Providence: Day Five

After a few days break here is my update on my favorite day in Providence — demolition day. This is the fifth installment in a series of what I did on my spring break mission trip.

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Breaking away from evangelism for a day, the mission for the middle of the week involved our hands — with some sledgehammers and crowbars too. Kim, Hannah and Travis escorted our ten-person team to Providence Rescue Mission where we would spend our day in a basement kicking down doors, tearing down ceilings and shoveling out debris. The non-profit that helps the needy and homeless with food and shelter had recently purchased a foreclosed home that had been split into tiny apartments, and an inspection of its plumbing loomed in the near future. To expose the ancient pipes and wires — some of which we found out were connected to nothing, much like the Christians by name but not at heart that filled the city — we pulled down sodden walls ignored by the greedy owner. The moldy insulation and monstrous amount of rat droppings that fell from the ceiling showed his lack of care for the tenants, a fact that sent many of us dirty laborers into an uproar.

To descend into the dust-laden basement, we had to equip ourselves with paper breathing masks, thick gloves and goggles. All the equipment on my face brought out the claustrophobic tendencies in me. I know many jobs — including living Christian life — require loads of equipment, but that does not mean you have to like it. Fortunately, I persevered and once below in what quickly became a disaster zone I was appreciative of the tools I had earlier wanted to rip off my face. Life is often like that, making you glad for the pieces you once wanted so desperately to discard.

After throwing heavy hammers and yanking on old boards all morning and afternoon, the ten of us weeklong missionaries were tired and covered in gritty filth. Before dinner our separate host homes allowed us to clean up from the fun yet exhausting work much to our delight. Our meal was shared that evening at my home base, and after filling our bellies with choices from a Mexican smorgasbord we joined together in laughter-filled, artificially competitive rounds of Catchphrase. We were so joyful spending time together — both New Englanders and Southerners — that Julie, the Tennessean in charge of us students, had to interrupt the bellowing and remind us all that bedtime for our host was quickly approaching. The instant connection with fellow believers and unstoppable laughter in their company healed some of the cynicism in my heart. Not all Christians must conform to one mold. While we all claim the same creed in some form, there are different flavors and we can actually be delighted with each other’s company instead of arguing our differences.

More adventures to come…

Til then!

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Providence: Day Four

This is the fourth installment about a missions trip I took with my university over spring break. Stay tuned for a few more updates from the great Ocean State.

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I again had to conquer my anxiety of bringing up Jesus to busy strangers in our second challenge. Instead of roaming the streets and sparking up conversation with bystanders, Christian Student Fellowship — a ministry Travis leads at Johnson and Wales — asked us to stand in the institution’s hallways and pass out information about its weekly programs. To entice the students running from class to class, three friends and I had Airheads, those delightfully fruity, chewy sticks of candy.

Today was the time for me to squash my nervousness of approaching unfamiliar people, so I developed a technique probably known to many a salesman: the smile and shove. To my surprise, we even found a few stragglers who had been looking for a church to call home and were interested in the little flyers we had dispersed with the candy. I felt victorious and unashamed of the approach I used to find those few. We found some people sensitive toward the mission of the church. But as strong and successful as I felt in the morning, the afternoon wore on us. Running out of candy didn’t help either.

I did manage to break out of the small hallway where our modest table draped with the ministry’s banner was parked. Alissa, a recent graduate of Johnson and Wales and our Providence go-to person for the day, and I carried some informational cards and took a stroll in the unusually warm weather hoping to run into students willing to hear us out. We encouraged each other instead and discussed our struggles with the Christian world of dating. While down, the topic of homosexuality arose and how each of our educational institutions handle it. At Johnson and Wales, where no religious affiliation or tie to a Christian code of conduct exists, people embracing homosexuality are rampant. Alissa explained how her church acknowledges the problem and when applicable helps those battling their attractions. In stark comparison, the issue is ignored back home unless administration finds out. Then you are sent to counseling. Not the best way to love on the struggling. Hearing a fresh perspective on that issue sent hope through my bones that the church is turning around, realizing that all sin is the same and all people should be welcomed and counseled through their daily struggle, even if that is feeling pulled toward people of the same sex. New England might just have something on the South.

Some demolition adventures will be on their way tomorrow…

Til then!

Providence: Day Three

This is part three of a series from a missions trip I did over my spring break. Check out my previous entries of you want more of Providence, R.I.!

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Mondays are always a challenge, and this one was no different in that aspect. The time had finally come for me to face sharing the Good News with the people of Providence. The idea of walking up to a New Englander and straight shooting the conversation to religion — Jesus and his sacrifice for their souls in particular — terrified me. As much as I try to deny it, I am a Southern girl buried underneath my inclination toward skepticism and middle-ground politics. Being direct is no talent of mine, which is exactly how Rhode Islanders communicate everyday. Most people do not make eye contact passing me on the sidewalk and someone mumbling a hello is a rarity. Upfront friendliness to strangers is never their first thought.

