SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2011
LIFE STORY BY TOM FENSKE
When I was 16 my youth pastor asked me to be a part of a mission team to inner-city Chicago. At the time I had only been in the church for a few months and my only exposure to a “missionary” was an episode of the Simpsons where Homer snuck aboard a plane to avoid some mobsters. Honesty, I went because I really liked my youth pastor. He was cool. He had earrings. He told me we’d be working at a day camp for kids who lived around the church, which I thought I could handle. It wasn’t like we were going to Africa.
The van ride was long. We drank a lot of Coke. I remember that one of the guys in our youth group could make a piece of string licorice go in through his nose and exit out his mouth. I recall being told we couldn’t listen to anything but Christian music (I didn’t know exactly what that was, so I typed “Christian” into Napster and downloaded three CD’s worth). We read a book, that I didn’t understand, about explaining our faith. I remember it all feeling very foreign. These were all people who had known and followed Jesus most of their lives. I was a dumb kid that just walked into youth one night to impress a girl. I didn’t know their world, but I liked my youth pastor and he asked me to come, so I went.
We spent a week at the old church in the South end of Chicago. We got subs at a Subway that has a revolving door in front of the cash register so you couldn’t rob the guy behind the counter. We played a lot of basketball. But then Sunday came. The old church sat right on the border between two worlds. I remember someone at the church explaining to me that if I walked two blocks left, I’d be in one of the richest areas of the city. If I walked two blocks right, I’d be in one of the poorest. On that Sunday morning, the church was full of people of different ethnicities and from all walks of life. It was electric. I didn’t know church could be like this. It was like someone had built a bridge right between different worlds.
Afterwards, one of the pastors shook my hand as I was leaving. He thanked me for helping out with the kids’ program that week. I couldn’t believe he was thanking me. I wanted to hug him. The church wasn’t a place I knew or understood but I saw something in the service that really impacted me. There was compassion that came not in the form of a handout but a life lived together. This church couldn’t ignore their neighbours because they weren’t just neighbours, they were family. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere until I met the group of people who brought me to Chicago and showed me a new world. My youth pastor didn’t care that I didn’t know what Christian music was, or if I could pull a licorice string through me in disgusting ways. That church didn’t care if you were rich, or if you were poor. All that mattered was that you showed up.
I went to Chicago to help some kids from the Projects and they ended up helping me instead. They showed me that love isn’t about what you say, but whose hand you shake. There is hope in this world, and it is Jesus as seen through the church.