Chicago trip changes missions approach

“The purpose of this trip is not to leave with answers, but to leave asking better questions.” These are the words of Mark Soderquist. He was the facilitator of the Chicago trip in addition to Andrew and Maria Lehr. The trip to Chicago was life-altering to say the least. I had been to Chicago before this trip, but this time it was different.

I saw a side of Chicago I had never seen before. We stayed in a neighborhood of Chicago called North Lawndale, an almost all-black neighborhood, excluding Mark and Jennifer Soderquist. They have been there 25 years working with the church in Westlawn and with the Westlawn Youth Network.

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip because I felt like it had a humble approach to ministry. The words “missions” and “evangelize” have a lot of baggage attached to them; they often bring a visual of a privileged outsider going and bringing the gospel to some poor, unknowing person. The problem with those words is that they often negate the fact that God is already working in the area that you are coming to. I was humbled. I was not a savior to the people of Lawndale, and neither were my peers. I came to learn and to see what it looks like to live life with people who are different than me. I came to see that it’s actually pretty simple, but that there are never easy answers.

Perhaps one of the most powerful things I witnessed was seeing how relationship building was central to the neighborhood. You can’t come into a neighborhood and expect to fix all its problems when you don’t even know the people. Perhaps that’s where the problem lies.

We love to fix problems, we love issues with easy answers. The issues in Lawndale are not easy. There is violence, there are hardships, but even in that, there is unity, and there is love in the neighborhood. Something that Mark and Jennifer said that I will never forget is, “Sometimes God calls you to be present in the pain.” Mark and Jennifer know what it’s like to have a distraught mother whose son has been shot, and even though they can’t fix it, they can be present with her in the pain. I think that you just have to trust that God is working even when you can’t see it.

It has been difficult being back here at JBU because I felt like parts of me changed, but I am back to where I was before the changes. I don’t want the Chicago trip to be just another experience I check off my list. On this trip, I acutely felt my brokenness and it felt okay to be broken. I was able to wrestle with these issues of race and poverty continuously and now that I’m back, it feels like I don’t have the time. Thankfully, the power of this trip and the people who went on it won’t really let me forget it. I don’t really have any answers (and that’s okay), but I am asking better questions. I may not be in Chicago anymore, but God is here working in Siloam Springs too. These questions that I’ve come away with matter here. How do I give and take away dignity? How can I make people feel welcome? What is God already doing and how can I be a part of it?

Escarcega is a senior majoring in history. She can be reached at EscarcegaK@jbu.edu.