The Surprise in Milwaukee - My Family Travels

             This summer, I had the great opportunity to go on a mission trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was for middle school students but seven other high school kids and I were asked to accompany the group as student leaders. I love the energy of preteens, as well as the environment created when fifty people are working together for a good cause, so of course I agreed to go. We met at the church on Sunday, June 27 at five in the morning. We groggily anticipated the week ahead but not the twelve-hour drive from Kansas City.

            I honestly had no idea that Milwaukee was such a large city. In fact, it sounded rather uninteresting to me. All I knew was that it had a great amount of homeless and our chances to impact lives would be many. I’ve been told that about 25 percent of the city lives in poverty. The splendor of the skyline unfortunately contrasted with this dark statistic.

I remember rounding I-794 and taking in the view of the buildings against the sky. I seem to fall in love with every city I travel to – I live just twenty minutes from Kansas City and love every short trip downtown – and Milwaukee was no different. The city has countless chapels with steeples reaching to heaven. The weather was cooler than Kansas’ hot summer weather, and Lake Michigan is nearly as beautiful as an ocean. The history is rich and intriguing and the people are friendly, though they are some of the scariest drivers I have ever encountered.

            Our group teamed up with an organization called YouthWorks, which has many sites across the nation ideal for middle and high school mission trips. The Unity Evangelical Lutheran Church on East Oklahoma Avenue hosts YouthWorks for the summer, allowing us to use their space to sleep, eat meals and convene. This church was in the heart of our service area – it felt safe enough, but you knew that wandering too far could end up badly. One night, someone broke the window of our pickup truck and stole the GPS. It was a bit of a wakeup call for everyone and especially frustrating to our leaders.

            One evening, we passed over what the locals call “the longest bridge in the world.” In reality it isn’t very long, but is named due to the two communities it bridges. On one side is a densely African American neighborhood, and on the other is a completely Hispanic district. Crossing that bridge feels like stepping into a completely different world. The road my small group traveled every morning was quite colorful and engaging. We always passed a gyro stand, multiple barber shops and many other stores with signs we couldn’t read. It was a cultural experience that rivaled the things I’ve seen in Los Angeles and Miami.

            The picture I’ve included is from one of our evening activities. We went to an organization that reaches out to many homeless and hungry people in the city. The man who runs the place became a motivational speaker for our group. He encouraged us to be loud about our faith and to rejoice in the Lord. The photo captures a moment in which we all let loose, screaming “hallelujah” and sharing our joy for the world to hear. It was a truly moving experience and embodied the attitude of the trip, as well as the city. Milwaukee was an eye-opening and wonderful experience. I hope to return next summer and learn even more about the people and places.

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