Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lost & found: Our mission trip to Cass Community Social Services

I did not grow up in Detroit.

When people in downstate Illinois ask me where I'm from it's just easier to say, "I'm from Detroit", than,"I'm from the affluent white suburbs northwest of Detroit." People from outside Michigan don't understand Detroit. Maybe people from Michigan don't even understand Detroit.

Growing up in Oakland County, I had lots of opportunities to visit the city, mostly to see the Tigers or Red Wings play, or to have dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club, or to see a performance at the Fisher Theater. Unlike people in my parents' generation, I don't remember what the downtown was like in its heyday. I only remember driving quickly through boarded-up neighborhoods with the windows shut tight and the car doors locked. 

We traveled through Detroit as a means to get where we were going, not as people who were once from there. Most metro-Detroiters have a connection to the once-great city. Many of my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents lived or worked there at some point. They worked the assembly lines at Ford or the steel mill or at Detroit Stove Company. They were tellers at Manufacturers Bank. They attended Wayne State University. They helped run Cornerstone Schools.  

But even as a young girl, I remember looking out and up from the backseat window at what was and wondering how it got that way. How a place, and a people, could become so lost. I knew even then that I would have to write about it someday. As a child I wrote rudimentary acrostic poems to a city I couldn't understand but couldn't quit. I am still homesick for this city even when I'm here.

This week the mission team from Neoga Grace UMC worked at Cass Community Social Services 
in Detroit. I must confess that I only joined them for one afternoon, as Harper isn't old enough to work the mission field quite yet. I stayed in the suburbs with my parents and daughters, sending my oldest two for a 24 hour turn at CCSS with the mission team. 

The members of the mission team shared moving stories from their trip at worship this morning, and I cried. They were all deeply touched by the city and people there. They saw that we are more alike than different, even in our different circumstances. They saw that we all want the same things: dignity, safety, work, and purpose. They saw the face of Jesus.

Though I didn't have a week's worth of experiences, like getting interviewed for the local ABC affiliate, the afternoon I spent at Cass was meaningful. Our group was tasked with planting potatoes in a plowed up field that covered the better part of a block. Homes used to stand on this block, reminders of their presence left in the debris left just below the topsoil: bits of porcelain from sinks or bathtubs, heavy chunks of concrete, soles of shoes, broken glass, and several completely intact marbles. 

You're looking at the empty field that was once part of a neighborhood. At the top of this picture runs the Lodge freeway, which we could hear as we dug our holes and dropped in our potatoes. 

This is what CCSS does: taking people and places that were lost and claiming them as found. 

CCSS has invested in the people and property in Detroit. They take things like illegally dumped tires  and turn them into green industries like mud mats and flip flops, employing formerly homeless or developmentally disabled individuals. They take blighted property and turn it into gardens to feed their workers and the homeless. They put on a pageant for developmentally disabled adults, because those folks and their families rarely have opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments like at a wedding or college graduation.

I won't tell you that my afternoon planting potatoes was life-changing. But it did move my heart for Detroit and her people. It was a good reminder to search for the hows and whys of the lost before trying to serve them, because you can't help fix something until you understand why it's broken. 

If you're looking for a meaningful mission opportunity, please consider Cass Community Social Services. And if you're looking for something to read, pick up This Far By Faith: Twenty Years at Cass Community by Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director at CCSS. Faith is funny and fierce about Cass and the city. Her book is a collection of stories from her years at Cass, little vignettes about what life is like for the discarded members of society. 

What have you lost or found lately?

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post, Christina. And you are so right in this: "you can't help fix something until you understand why it's broken." Too often we fail to look for the underlying causes to find the right solution.


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