So when I heard about the Urban Promise local outreach, I didn’t really think much about it and agreed to it because truthfully, I didn’t have an excuse not to go. Nonetheless, I was excited for the experience. I had already been on a mission before to Nicaragua so I thought a local outreach would be a piece of cake in comparison. I also didn’t stress at all during the process because we were told that we would be supporting roles to the youth leaders there, called street leaders, who would be the ones to organize and plan the programs and everything else, so we really had no preparing to do. Actually, the whole team was so relaxed and nonchalant to the point where we were kind of worried and questioned whether it was okay for us to feel like that. But I realized that though there is a burden as outreach participant, it’s okay to go on outreach with a light heart. It helped me make room for the Holy Spirit to move and work through me, rather than trying to take control and do things with my own effort.
When we got there, our team was separated into 2 groups, one going to a Scarborough location and the other going to Rexdale. When we arrived at the camp, we experienced kind of a culture shock because we were the only Asians in a black community. It was our first time being in that position and environment, so it was unfamiliar and felt awkward. Their speech, behaviour, styles, and such were so different from ours and these differences were crystal clear- it didn’t help that the children were so vocal about them either. With that being said, I thought it’d be difficult to adjust to but the lack of similarities didn’t end up affecting our relationships. In the beginning, the children were pretty rowdy, wild, and brutally honest to the point where I wondered if I preferred the language barrier we had in Nicaragua. But I was really surprised with the way God changed my heart. As they used me as a personal Barbie doll and playground, I was joyful. I didn’t feel tired, annoyed, or miserable and I know that was all God because my patience and stamina are really close to nonexistent. God stirred a desire in my heart to really love these children, as He revealed to me the deep yearning for affection and affirmation that they have. I couldn’t just “respond and move on” like we’d been told to do. By letting the children play with my hair, sharing my snacks, and showing grace to the misbehaving children as well as street leaders I felt upset towards, I realized that I was demonstrating God’s love in simple ways. Also, by spending time with the group, my understanding of other cultures expanded and I was able to become more open-minded about our differences, like their outspokenness or the leaders’ sternness in words. I think this time was really just a reminder that Jesus and the Gospel are for everyone; every colour, language, and ethnicity. I was exposed to another group of people God created in His image and I’m really grateful that we had the opportunity to connect, praise, and love in the same God.
During this time, God also gave me eyes of compassion to really empathize and want to comfort the group. This happened because I was exposed to Toronto beyond my sheltered and privileged area. Many of the children live in Toronto Community Housing, which is social housing for certain households like single parent or low-income families. This kind of setting bears the inevitable scars of loneliness and poverty. My streetleader, who is only 16, briefly talked to me about their area and what they’re witnessing including gangs, drugs, and violence. I could only imagine the instability and fear they would be feeling growing up in that kind of environment. Similarly, I was able to build a trusting relationship with a boy named Jevon who told me about his broken family. This boy was saying things that no 8 year old should even be thinking. He was so lonely, hurt, angry, and hopeless. I was able to understand that children like Jevon act out of their pain or are unable to act at all. Hearing these experiences really broke my heart. I think the fact that they’re so close to us really hit home. Nothing reaches you as much as seeing the place you call home in a different light. I was so oblivious to this side of our community; I just assumed that their lives would be similar to ours. This is why I think Urban Promise is very effective, because it’s local. You’re able to recognize the needs of your community. Also, being relational is practical because of factors like proximity and language. Through Urban Promise, I learned that missions don’t have to be miles away, it can happen on home field with family, friends, and your community. Mark 1:38 says, ‘And Jesus said to them, “Let’s go on to the nearby villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come.”’ This outreach helped me reach out to my neighbors, just like Jesus did.
I’m really thankful that God gave me the opportunity to serve because for the first time in a long time, I could put the needs of others before my own and I could love others more than myself. During the outreach, God was showing me things in my life where I need to change, like being loving and obedient. But with that being said, old habits die hard; when I was asked to share my testimony, I really didn’t want to. Just the idea of standing up here and talking was dreadful and I was bitter about being chosen. But like my decision to go on mission, I just agreed to do it because I didn’t have an excuse not to. And I’m thankful, again, that I simply obeyed and did so because preparing this testimony helped me reflect on what a humbling experience the outreach was. Preparing for the testimony was different this time around compared to the past because I did something I hadn’t done before, which was pray. I prayed for a joyful and peaceful heart while preparing and that is exactly what God gave me because I was way too calm about it and didn’t start writing this until Thursday and I actually finished last night. But again, God showed me that He is always faithful, and I hope that you will trust in this God when you make decisions about going on outreach or serving in our church.