Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chicago Day by Day

Our trip to Chicago was incredible!  The team got along wonderfully, the work sites were awesome, I met some amazing people, and saw God move in powerful ways!


We drove and drove and drove some more!  We drove by a wind mill farm.  We drove through bright and sunny skies.  We drove through snow.  And about 12 hours after our 4:30am departure, we arrived in Chicago.  That night my smaller team went out to eat at a Colombian restaurant, Pollo Volador, and then drove around on a prayer tour of the city.  We saw different ethnic neighborhoods and learned about lots of the issues in Chicago, such as homelessness, gangs, poor public school systems, just to name a few.


In the morning my team went to the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, which has a Headstart program.  We spent all morning at the center with the kids, and then returned to the house we were staying out for lunch.  After lunch we had our first Ethnic Plunge, which requires us to get out into the neighborhood and learn about the people and cultures there.  We ended up being given lots of sweets, and purchasing some of our own too!

My group with a big loaf of bread we bought at La Baguette

 After the Ethnic Plunge we went to the Inspiration Cafe.  This was a soup kitchen, but unlike any I have ever been in before.  It was super clean, bright, and cheerful, and set up like a restaurant.  Most of our students served as waiters, taking everyone's order, and so they received exactly what they wanted for dinner.  I got to work back in the kitchen with 3 others girls actually making the dinner.  We made meat loaf, gravy, rice, broccoli, and salads, as well as cutting cherry pie and serving it with ice-cream for dessert.  This was a really fun night for me, because the kitchen was a professional one, and I just love being in a nice, big, stainless steel kitchen, cooking!

We pulled the hair nets down low to make sure you could see them.

Dinner that night was with the whole group, and we had Chicago style deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's.  It was scrumptious!

Tuesday morning, from about 6:30am til noon was a lil insane, because Samantha fell outside on the porch on the way to get our showers, sprained her ankle, and ended up passing out twice, while I was the only one with her!  I don't know what it is with staff members passing out on me this year!  So my morning was spent with her at the house and then at the ER with her and James.

After lunch we headed out of Albany Park, which was the neighborhood we were staying in, and went to a different part of town to do a Meet a Need.  We were broken up into groups of 3 and 4, given $5, and about an hour to find someone and help meet a need they had.  My group met George, walking along the sidewalk.  We chatted for a few minutes, and then just asked him if there was anything we could do for him.  He said he had an apartment, but he was all out of groceries.  So we walked with him a couple blocks over to a discount grocery store, and the whole way over he kept saying "Are you serious?  You just want to help me?"  Once there we bought him a loaf of bread, some lunch meet, and a "pop" as they call soda up there, and we also gave him the little bit of change that was left over.  Once we were back outside, Corey very boldly shared the Gospel with him, and then prayed for him.  When we said "Amen" and all looked up he had tears streaming down his face, and kept thanking us over and over for helping him.  I was so proud of Corey for sharing, because it's something I know he's passionate about and desires to do, and he did such a great job! 

Courtney, Natalie, Corey, and George

 After the Meet a Need we went to the Cornerstone Community Outreach, another place that provides meals and shelter for the homeless.  All of the students either served food or worked in the dish pit, and Seth and I stayed out and talked with the people that came in.  One thing that I definitely learned on this trip is that the stereotypes we often put on the homeless are just not true.  I met one woman who was only living in the shelter because her apartment complex burned down, and she doesn't have anywhere else she can stay, so she's in the shelter.  And Seth met a man who used to be a biology professor at a college.  He had surgery and was unable work and pay his medical bills, he eventually lost everything, and is now in the shelter.  These are examples of people who are smart and were successful, but were hit by hard times and had no one to help them out.  I also met several young woman, probably about my age, who were homeless for a variety of reasons, but were still taking college classes.  I could not imagine being a student, and being a homeless.  It gave me so much respect for them!  These are just a few examples of the people we met, but they all helped remind me not to assume things about people and their circumstances.

