Standing on the street corner in Brooklyn’s famous China town, took my breath away- a possible result from the dead fish dangling in the sun from the nearby buildings. I shared this experience with my mother, seventeen teenagers and two adults; the mission trip group from Word of Peace. We pushed our way through the over-populated streets and entered the Brooklyn church. This church doubled as our residence for the next five days. We shared the already crowded “house” with two other churches from Colorado and Washington.
Our first night in Brooklyn, we held a bible study out in the church’s courtyard located next to the street. We were discussing our first impressions of the city when the sound of a gunshot filled the air. Horror painted the faces around me. I was no longer in the small town of Rogers, Minnesota.
For our first day in Brooklyn, we ran a “Kids Camp” at a local park. This camp was free of charge due to the astounding 37% of children in Brooklyn living below the poverty line. As we sang the typical summer camp songs and played the typical summer camp games, I noticed a young girl, not older than three, wandering alone in the park. I walked towards her and asked if she knew where her mom was, she did not respond. I took her over to the camp, concerned with the whereabouts of her parents.
As we joined the others, the young girl pointed at a book with the Bernstein Bears on the cover and mumbled, “Book!”I read the story repetitiously to her for nearly an hour, until a woman approached me and demanded her child back. I starred at the woman as the child ran to her. Shock and disgust filled my body, this woman had allowed her toddler to wander around a public park
Three days into our trip, we were taken to sweatshops located less than five miles from our church. We were required to walk quickly, avoid photography and not look at anyone directly. Our eyes darted quickly from the ground, to the open doors exposing thousands of foreign workers. We walked solemnly down the street, our faces twisted in pain. We were bystanders; we were allowing this to happen.
My dark and gloomy mood stayed with me until the day we went home. On this final day, we visited a local Senior Center. We were going to play games, chat, and serve lunch. I walked over to a man standing alone, skimming a Blues and Jazz magazine. He seemed to enjoy my company and introduced himself as Ralph. He and I found ourselves deep in conversation about his life as a musician and drug-filled past. I found myself more and more disheartened as Ralph spoke of his 56 years of “wasted life”
I thanked Ralph for chatting with me and went to leave with our group. As I turned to leave, I felt a wrinkly hand grab my arm.
“Tate, I want to let you know… You made a difference this week in Brooklyn. You have changed the meaning of life for me,” Ralph’s tear-filled eyes met mine briefly and he walked away.
Our world is not filled with corruption or evils, as I previously believed, it is filled with places that need our supporting hands. These people, cities and countries struggling need someone to make a difference, to make a change. Our world is filled with great potential, we just need to go out and find it.
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