There are few things more ordinary than encountering Christ. Few are blessed with burning bushes or angelic annunciations. While there is nothing wrong with waiting for such grandiose revelations of divinity, in doing so we often run the risk of missing the fact that “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk. 17:21). In our expectation that God manifest Himself in the miraculous, we can overlook his true dwelling place: the normal, the pedestrian, the simple.
This was a lesson we all learned well during this last week with Christ in the City. The work we did was not spectacular, and the changes we effected are not tangible, yet as we came into contact with those we were servicing, we came face-to-face with Jesus. Several of us met people this week who exemplified Christ-like joy, peace, and wisdom to an incredible degree (in fact, a handful of our patrons quoted scripture with the ease of biblical scholars). Indeed, I would say most of us left our conversations more impacted than they. Based on our experience, there is no doubt that as we enter into communion with those discarded by society, we enter into relationship with the Almighty. “As you did to one of the least of these my, brothers, you did to me” (Matt. 25:40). Beneath the grime and knotted hair of the homeless truly hides the smiling face of Jesus.
We came to understand the unassuming nature of God’s self-disclosure during a hike that took place later in the week as well. The quiet beauty of nature juxtaposed with the chaos of Denver was breathtaking (even despite the fact that we weren’t in Big Sky Country). Though impressive, the views we enjoyed never demanded our appreciation. The Creator was present in the mountain air and the dense forestry, but such things are often taken for granted or ignored. As with the homeless, nature contains and conceals God in plain sight.
Since these examples mean nothing if we are unable to pinpoint the foundational practice in identifying God in the ordinary, I would like to posit such a cornerstone: humility. If we only allow God to speak to us in specific (i.e. magnificent) ways, then we put God in a box—a great expression of pride. “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in a cloak” (1 Kg. 20:4). On the other hand, when we are willing to become broken bread and poured-out wine, we allow ourselves to come into contact with God. Therefore, I believe that we are all thankful for the opportunity that Christ in the City has blessed us with—namely, the opportunity to humbly serve and thereby experience God. May this lesson—taught by trees and those on the streets—be one that sticks with us long after this week.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018:
Rose Labadini, Allison Gilbert
Tuesday night, after the last blog post was written, we had karaoke with everyone at Christ in the City. Many laughs were exchanged, and the grand finale included our very own Faith, Sarah, Layne, and Reed! They killed a rendition of Chicken Fried by the Zac Brown Band. It was a lot of fun!
Fast forward to this morning, in which we woke up and went to Mass. It was great! Father John (a Capuchin priest from India) gave a homily about our dedication to our faith. He then went on to describe how we should, as stated in the first reading, pass on God’s laws to our children and our children’s children. He ended his homily with a statement about how we should not be afraid to have a boat load of children (not just yet… don’t worry mom, it’s not that kind of trip ☺ -Rose), in which uncomfortable laughter ensued.
Later Wednesday afternoon, we went to Lunch in the Park, which is a “feed” for the homeless population of Denver. It allows Christ in the City missionaries and mission troops to reconnect with our homeless friends that we had previously made as well as others that we were meeting for the first time. We were given the opportunity to engage in conversation with our friends while serving them a meal.
Allison: At Lunch in the Park, I spoke to two older men and friends, Bart and Steve. They emphasized the ungratefulness that many privileged people face. Despite the limitless opportunities that numerous families are given, we still find ways to complain about the small belongings that we lack. Steve has been living on the streets of Denver for 34 years, which has given him such great insights on the selfishness frequently exhibited by U.S. citizens. In our group discussions following the street walks, we talked about the difference between fulfilling physical and spiritual needs of our homeless friends. We are enabled to assist in initially providing physical needs (food, drink, clothing) to an extent, as it is often necessary before meeting other needs. We were made aware of our homeless friends’ need for relationships with others and a search for a deeper truth.
