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Friday, August 26, 2016

City Project: Corruption's Such an Old Song

Sunday

My head rested against the bus window- eyes shut, headphones blaring, completely still. I wasn't sleeping. The bus left Raleigh at 5am and I was fortunate enough to get the seat in the back corner, so I had slept for the first few hours of the trip. Now, after nearly ten hours, surrounded by strangers and distantly carsick, I had sunk into a dull alertness. I ignored sight because I would only see people, but I let my other senses take over. The hot window burning the top of my forehead, the scratchy material of the chair, the bizarre smell that can only be defined as "bus" and "movement", and the beauty of Hamilton which was screechingly unbeautiful due to the extreme volume at which I kept it.

I only opened my eyes when the loudness of the others managed to drown out Hamilton. I shot a glare in the vague direction of the offending humans, then tried to focus on what they found oh-so-fascinating.

It was New York City.

I was not impressed.

The already dull light of evening reflected halfheartedly off of rolls of smog which hovered over the gray waters beneath. Skyscrapers were barely visible, and the Statue of Liberty looked more like a lost child trying to catch someone's attention than a declaration of freedom. The bus began crossing the bridge over the harbor, and I got a clear look beneath me. Heaps of trash and scrap metal littered the small patches of land peeking out of the murky waves. Overall, it bespoke of a place so consumed with movement that it ignored anything remaining still, including nature, trash, and (the ultimate combination of the two), people.

This? This is "the greatest city in the world"?

'Alexander Hamilton' had restarted. In New York you can be a new man. In New York you can be a new man. In New...

I turned it off.

I traded sight for sound, keeping my eyes open but my headphones firmly in place. The bus crossed the bridge and began traveling through the narrow and crowded streets of NYC. I wish I could tell you the streets we were on, but I was too busy fighting back my disappointment and analyzing the sights to pay attention. New York was not quite so ugly on the inside as it was on the outside; brick buildings stood next to stone buildings next to cement buildings, all connected only by a tangle of vines and sidewalks. It looked like the fake casual of hipster coffee shops, and I eyed everything with the same cynicism with which I pay millennials, until I realized that this was not fake, this was the original. The thought grabbed my attention, and I attempted to view New York unbiased, just as I had viewed the outside of it.

I was in better spirits when we arrived at our lodgings, enough so to hastily smile and have a quick conversation with Katie, one of the girls from my D-group and one of the few people I knew and liked. We were staying in a renovated hospital, and the people working there got us all to our rooms surprisingly quickly, considering there was one hundred of us. I was sharing a room with the girls from my D-group- seven in all. I was relieved; I was at least acquainted with all of them, and I was friends with the ones I had gotten to know over the past school year.

The rest of the day was fairly relaxing. We had a meeting explaining the schedule, we went to Times Square and ate dinner, then returned and went to sleep.

Monday

The only stable aspect of the New York portion of City Project was the schedule. In the morning, we would attend a three hour class. The class taught the reasons for evangelism, practical steps in evangelism, easy ways to share the Gospel, etc. Then, we would go with our evangelism groups to our designated neighborhood, eat lunch together, then begin knocking on doors in order to talk to people.

We did everything except the last on Monday, and it was a good thing too. I was panicking enough at the prospect of having to work with a group of people I had never met before. I should not have worried. The evangelism group I ended up in was made up of completely amazing people. Getting to know them and their stories was definitely a highlight of New York.

I digress. Instead of knocking on doors, we prayer-walked. Before I elaborate, I need to tell you something about myself prior to City Project: NYC.

I rarely prayed. In my mind, prayer was reserved for asking for help. On principle, I do not ask for help. I prefer to solve my problems myself. And if I can't, well, then I clearly didn't deserve to have that problem fixed in the first place. You all experienced my thoughts towards prayer in my first City Project blog post; I never really prayed about City Project, I simply did what was logical. Logic- that's another thing that added to this aversion to prayer. God gave me a brain. Brains should be used. Therefore, I should use my brain. In my thinking, God already supplied the answer to whatever pitiful problem I could bring to Him. He already gave me a brain.

Of course, this line of thought completely ignores the variables of sin nature tainting thought patterns, my incorrect definition of the word 'prayer', and that logic, as I know it, is a man-made construct.

However, I did pray for other people. I personally did not need help, but other people? Yeah, they definitely couldn't solve their own problems. They needed God.

(...and people ask how I could possibly compare myself to my charming Fee...)

All that to say, I was not daunted by the idea of prayer-walking... until I realized that I would need to pray out loud. I was with Rich, the leader of our evangelism group, and Reaganne, an incredibly wise and kind-hearted girl. I did not want to pray in front of them. In case you haven't picked up on it, I am a tad (hahahahaha) arrogant. What if my prayer was not good enough?

