By Courtney Hamilton
Spring break is something that every student (and faculty member) waits for. A chance to get out of the cold North Carolina climate and head down further south where it is sunny and warm. Though many of my friends headed to the beach, I found myself being called to the hustle of Atlanta, Ga. Five colleges from N.C. sent students to live and learn together about racial discrimination and homelessness.
This will be the third mission trip that I have gone on with my college church since starting school. I didn’t really know what to expect on this trip since it seemed that we would be doing more discussion and learning then actual serving, but I was pleasantly surprised. Over the week we spent about two days working with the people of Atlanta in church kitchens making meals for the homeless and at Books for Africa packing and sorting books to be shipped over to schools.
The most memorable day in Atlanta was when I had the pleasure of working in St. John Orthodox Church. The church provides two hot meals a day for the homeless. I was a bit nervous at first as we were greeted by a stern woman, but as time went on I got a chance to talk with her. I found out a bit about her life, her beliefs and how she thought using her time for cooking made a difference in the community. I learned how to cook over three dozen eggs at once and how to cut a cucumber so that people with few teeth can chew. The men that entered to the warm hospitality of the church had smiles on their faces. One man, as he left, stated that Jesus Christ was his Lord and that through the tough times he could survive because there was a greater life ahead. I was floored. Here was a man that most people would consider poor yet he possessed something so much more valuable. It made me think of the verses: 1 Timothy 6:9-12:
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
We live in a world of “have and have not.” We tend to look down on others who are lacking the one thing society tells us we need, whether it be beauty, wealth, cars, houses, etc. I am not excluding myself from this. I am a person who discriminates, but who isn’t? I’m not trying to give an excuse. We all judge and discriminate because we are Human and because we are sinful. Only through God’s unfailing love and justice do we get a glimpse of true kindness and love without looking at what we have or what we don’t have.
The rest of the time we learned a bit about the history of Atlanta and began to address the issues fighting inside ourselves. We got down to the core of our hearts and examined how we looked at other people. Racism and discrimination is a topic most people flee from. It’s something that makes us uncomfortable at times, but it is something we must learn from. We had a lesson each day that addressed a certain part of discrimination.
I would say the overarching theme to the week was “Look beyond the one story.” This simply means don’t take the one idea you have about people’s economic status, racial background, home life, etc., and only look at it through the eyes of the world.
Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
We are ALL created in God’s image and have been created for a reason. I’m not saying that we should allow the world and it’s sinfulness to influence our faith, but we should love others as Christ loves us. It doesn’t matter what their life looks like, they deserve to be loved and respected. We do not become elite when we are born again as God’s children, we are born servants to a mighty and gracious God and the world. We are to harvest the fields and spread a message of love and salvation.
On our last day, we had the pleasure of going to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, his house, the church his family served, his town. Throughout the entire building, church included, they had Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches running. The center was filed with pictures and memories. Yes, this was set up to honor Dr. King and the movement he supported, but I saw much more than that.
Now, I didn’t grow up during the time of Martin Luther King Jr., but I can image people being looked down upon because of the color of their skin, judgments and abuse laid upon innocent backs, yet this is all seen as normal and excepted. Anything different from the norm was ostracized. As I walked through the halls one picture struck me the most. It was a picture of Dr. King’s speech on the Lincoln Memorial steps in Washington, D.C. In this picture stood Dr. King and several other pastors and supports…..both white and black.
If these two populations, deemed opposites by society, could stand firm and say, “This is not right! This is not the way things are suppose to be!” then why is it so hard to look past what we see in front of us and get to the deeper soul of those around us today? Why is it that I judge others based on appearance? Why must I discriminate based on income? Why is there still discrimination in America in the year of 2014? Yes, as much as we like to believe we aren’t racist or that we don’t discriminate we do, all of us. In some way we must make ourselves feel superior to others.
This trip opened my eyes to my own sinfulness. Summing up what I learned I can say: “We are humans and we sin. We discriminate based on all aspects of life, we feel superior when we have and inferior when we don’t have. We work hard to obtain wealth to “secure our future” and once we get there it just never seems to be enough. BUT as Christians it’s important to move forward to recognize our sin and move past it, to love, to give and to support. We need to listen to the individual stories people have, we need to love them and see them as Christ does. My life would be a horrible sight without Christ yet He saw me in ALL my ugliness and accepted me and loved me. If this is true what right do I, do we, have to discriminate against others?”
I have been inspired and I hope you have been as well. No, you don’t have to agree with me on everything that I have shared in this post, but I pray that we look past our expectations at the real story of each person we meet, because let’s be honest they deserve it.
Courtney Hamilton is a college student in North Carolina, and attended this spring break trip as a part of the CBF North Carolina Cooperative Student Fellowship programs.