Rose: I spoke to Mark, Sam, and Frank and learned quite a bit about each of their lives. Mark spoke about how he’d moved around the US quite a bit and how he really fell in love with Denver, he and I became fast friends and he asked if he would see me at the feed next week and I had to sadly decline. Frank gave me insight on how suffering is good for people so that they don’t get caught up in material things. He and I spoke about Jesus and how His love is all we need, and we can get closer to him by serving others. Sam and I spoke about his life and how he loved Denver and his previous profession as a set designer and costumer, which is something I related to having a slight background in technical theater, and it was amazing to see his face light up, because someone was talking to him. You could tell by his eyes that not many people had spoken to him recently, but he had the most gentle eyes I have ever seen on a person. It was amazing to be able to connect with these men today, as well as serving those who I did not get to meet by name, but have a shared love for.
East L.A. Day 4 –Devyn
Well you could say we made it to day four with great adventures, tiredness, and scattered sickness throughout the group. On Tuesday, we started our day off with Mass at St. Mary’s. This was the third Mass I have ever been to and it was almost entirely in Spanish until the priest told our group what he was saying in English during the homily. This experience was incredible, and was one I will never forget. After Mass, we decided to walk to Skid Row with the sandwiches and apples that half of the group made in the morning prior to Mass. As we were walking and almost there we noticed some of the tents that were just on the border of the 15 block radius of the government sanctioned homelessness. As we continued walking, we were just about to enter the perimeter of Skid Row when Dan saw a man named Kaleb Havens. Dan talked about Kaleb beforehand as a man who was protesting the government and its lack of affection for the poor and homeless. As we ventured toward Kaleb we noticed that he was lounging in a sun chair with pants and no shirt on, and also had a chain around his waist that was linked around the buildings gate for his protest. Once we stopped in front of him, we introduced ourselves and he welcomed us to stay and chat. We asked him why he had a chain around his waist and he responded with saying that he had it around him as to prevent himself from being moved or moving. He also mentioned that he was fasting the 46 days of lent by eating nothing and only drinking pedialyte and water. To me this was so interesting by the way that he was so willing to give up food and his health for a cause that he believes in more than anything while following the teachings of God, but not being certain if he believed in the existence of God. This really made me think about my own faith and how I apply it to my life and how I live the gospel. Am I striving for God and his greatness or I am I serving the flesh?
East L.A. Day 4-Bret
Last night at dinner our group was sitting at King Taco and when Dan brought up our options for today. We could either go observe the DACA protests, or head to Skid Row and pass out sandwiches. As a Spanish major at Carroll, I have had to take a lot of classes on, not only the Latino language, but its culture as well, and for this reason, I really sympathized with those protesting Trump’s fade out of DACA and wanted to attend the protests. There were a few others in our group who wanted to go as well, but the majority voted for Skid Row, which made me sad. I was excited to serve however I could, and if that meant walking the streets of Skid Row and meeting the people experiencing homelessness in L.A., then I was all for it. Immediately when arriving, we encountered a man named Kaleb Havens who was a Catholic Social Service worker on hunger strike to protest the land banking occurring in the area. He was chained to an empty building that was on Skid Row and not being used for anything except storage when it could be being used as shelter for hundreds living on the street. Many of the realities Kaleb brought to my attention were startling and even angering. One of which was that there is only three working bathrooms or 6 toilets in this 15 block strip designated for the homeless. Six toilets for 3000 to 5000 people on any given day. Talking to Kaleb really set the mood for our time on Skid Row. God revealed himself to me continuously today. I saw him working through our freshman walking down Skid Row, shaking hands with homeless men and women and hearing their stories while handing out sandwiches and apple slices, and Erin nearly buying a convenience store out of pads and tampons to hand out to the women on the streets. I was blown away by the generosity of our group, and the joy the people experiencing homelessness brought to us.
East LA Day 3
March 5, 2018
As we walked into Homeboy Industries yesterday the radiating compassion, forgiveness, and kinship was undeniable. One Homeboy, Gary Powers, walked our group through the building. One story in particular really struck us; he talked about his involvement in gangs and his many years in jail. After coming to Homeboy he encountered a man that had been in a gang that rivaled his own. The man had killed several of his family members and friends… and that day he asked Gary for a ride home. Without hesitation, Gary agreed. He paused and was amazed by what he had done. He said, “For fifty years we have been killing each other, and now we bake bread together”.