Rich prayed first, then Reaganne, then I had to. At first, I was just trying not to say something stupid, but slowly, my heart began to change. I began to actually pray for the people around me. I genuinely wanted the best for them.

Prayer-walking wasn't so bad. It was basically a "bigger" version of praying for others, the one aspect of prayer I knew how to do.

Then came...

Tuesday

It was time to evangelize.

I was not worried about it.

I had shared my faith before. I knew the Bible inside and out. I knew countless historical, philosophical, scientific, and theological arguments to prove the validity of the Gospel. Evangelizing was going to be easy.

We received no response at the first few houses we tried. Frankly, I wasn't too upset. Yeah, I was totally prepared to share my faith, but I wasn't particularly excited about talking to strangers. I would be content to simply wander the neighborhoods of New York, taking in the sights of worn iron fences and tiny houses shoved next to each other. I was already imagining my return to Raleigh, where I could tell my friends and family of the trials of New York, rejected at every turn, but how I saw God's beauty in the weathered tranquility of the poorer neighborhoods. A few artsy photos and some worn chacos were all the proof I needed of my deep spirituality.

However, Rich was having none of it.

He began to pray out loud. He prayed that a woman would answer one of the doors so Reaganne and I could speak with her. He prayed that we would be invited into someone's house to talk. And he prayed that we would meet a fellow believer to encourage him or her and to be encouraged.

I knocked on a door and it opened. A woman peered out from behind the screen, clutching a blanket around her shoulders. She almost shut the door completely when she saw Rich, and she would not speak to us until he went and sat on the corner of her driveway.

For the sake of her privacy, I'm going to call the woman "Rena". Rena, we found out, was originally from India but moved here many years ago. She believed in Hinduism, and was frustrated that the people in her neighborhood weren't friendlier.

This'll be easy.

Reaganne launched into sharing the Gospel. It was brilliant to watch; she was so kind, so persistent, and so joyful in it's presentation. When she finished, we turned and looked at Rena.

"So, how old are you?" She asked.

I was taken aback. We shared the Gospel, why would she ask such a random question? Did she want us to shut up? If so, that was the most ridiculously unsubtle transition I had ever experienced.

"We're college students, ma'am," Reaganne replied. "We're from North Carolina."

"Oh," Rena said. "You know, I don't believe in Jesus, but I believe in all gods."

I bit my tongue, fighting back the desire to reply with the numerous fallacies she had just committed with the statement.

Reaganne nodded thoughtfully. "Can you tell us more about that?"

Rena then attempted to explain Hinduism, and I attempted to hold back my frustration. Rena constantly contradicted herself, she talked in circles, and never cited any evidence for her beliefs. To finish off her explanation, she said, "And that's why I believe that Jesus is the same as Allah who is the same as Buddha who is the same as all of the others."

I couldn't take it anymore. "You said you believed in all gods, but now you are saying there is only one and they are all the same. Which is it?"

Source: playbill.com, artist: unknown
"Both," Rena replied immediately, nodding her head as if that finished the matter. and giving me a look that implied I should have known this the whole time.

I stared at her, dumbfounded. How, how. could someone have such an abject disregard for logical thought processes that you could genuinely, happily, believe something so baseless? How?

While my brain was still in "does not compute" mode, Reaganne, thankfully, jumped in. "That's really interesting. Hey, you said you liked to read about all the different religions. Would you like a Bible?"

"No, no, I don't have enough money..."

"It's free, ma'am," Reaganne said. "We'll be coming by this way later in the week, and we would be happy to give you a free Bible."

Rena's eyes got wide. "You would do that? You would give me a free Bible?"

"Absolutely! We'd be happy to!" She said. "Let me just write down your name..."

Rena looked touched, but I didn't care. It was a lost cause. The Bible is a book grounded in reality, history, philosophy. I doubted Rena could understand that.

As we walked away, Reaganne seemed encouraged and related everything that had happened to Rich.

I wanted to be back on my college campus with my atheist and agnostic friends. At least they would listen to reasoning.

The next house we knocked on belonged to a older gentleman who greeted us with a big smile. We'll call him Ahmed. He shook Rich's hand, but did not offer to shake mine or Reaganne's. The answer soon became obvious: it was Ramadan, and I, alas, am female.

He immediately wanted to talk about Christianity. Despite his friendliness, despite the fact that he directed conversation to myself and Reaganne, despite the fact that I found myself sitting down in his living room because he invited us inside, I did not want to talk to him.