Nathan and Will

Ashley and Jillian

 Dinner that night was at a Vietnamese restaurant, Hai Yen, and it was so good!  My favorite ethnic meal of the week by far!  We had spring rolls, and then these massive bowls of soup called Pho (pronounced fa, like do, ra, me, fa, so, la, ti, do).  I ate all the noodles with the chopsticks, which I was quite proud of.  I couldn't finish all of the broth though, because I was so full.  I've never been so full from soup in my life.  Mmm, it was so good!  I could really go for a bowl right about now...

Just outside the restaurant.

I was back at the learning center that morning.  After lunch that afternoon we had some free time, so a group of us went out exploring on our own.  We visited this great little chocolate shop called Beijo de Chocolat, which means Kiss of Chocolate or Kissed by Chocolate or something like that in French.  I got some amazingly delicious cherry and pistachio dark chocolate bark, and a dark chocolate covered pretzel rod.  After the chocolate shop we visited an international market and then a Mexican grocery store.  Along the way we all picked up some random goodies and treats, and it was fun not buying "normal" things at a Walmart or Kroger.

Later that afternoon we did another Ethnic Plunge, this time on Devon Street, which is Little India.  My group spent a lot of time in an Islamic book store, talking with the owner, we also visited two different sari shops, and the Patel Brothers Indian Grocery, where we bought this huge aloe leaf for $1, and it was about a foot and a half long!  We had $3 to spend on whatever we wanted, and we were almost out of time, so why not buy a big squishy aloe leaf?!?  Dinner that night was at Sher A Punjab, an Indian restaurant.  The best part of the meal was the naan, a flatbread/pita.  It was soft and fluffy and so, so good.  I would have been satisfied to have just eaten 4 baskets of that instead of anything else!

I think this was a tare root, one of the items we had to find on the Ethnic Plunge.

 Our service opportunity that night was at a men's shelter.  Honestly, it was a little uncomfortable to begin with.  We were just all in this big room, where they all had their mattresses on the floor, so we felt like we were invading their personal space.  About 40 minutes into our time there I saw a man sitting at a table by himself, so I walked over and asked him if I could sit down.  His name was Oleg, and he moved to Chicago from Austria with his father 40 years ago.  In the next few minutes he started talking about the job he used to have for the past 25 years, and I couldn't believe what he was telling me!  He had worked at one of the country's last film-developing photo labs, and had printed pictures from photographers I studied in school, and even met several of them!  He had also worked on hundreds of national advertisements and catalogs.  With everything being digital these days, very few people, even great photographers don't know how to roll and develop film, and make prints in a darkroom, and so it's not something I get to talk about often.  But he knew all about it!  And we just sat there and talked photography for almost two hours!  It was so obvious to me that God ordained that meeting.  It allowed me to have a truly enjoyable night, and I hope the same was true for Oleg.

Thursday was the last morning at the learning center, and then lunch back at the house as usual.  We had a short break after lunch, and most of us played Catch Phrase.  After that all of assembled in the living room, and the CSM hosts told everyone what we'd be doing for the rest of the day.  They call it Immersion, with the idea that we completely immerse ourselves in the city.  We were all divided up into groups of three and four, and given a map and directions, a public transit card, $2 per person, and list of instructions.  We were supposed to get ourselves to our assigned destination, get dinner only using the provided money, find some answers to the questions on our paper, and get ourselves back. 