Another line in particular struck me. Gary quoted 1 John 4:18 saying, “There is no fear in love.” Gary stood as living proof of this verse. True love knows no boundaries. True love does not see a difference in gang affiliation, neighborhood, or family. True love embraces everyone. Father Greg Boyle often tells the homies, “There is no us and them. Only us.” Personally, I saw this as a challenge to live more freely in love, and to be less afraid of the consequences of vulnerability.
The overall sense of community at Homeboy Industries was remarkable considering the undeniable differences the homies share. I was awestruck by the work of God in each individual that made up the community. Each homie has chosen to accept their enemy to work toward the better. Here I thought we were coming to help them, and yet they are teaching us things that will shape our lives forever. The exposure to pain and suffering bring us closer to God, and help us to understand the basic and beautiful human dignity of his greatest creation, the human being.
During this trip, we have seen the grace of God in a variety of ways, each of which has impacted us is different ways. From our host families’ endless generosity to the unity the various community under God at Homeboy Industries, the enormity of compassion has overwhelmed us. Our next journey we will visit Skid Row to continue our adventure anchored in Christ. We can’t wait to see what else God has in store for us.
- Bailey and Lacey
East L.A. Day 2
WE FINALLY MADE IT! Our leg muscles were starting to atrophy when we saw the wonderful exit to the Dolores mission. We took a brisk walk to a taco shack that was absolutely scrumptious! After eating tacos and small donkeys we voted to go to the beach and get a nice bronze tan/pray and reflect on the mission ahead of us. The second the car was parked we jumped out and sprinted into the water before Dan had a chance to make us put sunscreen on! The sun was just starting to slide off into the water and the salty breeze and vast ocean made for a great reflection on what we were about to experience. Baily shared with me a quote from an unknown saint that really pulled on my heart strings and got me thinking. Here goes, “All of our sins over the course of our whole lives are just a drop of water in the ocean of God’s mercy.” WOW! A drop! We’re talking SINGULAR! Watching the sun set over the vast ocean served as a great visual and just blew my mind. This applies to our L.A. Headlights trip so perfectly! One way it clearly applies is within homeboy industries. The men and women who work there according to the book “Tattoos On My Heart” are so full of love and hard work and care yet, they were previously gang bangers who might’ve even killed their own friends! How can they just have a single drop also? The answer is easy; God’s love. Just think about how Jesus forgave us, the very people who put him up on the cross in the first place! We’re on a mission, a mission from God, as the Blues Brothers would say. That mission is in each of our hearts from the day we are born until we die, and also, to serve the poor and vulnerable. Acts of service are drops of God’s mercy that water our souls so that we bloom in love for each other and God. We reflected on these things at the beach until we were all sufficiently soaked and breaded in saltwater and sand. We whipped the sand off of ourselves piled back into the vans and bounced to a grocery store. There we saw some of the BIGGEST oranges I’ve ever seen and gathered the ingredients for a yummy breakfast that we would be making for the homeless men who spend the night at Dolores Mission. After that we met our awesome host families and Anna, one of the host moms, made us a second dinner of taquitos which I ate too much of but thoroughly enjoyed followed by a very aggressive game of “Aggression” with her son, Diego. My host mom, Maria, prayed over me, Baily, Cheyenne, and Lacey before bed. It was a pretty laid back day that gave us time to prepare our hearts for the beauty and hardship of the service ahead of us.
Today has been quite the swirl of emotions and experiences. Yesterday’s street walk was pretty slow, the wind drove our friends off of the street so we were not able to have many conversations. That was not the case today. Emma led my group on a walk through Capitol North and we must have had at least eight conversations. The most surprising aspect was the spectrum of homelessness that we experienced. I came into this trip with an ill-founded, preconceived notion that homelessness was stationary, and that most of them were put into their situations based on self-inflicted vices. As it turns out this could not be further from the truth. Many of these individuals were forced to the streets as a result of unavoidable circumstances. One of the most insightful conversations was with a man named Zachary. To give a quick overview: he has three college degrees, a passion for invention and a serious heroin habit. I was amazed that this man could be so intelligent and so cognizant of his addiction, but still be so powerless towards making a change. As we came to find out, his mother had also been a heroin addict, making him very predisposed to follow in her footsteps. Ultimately, I realized that there was nothing of physical or financial nature which would lead to his change. The only way that I could impact his life was though relationship and prayer. This realization was exceptionally difficult for me to come to grips with.
