I went on a short mission trip to NYC with the NYC Relief Bus. I was sick the entire time, and am still not feeling the best, and there is so much that I am struggling to put into words. I was told that I would give of myself but I would get so much more back and that is immeasurably true. I don’t know that I have ever cried so much in my entire life, out of sadness and anger and joy and praise and frustration and helplessness and gratitude – so much thankfulness for being blessed to be a part of this.
I loved every part of the experience. We were up and ready to start making soup and hot chocolate by 7:30am. After all of the prep was done and the buses were loaded, we circled up for prayer and a battle cry. The leader would yell, “These things we do” and the rest of us would respond “that others may live” at the top of our lungs. The entire NYC Relief team was amazing. Never have I seen the love of Jesus in action like I did there. All of the staff, all of the volunteers….so much love and acceptance and just genuine concern. An hour drive each way, on a bus…no grumbling, no honking, just talking and laughing and worshiping (here’s some of our favorite songs) The team know so many of the “friends from the street” (that is how they refer to everyone who comes to the bus and it’s a perfect description – these aren’t charity cases or problems to be solved, they are people with a story and a purpose) and genuinely like hanging out with them. Not one time did I hear anyone from the team say anything bad about any of them. Not once. They smiled, and showed love and concern, even on Saturday when it was one minute till quitting time and a gentleman needed help. I had served him soup earlier and noticed that his speech was very quiet, and he was incredibly slow to respond and hesitant to make eye contact. I noticed him in the line in front of the soup/bread/hot chocolate station and asked if he’d like some soup. He spoke hesitantly and softly asked for hot chocolate, or so I thought. When I asked if he wanted hot chocolate, he said, “I have that. I want to stay in one of your shelters.” Alec, one of the outreach leaders, was standing nearby, and I relayed this info. Alec smiled at the gentleman and started asking him some questions. While they talked, a few of us made a quick bathroom run prior to leaving. When we got back about 10-15 minutes later Alec was finishing up and had given the young man a sheet of paper with contact info and encouraged him to reach out on Monday to the resource provided and encouraged him to come back to the bus on Friday (if something happened and he was unable to go Monday) and Alec would drive him there. The young man started sobbing and apologizing and thanking Alec, and hugged him and left. The most beautiful part about this to me was that there was no rushing despite it being Saturday (the end of the outreach leaders week), and time to go. I have not doubt that had the place that Alec referred him to been open, he would have taken him right then. This selflessness and love….what a privilege to behold.
So I’m back and I loved my experience and I would go again next week! Here’s the thing – I don’t know who I am now. I feel like maybe my whole life is wrong. I was out yesterday running some errands and the city just looks different and feels different and I am filled with a restlessness that I can’t explain. Meeting so many people who had so little but yet had so much faith, or those that seemed so incredibly lost and hopeless that they couldn’t even make eye contact or speak loud enough to be heard….it changed me. And now I am searching, asking God to show me what I’m supposed to do, because I know that there is SOMETHING…. some way that I am supposed to touch others and bring hope and encouragement to them.
I look at people differently. I understand now that just because someone is wearing matching clothes and isn’t pushing a shopping cart doesn’t mean that they have a place to stay. And even if someone has a place to stay, it may be with 20 other people and no food. And the stereotypes that were in my head, that I didn’t even realize I had, were wrong. Many of the friends that I met on the streets were very well-spoken, polite, had never smoked/drank/used drugs. They weren’t lazy or bitter. Many of them expressed gratitude to God for all He had done for them, for all of His blessings. And I, I who have so much but not as much as some, and I sometimes feel jealous, am instantly humbled and ashamed, because I have everything that matters and so much more. I heard one of the outreach leaders, Erin, talk about a “mission trip high”. Since this is my first experience, I am not sure if that is what I am feeling or not. I guess time will tell. I have many more stories to share but am grateful to finally be able to get this down and I hope somewhat coherent. I would love to hear your thoughts and questions and experiences!