After receiving my route and joining two of my teammates, my desire to roam took over. We lost Joshua, the only male in our small group of three, to a homeless woman reading the Bible aloud. A strange sight, even for a Southerner, but what was most revolting was the reaction of the small stream of people passing her by. Instead of politely ignoring the situation, they shouted torrents of four-letter words at her and the occasional “Satan loves you!” I was disturbed by the abrupt aversion these people had toward the unfortunate sight of a ragged woman holding onto the Word, which still serves as a reminder of the darkness at the heart of Providence. In contrast to the hardened locals wondering the streets full of shops and places to grab a cup of coffee, Joshua stopped, spoke and offered lunch to the haggard woman we called Sister Diane.

While he was chatting with her on the street corner searching for commonalities between his and her beliefs, my now only partner and I strolled down the street keeping our eyes open for people with searching hearts. The semi-early hour made for fairly empty streets, but we found a place to perch outside of a few office buildings on a concrete slab. After eavesdropping on small talk between two older men — one whom I had perched by because his lunchbox and coffee cup suggested he was a nice working man on a quick break — I decided it was time to jump in. A comment about the unusually warm weather did the trick, followed by an explanation for two girls with a bit of a drawl being in New England. The man, who indeed was on a short break from his Verizon job, said he had family in the South — Georgia, in fact — and happened to be a churchgoer. Episcopalian was his identity, to which I asked for a definition since those are few and far between back home. Afraid to offend but remembering Rhode Islanders’ appreciation for directness, I snuck in a question about whether or not his congregation talked about the Gospel on a regular basis. He assured me it did, to which Travis, our minister-leader seemed to question later that afternoon. After that small string of questions, my bravery had run out and so had Verizon man’s break time. I celebrated my success and my partner and I trotted back to find the missing part of our trio.

We switched routes after a nice lunch with the rest of our team and leaders filling up two long tables in a nice restaurant downtown. Brown University was our territory for the day, a fact I at first was enthralled by. Then I realized the attitude and spiritual drought of the Ivy Leaguers I would encounter. I was so paralyzed by the assumed intellect of others my age that I did not manage to have a conversation about the Good News or even vague religion once. I once had to take a break from my enthusiastic partner and chitchat with the One I was supposed to be sharing with others. A heart-to-heart was all it would take to break me from digging my heels in like my dog does on stormy nights when we must put him out. Discouragement was at the forefront of my mind that afternoon, but a reminder of the necessity of being broken and humbled too yanked me from being buried in self-pity and a bit of self-loathing.

Til tomorrow!

Providence: Day Two

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This is part two a series on a mission trip I took to Providence, R.I., with my university. I hope to take you through each day, so prepare yourself for some regular posts on the Ocean State!

Apparently exhaustion was not enough to subdue a pollen-induced cough, so I spent my first morning in Providence trying to keep my eyes open. Our team made it over to the Marriott hotel downtown for our one service with Grace Harbor. The church has been searching for a permanent place to call home, but for now it pulls in enough sound equipment and Sunday school materials to have a traditional church service along with something to keep the young ones busy in a nearby conference room. Our team filled up two rows of chairs, and we kept mostly to ourselves before the service began. At least for me, I was still dragging from traveling the majority of the day before.

The service was intentionally broken down so both Christians and non-Christians could understand the text. Grace Harbor grows from both disciplining new believers and attracting old ones with their adherence to the Gospel message. The sermon went a little longer than what regular Southern church attendees are used to but was focused and calm. No fire and brimstone. No jamming music or fancy PowerPoint slides. No shouts of “Hallelujah!” or hands raised. What wasn’t expected was the willingness for the church members to take in our team, which split up for lunch.

I was delighted to join two growing families, the Boulays and Reids, for a steak lunch and delightful conversation. Topics ranged from disciplining their kids to our future dreams to moving to Providence — a regular topic brought up by the Rhode Islanders throughout our stay. Being folded into the church community so immediately was just one effect of the dry spiritual landscape in this city. In Tennessee, we meet Christians pumping gas, buying groceries and watching movies, but in Providence finding someone who clings to Jesus is a surprise, someone to cherish.

Unlike most Sunday afternoons, napping and lying around were not on our agenda. After perking up from a solid lunch and conversation, half of our team reconvened for a rock climbing adventure in a nearby park. Just because our hosts were city dwellers did not mean they couldn’t enjoy shimmying up a rock face. When my turn rolled around, I knew I was up for a challenge. Perched atop the mini cliff was where I felt most comfortable, snapping shots of my teammates as the scuttled up the relatively small climb. But with the support of newfound pals and my own team members I managed to almost reach the top with only a couple minor scratches. Although ultimate success was not for me that afternoon, reaching a deep crevice just a few feet short would suffice. Cramped legs and sore arms aside, the bonds made that afternoon would prove the value of pushing myself beyond what I thought I was capable.

