A place exists where it is considered normal for children to not have a father present. A place where mothers who cannot find work turn to prostitution just to bring home a few dollars. A place where a mother will feed her addiction before her children. Where darkness lurks so abundantly that joining a gang is almost a necessity for surviving everything; including the long, hard path to a diploma. A place where many would rather die than go through another day.
This is the world I traveled to; forcing myself out of my comfort zone into a world I did not know existed within my own. During the summer of 2007, the youth group from the church I regularly attend raised money needed to go on a mission trip. We went to what some would say is “the worst part of Chicago” to lend a hand in the renovation of a church. Being brought up in a suburb of Kansas City, I had yet to see this level of poverty first hand. I was shocked at how some are forced to live. By the end of the trip I had a much better understanding of why all must consider those who are less fortunate.
During the first couple days of the trip we began turning the old, decaying church around. We painted aged, cracked walls with fresh coats of paint, cleaned floors and scrubbed tiles. We passed out flyers welcoming people to the church and created new programs to inspire the young children. As we took part in the church services, we quickly grew attached to the kindhearted children. Their happiness could be seen vibrantly shining on their faces when they stepped foot in the church. Our hearts broke as we served them one of the few hot meals they would likely have all week. At the same time, serving them brought us joy knowing we were helping kids that were placed in unfortunate circumstances by no fault of their own.
During the last half of the trip, we reached out to the rest of the children of inner-city Chicago. We went through the bug and drug infested high rise projects inviting children to our Sidewalk Sunday Schools. We met many people who wanted nothing more than for us to leave, primarily due to our appearance. Others expressed gratefulness as we played Duck-Duck-Goose, sang and danced with little kids on a nearby vacant property. Roaming the barren communities, we shared our faith and showed the young children people do care and want the best for them. Most importantly, we showed them they are loved.
This experience as a whole is unforgettable, but the smiles on the kids’ faces were life changing. Few have a closet full of toys most are used to, fewer have a cell phone we take for granted or even a television to watch “Blue’s Clues” on. Many have nothing except the clothes on their backs. Without all the luxuries of life, they still find joy, still find laughter and still try hard to not fill the voids in their lives with the many negative aspects of street life.
As members of the youth group, we were encouraged to share our faith and make a difference in the children’s lives. By the end of the trip, the children were the ones who changed our lives. They taught us not to be superficial or care who is best dressed or who drives the nicest car, instead, be thankful for what we are blessed with and share what we have with those less fortunate.
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