One of the primary themes today (and for this whole trip) has been the healing power of relationships. It reminds me of the old adage of giving a man a fish. To give a friend on the street a dollar may help get them through the day, but developing a real relationship can change someone’s life. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. It takes time and patience to develop these relationships, and sometimes they do not actually result in change. Claire told me the story of a young homeless who was contemplating terminating her pregnancy. The missionaries spent months trying to convince her otherwise and helping her in every possible way. Ultimately, despite their best efforts the woman still chose an abortion. This story really opened my eyes to the fortitude and faith the missionaries possess. Instances like these are why we must spend so much time in prayer asking for strength and guidance.
Perhaps my greatest epiphany was that loneliness and lack of relationship does not just impact the homeless, it is an epidemic which ravages even the most well off in our society. During the talk on community today, one of the missionaries shared a quote from Mother Theresa which said that loneliness is the greatest form of poverty in western society. This made me realize that while I may not have the opportunity to work with the homeless on a daily basis, there are those who I come into contact with regularly who are struggling with an equally real form of poverty. I only hope that I can come back from this trip and live my life in a way which is representative of this realization.
In short, this experience has been amazing thus far. I look forward to the remainder to the week!
As I write this post, I am listening to the missionaries practice singing for Karaoke tonight. The best part, is that they are singing Hamilton, which makes me love this trip even more! Since we walked into the doors of Christ in the City, we have been welcomed by strangers from Nebraska, Pittsburg, Florida, Texas, and many other states. It is through their presence and the events of today that I think Tuesday has taught me about vulnerability and the need to waste time with others.
I woke up this morning ready to participate in making breakfast. Bright and early, we started fixing food for the masses. It was nerve racking knowing that I am not the best cook (I have burnt chocolate chips in the microwave). However, these people all trusted in me with making a meal. I was not alone and as we jammed to music, it was easy to open up and try new things. Need me to cook hash browns? Sure. Need me to grate the potatoes. Alright. Need me to wash dishes? I got that! It was easy to be vulnerable and not have to worry about messing up or making a mistake. With the schedule of waking up early and fixing a meal for 70 plus people, I definitely was pulled out of my comfort zone.
After mass, we prepared for street ministry. I was with Madeline who introduced us to all her friends. However, as we walked through the library everyone was apparently out and about soaking in the sun. Denver is known as having at least 300 days of sunshine (don’t quote me on that), and sure did we get sunshine today! After a blustering first day of street ministry, there were many new friends to meet on the streets. The one that stuck with me the most today was Mike. Mike was an older gentleman who had a great relationship with another man on the streets. They even called themselves brothers. After a disappointing walk through the library, these men made our days bright and shared their story. Mike has three daughters that he put through college even though he was now broke due to the expense of tuition. He felt that this sacrifice was necessary and he talks highly with pure fatherly proudness in his eyes. Unfortunately, Mike’s wife died about six years ago from cancer, and for anyone who has lost someone, they can understand his pain. As he told his story, he teared up, warning myself and the others that we needed to be careful when it comes to cancer. He still tries to support the cancer research foundation through donations whenever he can. It was his tears that hit me. This man, who I did not know before today, was completely and willingly vulnerable with us. As I look back, there are times that I was never vulnerable with my own friends. I learned a lot from Mike and his vulnerability.
We also had a community building talk today. To build a community, we must get to know one another, and a way to do this is through wasting time together. When it comes to my life, I sometimes lack in this. As I look forward to going off to graduate school, I am also aware of the little, but precious time I have to get to know others and build relationships. Even today, as I tried to get a little bit of study time, there was always a new person, whether missionary, Carroll student, or a student from one of the other schools, who interrupted me (thank goodness!) and forced me to “waste time” with them. I am thankful for the interruptions and the push to not always being concerned with the future.
I meant to not write a novel, but oh well! It is only Tuesday, and with tired eyes and physical exhaustion setting in, I am excited for the days to come. Be vulnerable, uncomfortable, and waste time together!