The rest of our Sabbath was spent together, with both of our partnering ministers — Travis, part-time pastor and Johnson and Wales’ campus minister who we would spend the majority of our week with, and Kevin, Grace Harbor’s pastor who had skillfully challenged us this morning. We all gathered for pizza and reflection on what had been laid out for us in the earlier part of the day. This meeting was just one example of how this little group of lights stays lit in the dark city of Providence. For them, Sunday morning sermons aren’t just entertainment; they are bits of truth worth intentionally reflecting on. Going over the points and strengths of the morning service would prove beneficial for our next day’s task: exploring the city sidewalks for people with open ears and hopefully hearts and roaming the spiritually dry campus of Brown University.

More adventures tomorrow…

Til then!

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Providence: Day One

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This is the beginning of a series on a mission trip I took to Providence, R.I., with my university. I hope to take you through each day, so prepare yourself for some regular posts on the Ocean State!

When I stepped out of my room in the wee hours lugging a bulging bag on wheels for my spring break mission trip to Rhode Island, the farthest concern I had was the people of Providence. But a week later, they overshadowed my thoughts of my future plans and current obligations. My heart was pulled to the industrial desert of the tiny New England state where efficiency and time are valued more than friendship and Southern manners.

This morning at 3 a.m., however, I was consumed with a desire for my pillow, especially after a sleepless night of persistent hacking. Sinus infections have no mercy, not even for the soon-to-be weary traveler. I was in no way the most pleasant person on my ten-member team that early, dark morning as we piled into the packed white van taking us to the airport.

A couple of naps and a flight change later, we landed in Providence, our home and mission field for the next seven days. Still plagued by a tickly throat, I added to my woes a pounding headache. I learned that inflamed ears do not handle pressure changes necessary in flying well. Despite my maladies, I was eager to meet the people and ministry we would be serving in the following days.

Stepping out of the airport, I was struck with the burden of a city so different from my own. At home, churches are just a part of the landscape; little buildings dot street corners beckoning people to come and join in worship. Here, the home of the First Baptist Church in America, churches are fewer in number and smaller in active members. The religious history remains — Providence was founded by Roger Williams to protect religious minorities — but its legacy has been sucked dry. The city’s children have strayed. Yet a remnant remains, and part of them welcomed us with a quick walking tour, Greek food and a brief history lesson.

Unfortunately, the eagerness my team had to meet Providence when we stepped off the plane did not do much to keep us awake. Once we arrived at our meeting spot, which was home base for our student leaders, Kim and Hannah, three rounds of Catchphrase was all it took to wear us out. Even a pasta dinner made by graduates of Johnson and Wales, a culinary school held in high esteem that happens to be in the middle of Providence, was not enough fuel to hype us up. But the evening was not over, and my two hours of sleep from the night before made it difficult soak in the explanation of the ministries — Grace Harbor Community Church and Christian Student Fellowship — and our schedule for the coming days.

By the time Amanda, my roommate for the week, Julie, our fearless, thoughtful leader, and I arrived at our host home, our only thoughts were of soft beds and closed eyes. We had enough time to meet our bright host who apologized for the loud but joyful music being played by her husband and friends. Joy would be how I would come to define the people of Grace Harbor throughout the week, and even in this instance it wasn’t a nuisance. Their gladness filled the room so much and our exhaustion held on so tight that we didn’t mind the noise. The laughter and guitar strums welcomed us and seemed more like a lullaby than a ruckus.

Til tomorrow!

Meeting TaxiJim

TaxiJim

I was blessed to attend the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference in Ft. Worth this past weekend (I’m sure you read about it in my previous post, right?), and I just happened to meet this interesting character. His pals who work him in the Adobe Western Art Gallery, call him TaxiJim.

He’s their in-house taxidermist. Just how did I meet this fellow you ask? Well, we were asked at the student workshop part of the conference to explore the Stockyards, a cowboy-loving tourist’s dream, and find a story to tell. And, boy, did I find one interesting story.

I just wasn’t content with using the typical big hat, shiny boots as my subject for this little project, so I roamed with my pal Mandie down the side streets in the area. After some worrying and a fall or two, I found my gem.

We entered the art gallery filled with paintings, photographs and great Texan fare and I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening behind this door in the back. I could hear buzzing and was sure there was action begging to be captured behind it! With a pinch of encouragement and a quick interruption I had my answer: “Go on in!”

And there was Jim, who actually wasn’t the source of the buzzing — that was two guys sanding down a side table. I immediately I knew I had to pounce and started asking him about his creepy, yet intriguing work. His rough hands restore both mannequins and dead animals.

The best part of his story was how his job began. He told me how his two sons decided to pick up hunting and they wanted to mount their first kills. But at several hundred dollars a pop Jim decided he could do it himself. He’s been preserving wildlife ever since.

I’ll leave you with the rest of the photos I sent in for my photo story submission.

Til then!

Eyes for the mannequins

 

Showing me how it's done

The old way to preserve an animal

The way they do it now

Jim does mannequins too!

Tools of the trade

And he just keeps working