat them or give them medicine. I can refer and encourage them to go to a doctor, but I can’t force them to make an appointment. I can share the Gospel and connect them to a church, but I can’t ensure that they believe or go. Realizing this makes me wonder if there’s any purpose for us to be here or if all our efforts are futile.

But I believe in a God that works miracles. I believe in a God whose heart breaks for his people. I believe in a God who invites the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the poor and the sinners to dine at his table. I believe that only God can change hearts. I believe that only God can give the growth.

During my three weeks here, I’ve encountered so much brokenness in the community. But as I’ve engaged with people about their health issues, family, poverty and addictions, I’ve realized that there is also something very beautiful about the way people love and live around here. God has been at work in these neighborhoods long before we walked on these streets. It’s given me a newfound love for the streets and people of North Philadelphia, which I had previously considered irredeemable.

Here at SMI, I found brokenness. But I also found my own heart broken.

— Simon Chen
SMI 2018

Beautiful Things Out of Dust

“Okay, which street should we do next?” I asked my partner, Miriam.

“Let’s do this one,” Miriam said, pointing to the next block.

As Miriam and I turned the street, we immediately saw an old lady sitting on her porch steps on the left side of the street. We approached her and asked if she wanted a health screening but she didn’t answer so we asked again. As she turned towards us, she told us that she couldn’t hear us but she could read lips. My first thought was ‘Oh great—this is going to be rough.

Well, it was very difficult to communicate with her since she didn’t always look at us or read our lips correctly. We tried to write out questions on a piece of paper for her, but she also couldn’t find her glasses, so she wasn’t able to read the words very well.

As we began to ask questions about her health history, something popped into my head. I took a class last semester on communication disorders and for a project, I had to simulate a communication disorder. Remembering this helped me communicate with this lady better because I was able to understand a small snippet of her ability to communicate. I also remembered that some people’s lips are easier to read. As Miriam and I talked to her more, it was clear that she understood Miriam better so I was able to let Miriam take the lead.

It’s really amazing how God was able to show me how to integrate and bring in knowledge from school work into doing His work and helping other people. It has been really hard for me to see how to apply what I am learning in class into my faith and also my future, but God really showed me through this encounter. Through the past two weeks, He has also been able to show me how beautiful all His creation is; it became so much more clear through this woman how God showed Himself to me and changed my attitude. Unfortunately, we weren’t able engage with her about her faith or pray with her, but she seemed glad that we were there to talk to her. 

—Joanne Tan
SMI 2018

Glimpses of the Creator

Everywhere I go today, I know there will be people. Particularly here in an urban setting, humanity is inescapable and that can make it seem ordinary – commonplace even. And perhaps because of this, it is all too easy to lose sight of the beauty, wonder, and complexity that is bound up in another human existence.

 In the past year, I began my formal medical education and in this process I have frequently found myself in awe of the intricacy of the human body. Our bodies are a continuous whirling dance of precisely timed and choreographed chemical reactions occurring in inextricably intertwined organs that work in concert to the tune of complex rhythms and steps.

 And while all of this is beautiful and profound, we are so much more than our chemistry. As elegant and convoluted as our chemistry may be, it seems minor in complexity when placed alongside the mystery of another human soul and the circumstances, people, and experiences that have sculpted and shaped that same soul.

 I try to remind myself of this as I go from house to house, knocking on doors. Each person that I encounter is a totally unique creation. There is no one else exactly like them on this earth. There was no one quite like them before they were born and there will be no one exactly like them after they are gone. They are precious. They are valuable. They are rare. God has made every one of us distinct and distinctly in His own image.

 The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it this way in his poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire:

Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

As I position a blood pressure cuff on a limb or look intently into the features of a patient with a story to tell, I try to catch a glimpse of the Creator and I try to enter more fully into the privilege of serving and caring for the people of his creation who are so fearfully and wonderfully made.

—Miriam Eagleson
SMI 2018

My Grace is Sufficient

Something that I have consistently found when serving on missions trips is that God always uses the experience to mold and shape the Christian almost as much as (and sometimes more than) he uses the experience to benefit the community. I have been on several trips in my life and it has struck me how he always seems to challenge and comfort me in new ways.

This week, I have been learning that God’s grace is new and sufficient every moment. On Monday we ventured through the 98° urban wilderness of North Philadelphia, and we were just ending our morning session of health screenings. We had been been conducting our screens outside for around two and a half hours and our group was beginning to feel worn down. That was when we knocked on the door of our last house for the morning. A man answered when we knocked, and we told him our familiar message that we were from Esperanza Health Center and were doing health screens in the community for free. Immediately the man welcomed us into his home (with AIR CONDITIONING!!) and offered us all cold water bottles. The relief that the man provided was physical, but it was not merely physical. The Lord used this seemingly small experience to energize our team and provide exactly what we need when we needed it.

Through this experience, the Lord has taught me that he provides Christians with the exact measure of grace that they need just when they need it. Just when we feel that we are being stretched beyond what we are able to bear, the Lord richly provides grace—and often it is above what we need, expect, or can comprehend. Throughout our time doing door-to-door screenings, I have so clearly seen the Lord work through small acts of grace: acts such as giving us courage, energy, and the words to speak in every situation.

The verse that I am reminded of in this situation is 1 Corinthians 15:10 which states, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Only by God’s grace can we do ministry, and it is only be his grace that the ministry can be effective.

This is a truth that I will remember and take home after the trip is over. Wherever we are in life, whether in school, work, at home, with family, or with friends, it is vital to always treasure the fact that God always supplies the perfect measure of grace for his people. I pray for myself and for all Christians to embrace this truth and to trust in his arms daily.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 2:19

—Nathan Sneller
SMI 2018

All Brokenness Aside

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Our SMI team working with “The Rock” ministries in Kensington

If you could ask any member of my team what they would remember most about the weather of the first week and a half of SMI, I can almost guarantee that they would reply emphatically with one word: HOT.