Brett and Hannah blog post
Hannah- Well, after 15 hours we finally made it yesterday. A drive that was supposed to take 12 hours took 15, and involved a slight detour into a ditch. What doesn’t kill our van Linda absolutely has made her stronger. We had a 6am wake up time, and the day began. Today we did our first street walk. We also enjoyed morning prayer, mass, a couple talks, chores, and a debrief. I am not sure how all the other Headlighters are feeling, but for me, today was an amazing day. The full time missionaries who live at Christ in the City are all very welcoming, and taught us a little bit about their friends on the street. When they do their street walks, they all go on different routes and make relationships with people experiencing homelessness. They call them their friends.
Learning about the mission and vision of Christ in the City has been very helpful to understanding the work they do. Their motto is to know, love, and serve. They essentially believe that many of their friends need to be acknowledged, loved, and consistently recognized as a beloved child of God. I met two friends during my street walk, and was instantly drawn into the relationship that the missionaries have formed with their friends. They have earned their trust, and tried to let them know that they truly care about them. I think that it must be really tough to not be able to “fix” these injustices and instead have to walk with them in their struggles. They cry when they cry, laugh with them, go see them in the hospital, and everything in between. They pray with them and for them.
Overall, our first full day here has been enlightening, challenging and full of prayer and laughter. I’ve often believed the key to growth is being uncomfortable, and every time we walk up to a friend we haven’t met before, we are a little bit uncomfortable, but opening ourselves up to what God is trying to teach us. I believe this week will be full of loving God and loving his people, and I am very excited for what it all brings.
“GUYS, GUYS, GUYS, GUYS!!!!!” – the famous, almost last, words shouted by one of our drivers as our van, Linda, careened off into the central ditch on I90 amidst one of the worst whiteouts ever experienced by the passengers. Those four words followed by one of the calmest exits onto a slick, snowy path in between freeways set the tone for what has been an unreal start to my first experience with a Headlights spring break trip. As I’m sitting in the middle of a hallway while a fellow Headlighter duets with one of our host missionaries from Christ in the City on the guitar while others enthusiastically sing songs of worship and channel only the most comfortable coffee lounge scene, I can’t help but reflect on how powerful today has been.
One of the biggest ways that missionaries at Christ in the City minister to the homeless in Denver is through street walks. Today, I had the opportunity to encounter the poor with Hannah, an almost two-year CITC vet who was able connect with our friends on the street in such an natural and easy-going way that gave our troupe the confidence to step up and be vulnerable with those we met. To that extent, I think the best way to dive into what I, and many others on this trip, experienced would be best illustrated through the contrasting encounters I had with two amazing women: Mamma J, and Therese. Mamma J is a legend with the CITC missionaries and she’s the only friend on the street with whom there’s a general acceptance that you will have to break the rule of no hugs. As we strolled up to her and struck up a conversation, I immediately felt at ease with her exuberant and talkative personality. Today, Mamma J was stoked about some new glasses she would be wearing later this week She was also on her way to get her nicotine fix, but thus is the life encountered on the streets. It was amazing to see how someone could be so joyful while being faced with such hardships.
On the flipside, however, was our interaction with Therese. An apparent 70 year old who did not look a day over 55, she wore dazzling black and silver studs in both ears and rocked the most vibrant shade of red lipstick. We could see her patiently waiting for the bus, and Hannah decided to strike up a conversation with a simple, “Hi, how are you doing today?”
Before the words even left Hannah’s lips, Therese’s eyes began to well up with tears as she responded, “Well, not good.”
Therese was originally from the beaches of Florida, and as she explained, had been “living a blessed life.” I found myself emotional when she recounted how she lost her son to the war in Afghanistan and revealed that he was her last close relative that she had. Unfortunately, Therese found our she had cancer and that was what lead her to come to Denver. Treatment costs buried her in debt and a carjacking while she withdrew money at the bank took away most of her last possessions.
Therese’s story may or may not be unique, but the feeling of helplessness as she poured out her story to us and said, “It means a lot that you stopped to talk to me. After a while, I start to feel invisible.” Talk about tearing out your heartstrings.