My group got a little confused and definitely took the long way to the "L" station, but once we made it there, we had no problems getting to Andersonville, a part of town near Michigan Ave., where all the high-end shopping is.  We were supposed to find answers to questions such as "If you were homeless and living here, where would you shower, sleep at night, use the restroom etc.?" The only way to get those answers is to just start talking to people, but most everyone there seemed touristy, and they wouldn't have the answers we needed.  We made our way to Grant Park and started talking to some local college students.  From them we learned that the homeless aren't allowed to sleep in the park at night, but they had never really seen shelters or soup kitchens in that area, so they didn't really know where the homeless could go.  After we left there, we decided to try to find something to eat.  One of the rules was that we couldn't order fast food or pizza, and we also weren't allowed to snack once we got back the house that night.  So what we could get with our $6 was all we were going to eat that night.  We knew we also wanted to try to help someone else with the money if we could.  We went to a Walgreens (they are everywhere up there), and got a loaf of white bread, a package of bologna, and two packs of peanuts.  After that we were just kind of walking around, looking for someone to help.  We passed a man outside holding a cup, begging for change, and decided to approach him.  We asked him his name and he said "Isaac, like in the Bible," and when we asked him if he would like a sandwich, he eagerly shook his head yes.  While Kayleigh was making the sandwich, I offered him one of the packs of peanuts, but he opened up his mouth to show me that he didn't have any teeth, so he couldn't chew them.  We talked with him while he ate, and learned that there really weren't any services for the homeless in that area.  He said he begged on the sidewalks during the day, and rode the L at night to keep warm.  We had to start heading back, but we gave him the rest of the change, and all but 6 slices of the bread.  Preston asked him if we could pray for him and he agreed.  One of the things Preston said while praying was "Father, you provide for those in need" and Isaac agreed with "Amen."  It struck me, that this man who appeared to own nothing but the clothes on his back and the change in his cup, was so quick to agree that God provides.  The faith of the less fortunate is so strong.  After leaving him, we went down to catch the L back, and were able to give one of the packs of peanuts to a lady who was singing Amazing Grace.  She really seemed so grateful, and starting eating them almost immediately.

We'd been riding the L for about 35 minutes, none of us talking, just processing, I'm sure, when I actually read the map I'd been staring at above Preston's head, and realized we were on the Purple Line, and we needed to be on Brown.  We had to ride for several more minutes before we could get off, and then we had to back track quite a ways.  We ended up being about 45 minutes late, but other than that, it was an incredible night!  And once we were all back at the house (another group was actually later than us), each little group got to share about experience, and we did it by acting it out, which was really funny.

I forgot to write about this, but this dog was just chillin' outside the Walgreens, waiting for his owner to come back, wearing sunglasses...

Just a sign I saw that I liked.

On the L, headed back, for the second time I think.

We packed up and cleaned up the house, had a time of prayer with Taylor and Lauren, our hosts for the week, and then headed into the city for our "fun day."  We ate lunch at Ed Debevic's, this crazy restaurant where the waiters and waitresses dress up kind of funny, and they sort of yell at you and make fun of you, and are super sarcastic.  I know it sounds strange, but it was hilarious and I loved it.  And at the end, they all got up on the tables and danced to the YMCA.  The rest of the afternoon more or less consisted of walking around and hitting a few attractions, the two main ones being "The Bean" and Millennium Park, and riding the ferris wheel on the Navy Pier.  We had pizza again for dinner, and then went to a restaurant called Portillo's which was recommended to me.  They make a Chocolate Cake Shake, which is exactly what it sounds like, they put a piece of chocolate frosted chocolate cake into a milkshake, and it was phenomenal!  A great ending to a great trip!  And another great part of the day was getting to see our friend Amanda.  She sang in The Well band for years, and moved to Chicago about 8 months ago.  She actually spent the day with us, showing us around, which was a huge blessing, and it was great to see her!  And Saturday morning who got up, loaded the vans, and headed back home.  Even though we had to take a detour and got a little lost coming home, it thankfully didn't cost us any time!

Our feet in the bean!

Me and Amanda

Amanda, me, Ivy, and Jillian on the ferris wheel!

Chocolate Cake Shake!
A few disclaimers: Some of the pictures from Sunday-Thursday aren't the greatest because I only brought my little camera, and it's kinda losing steam.  And then it actually died Friday morning, so I had to borrow all the pics for Friday from other people.

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