According to the Weather Channel app today the weather in North Philly feels like 106° Fahrenheit. Though the weather has caused many of us to drench more than one pair of scrubs in sweat and has sent one of our interpreters to the hospital, it has also provided a unique way to serve the community of North Philadelphia. 

My outreach team is partnering with Calvary Chapel of Kensington or “The Rock”, a church stationed on one of the streets heavy with drug abuse. We had the opportunity to offer free health screenings to the people along Kensington Avenue over the past couple of days by setting up our medical supplies on the sidewalk right outside of the church. We provided free water to the community, as many people do not have easy access to drinking water—even on days that soar into the 100s. When those passing by saw that we had free, ice cold water for them to drink, many of them were interested in the work we were doing, and we were able to share about the free medical screenings we were conducting. Many people were willing to stay and be screened, and also talk about their lives. 

One young woman in particular touched my heart. She told me how she has been living in Philly for the last six months and was in rehab from drug addiction, but is now back living on the streets, still addicted. Even though she would be seen as a “failure” in the eyes of the world because she did not succeed in overcoming her addiction, I thought about the fact that she too is beloved and treasured in the eyes of God. She even told me about her encounter with God and said that she hadn’t found Jesus. He had found her. She told me how someone had given her a Bible and how she had been learning a lot about Jesus lately.

She said she didn’t really like going to church because she didn’t think she looked nice enough. She told me how she uses a sharpie marker to touch up her eyeliner. I was able to talk with her about how God really doesn’t care about her appearance; he loves us just as we are. A small, shy smile lit her face when she heard this and she said that she would like to believe God is like that.

My heart ached for her as she walked away. Even though I was able to talk with her for those few moments and to give her water to help her stay hydrated, I felt powerless to improve her status in life in any other way. That made me think about the hope that the gospel offers. Even though surrendering her life to God would not immediately fix the young woman’s living conditions, it would set her free from the sin and lies that entangle her heart, mind, and spirit. Whether we have a “successful” life according to the world’s standards and enjoy an abundance of material possessions, or whether we are homeless and sick in body and in mind, we all need God’s grace and forgiveness in order to experience true peace and joy. I am praying I will see this young woman on the street when I go to church next Sunday and that she will be willing to go into the service with me. 

Talking with this young woman and many others on the streets of North Philly has opened my eyes to how broken the world is, but how God meets us in our brokenness and transforms us into conquerors through Christ. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs by All Sons & Daughters titled “Brokenness Aside,” which has the following lyrics:

I am a sinner, if it’s not one thing it’s another…
But you are a savior and you take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful.

Whether it’s anger or impatience, insecurity or worry, idolization of grades or addiction to drugs, we all struggle with sin in our lives. Sometimes we try to hide or minimize our sin by focusing on visible problems like financial resources and physical health. But ultimately, I am no different from people who are addicted to drugs and living on the street. We are all sinners, lost in our brokenness. The only hope for the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, the educated and the uneducated is the saving grace of Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection. 

Though each day is exhausting, I am thoroughly enjoying meeting fellow believers in the medical field and learning from the people who live every day in this community. I am privileged to be able to live among North Philadelphians for these few weeks, and I am looking forward to celebrating the 4th of July with my fellow Americans.   

—Suzanne Courter
SMI 2018

Grace Flows Down

I could tell endless stories of the names and faces I’ve met this week. I walked into Bethel Temple a week ago, carrying the weight of recent life events with very little idea of what I was getting myself into and the problems plaguing North Philadelphia. This area has largely been cast in a negative light by those outside the community. The opioid crisis is rampant here along with poverty, homelessness, and open heroin use everywhere you look. But what lies within this community is so much more than that bleak picture. I want to start by quoting a text I sent a few days ago:

Saw my first overdose today and tried to help him. The first thing he said to me when he woke up was, ‘I’m just embarrassed.’ These are real people hurting and struggling. Most aren’t criminals and almost all want out but are held tight in chemical bondage. It’s such a powerful visual of Satan’s hold on the world. I truly believe this is where Jesus would be ministering and healing if he were here today.”

Chemical bondage. Once locked in, it can be so hard to break the chains. I looked in that man’s eyes and saw a peer. We were about the same age. He reminded me of someone I knew from home. I’ll admit that at times in the past I had the quick judgment of drug addicts as dangerous and criminals. When I looked into his eyes, though, all I saw was the pain and brokenness caused by the tight hold of drugs in his life.

There was another young man I screened on the steps of his house, also close to my age. His blood pressure was a little high, and when I got to ‘stress’ in the list of causes of increased blood pressure, he said, “Well, I’m definitely stressed.” I asked him to tell me about why he was stressed and his response was, “Look around. Why wouldn’t I be stressed?” He walked back in shortly after and hugged his kids.

In reference to the strength and willingness of this community to allow us into their homes, so hospitable and giving, one of the speakers this week told us, “Grace flows down and pools in the lowest places.” It’s not hard to find grace in this neighborhood. As many times as that grace has been directed at us, I can’t help but contrast it with more affluent neighborhoods. I can’t imagine someone going door to door offering free health screenings getting many positive responses. I find it even harder to picture someone inviting those people into their homes, insisting they sit down and get out of the heat, offering water and even food. Yet I’ve experienced that so many times here, in an area where they have every reason not to trust us in their homes.

Yes, this is a broken neighborhood. It’s so easy to be distracted by the outward appearance that you miss the grace flowing freely throughout – a mother’s love, a child’s laughter, a man’s faith. People dying, people living. Grace.

—Callie Cheatham
SMI 2018