As we learned in one of our morning lessons, sometimes all you can do is take on the sufferings that our friends in the street experience and give those struggles up to God. Matthew 11:29-30 says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
While us Headlighters in Denver could never amount to anything close to what Christ did when he died on the cross for us, we can at the very least lift up the homeless, restore some of their dignity, and provide them an outlet to begin to feel whole again.
Continue to pray for us, the Christ in the City missionaries, and all those who we serve and will serve.
Your friend in Christ,
East L.A. Day 1
Our first day began bright and early at 6:00am. We prayed as a group and piled into our two minivans, riding in style on our way to L.A. The morning consisted of the average interrogation while we asked each other lots of weird and interesting questions as we made our way through the fog and snow. The car was filled with deep conversations about all of the important topics, like french fries, leashes and Napolean Dynamite references. After a quick stop for lunch at Chick-fil-A, a first for some, we continued on our way and watched as the temperature rose the farther we got from Helena. Our day ended with mass at a beautiful church where three students were able to bring up the gifts, and finally arriving in Washington, Utah, where we’ll stay for the night.
Today I saw God in the twelve people who filled those two minivans. He was present in the many wonderful moments throughout the day. In the continuous joy and laughter on the road as we sang classic Disney hits and 2000’s throwbacks, in Rose’s reenactment of the Napolean Dynamite dance, and in the conversation as we ate the dinner we made together. This group is composed of incredible people who got up before the sunrise to serve the people we will meet in L.A. and I am I excited to continue to get to know them and serve alongside them this week.
We departed Helena at approximately 6:00am, with a prayer to embrace the immersion to which we were going to be experiencing. We arrived earlier than expected at 9:00am, we then visited the mission and had the opportunity to meet with the De La Salle Blackfeet School president, Brother Dale. Then the group arrived at mass wherein Fr Ed Kohler was the celebrant. There we instantly were exposed to the inimitable love of the Blackfeet people who said a gracious blessing over us and welcomed us with open and humble hearts. Seeing the sacrificial love of Christ so vividly in their lives made us feel welcome to Browning. Such a welcome also enabled us to witness and correct some collective non-native perspectives on the residents of Browning in that they are a loving and joyous people who are welcome to visitors of good will. After some bonding over submarine sandwiches we ventured to the school and received informative presentations and an orientation. After getting our groceries we were met with more welcoming locals in the parking lot who expressed gracious words for our being here. Later at the mission, we were sullen to have learned that the Buffalo Jump that we usually tour had been closed due to recent desecration from a past immersion school, so we did some contemplative outdoor time at the Two Medicine River which runs along the mission property in lieu of the usual outing. Brother Dale, Sister Pat, other school personnel, and other visiting students all hosted us for a lovely dinner of fellowship. We needed the night with a lighthearted dancing competition and evening prayer, wherein we reflected on how we could be open to God’s will and serve humbly and effectively for the coming school week for which we are every excited.
Conor A. Coutts
Wednesday March 8, 2017
Happy International Women’s day!
Wednesday morning we woke up refreshed and ready to go. We piled in the car heading toward the one and only Homeboy industries. If you are unfamiliar with Homeboy industries, it’s an organization started by Father Greg Boyle. They hire specifically those who have had a criminal record and are emerced in the gang culture. When we arrived, we had some time before our tour so we sat and enjoyed some delicious coffee and pastries at Homeboy bakery. Soon after, it was time for the thought of the day. Father Greg Boyle made some announcements and then handed the microphone off to Brittany to talk about international women’s day. Some of the women at Homeboy shared a story of a women in their life who they look up to. From there, Carlos and Sam gave us a short testimony of their life prior to Homeboy industries and how grateful they are to be working for such a great company. Carlos explained how he was involved in a gang and sold drugs and now he works for Homeboy with ex-gang members from rival gangs and on his way to getting a college degree. As they shared we continued on their tour around the facility explaining everything that they offer to the Homeboy’s and Homegirl’s. We visited the office where they remove tattoo’s.
For lunch we walked over to the Homegirl Café where you are served a delicious brunch with a side of sass. We enjoyed a delicious meal ranging from chillataquila to pancakes.
When we got back from the screen printing company, it was nap/reflection time in the courtyard.
Mikayla and Rachel