What happens when you say “yes” to moving outside your comfort zone and step into the unknown? At the end of June, eight teens from Christ Church embarked on a week of service, community, and growth!
As we pulled up to the Swatara Church of God in Harrisburg, PA around 5:30 PM on Sunday afternoon, we were greeted by excited staff members from an organization called Youthworks. They were eager to get us set up in our rooms and fill our bellies before we started a full week of work in the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg. We stayed in what is known as the “Taj Mahal” of Youthworks’ sites – the Sunday School rooms of the church. A group gathering was held and we shared our expectations and hopes for the week, as well as how we came to be at Swatara Church of God on June 23, 2019.
Our job for the week was to partner with a ministry called Wildheart Ministries. A project called “Love the Hill” has begun where churches, organizations, businesses, and residents have come together to help transform the neighborhood. Even though Harrisburg seems to be a flourishing city, there are still significant challenges facing this small urban community. After filing for bankruptcy in 2011, a variety of strains created negative impacts on the city, including corrupt government leadership, unevenly distributed resources, and a diminishing infrastructure. The community is still on the rise after this significant event in its story. There are noticeable improvements to the city since 2011, but some neighborhoods within the community remain significantly under-resourced. Our hard work helped bring a nice transformation with trash removal, weeding, digging up and cleaning overgrown sidewalks. What would take the city of Harrisburg thirty years to clean up, Wildheart Ministries has a five-year plan to help revitalize the Allison Hill neighborhood. They are on their third year of clean up and have cleaned up over 1,000,000 pounds of trash.
Not only was our mission and focus on manual labor, it was about community connection. It was made very clear to us that our job was to engage with the community and love them just as much as it was to pick up trash and pull weeds. Both tasks were extremely meaningful for all of us. We engaged in general conversation with people – asking how their days were, how long they lived in Allison Hill, their families – and we all made new friends. The people of Allison Hill were extremely appreciative of the time we took to help make a shift from crime, violence, and despair to possibility, potential and hope!
Christ Church was one of five churches from different states and denominations. Each evening we would gather as a group and share stories of how we saw God working in our lives.
There are a million stories and takeaways from this trip. I encourage you to talk with the teens who were involved, listen to what they have to say about their experiences. I am extremely passionate about mission trips because it moves us outside our normal day to day comfort zones, brings us to places of service and gives us the time to reflect on who God is and what He is doing in our lives. At the end of our week, one teen shared he felt God was distant and far away at the beginning of the week – but as the week went on, walls were broken down and he was able to see that God really is guiding him and not so far away. These are the stories that show the truth of who God is and the love He has for each and every one of us.
I am very proud of the teens who shared in this journey, moving into the unknown and outside their comfort zones – in an effort to help others and the community of Allison Hill.