I'm a feminist*. It is one of the social issues I am most passionate about. I liked to think I was fairly tolerant towards most beliefs and religions, but the utter hatefulness I had seen directed towards women through men was, apparently, too big for me to reconcile with the grace and love of Jesus Christ. As a child, I grew furious when a male friend told me I could never be president because "I was a girl". As a teenager, I was sickened by the intense desire many of my friends felt to get married because they were taught that women should be nothing more than wives and baby machines. And as a college student, I make many of my choices based on the quote "Do something with your life that would make a white man in the 50's angry". It's a righteous anger, but, as I learned, anger and hatred does nothing to change the status quo, nor does it do anything to proclaim the saving grace of Christ, which is the only way to achieve true equality for everyone.

Back to the story. Ahmed told us about how he had grown up Muslim, but did not find it fulfilling, so he tried Hinduism and Buddhism. He did not like those either, so he tried Christianity. He told us about the church he had visited, and then began singing "This Little Light of Mine". He asked us if we knew any songs. Rich pulled a hymn book out of his backpack (the heck???) and began singing "How Great the Father's Love For Us". Ahmed then said that he eventually returned to Islam, but believed in letting everyone choose their own path. He said he believed that all paths lead to heaven, and that as long as you were kind to everyone, you would be fine. Immediately, the arguments against the "mountain approach" to God appeared in my mind, a list of the fallacies he had just committed, evidence against the validity of Islam, but they stopped when he mentioned his daughters and his wife.

He told us that his wife was currently working and he had to go pick her up soon. He spoke proudly of her and her accomplishments, and happily informed us that they had just celebrated their 45th anniversary. He then talked about his daughters, who were college students and were making excellent grades. He showed us a picture of all of them going on a cruise. Besides the smiling faces and loving arms wrapped around each other's shoulders, I noticed that none of the women wore hijabs, and all wore comfortable shorts and shirts.

Immediately, I wanted to talk to Ahmed. I wanted to tell him about Jesus and His love for Ahmed. I wanted to share how Jesus had done everything necessary to save him. I wanted to tell him how welcome he would be at church.

God interrupted my thoughts, saying, "Kaycee, you are a hypocrite and a pharisee. Your desire to share the Gospel has been corrupted by your religion."

I froze. Vaguely, I heard Rich and Reaganne share the Gospel. Vaguely, I heard them say goodbye to Ahmed. I followed them out the door and continued going house to house with them. We did not get into discussion with anyone else, except for a lone man walking down the street with a Bible. Rich spoke to him briefly, though it was a bit difficult, because the man spoke Spanish and very little English. However, Rich communicated that we were Christians too, and the man smiled widely and said he was glad to have met us.

As if to affirm the love He still felt for me, despite my deep mistakes and sin, God reminded me that He had completely answered Rich's prayer.

That brought me a twinge of hope, that I then destroyed with a single word. Coincidence.

I wanted to go home.

***

*Feminists believe in equality between the genders. Jesus believed in equality between the genders. Therefore, I am a feminist. If you want to know the evidence that supports this, I'd be happy to share with you. If you want to debate me on this, you are welcome to try. However, full disclosure, I will win. :)

Dear Supporters,

This is a rather bleak chapter of my City Project experience, but please, don't be discouraged! The personality I was, the codes I lived by, the arrogance with which I viewed humanity... I needed to be humbled. I look back on this and I count it as joy to suffer for the sake of Christ. As I write about the person I was, I am in awe at the work Jesus has done in me. Spoiler warning, but I am so much more confident while being so much more kind. I am so much more wise while being so much more humble. I am so much more aware of why I need Christ to save me, while being so much more empowered by the fact that I am seen as perfect in God's eyes now. Our God is full of what would be paradoxes in our feeble human minds, but He makes them true.

Again, I cannot thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to be humbled in this way. And hey! This is the first place where you can see the spreading of God's word. Both Rena and Ahmed heard the Gospel that day. Praise God for that!

Also, I want to apologize for the long length of time it took me to write this. School has started again, and Summit has been doing a push on campus to reach out with the Gospel to as many people as possible. Amazing things are happening here.

Your support did not just end with this summer, but it is changing the next generation of students. Please, if you are ever having those days when you feel useless, meaningless, and lonely (I know I have those days) just remember that you are a small thread in an endless, beautiful tapestry; a tapestry that needs every single string to be complete, but the threads don't get to see the entire piece of art they are a part of. You don't know all the intricacies and workings of the Gospel on the campus of NC State's campus. Heck, I don't know all of that, but my little thread is closer to those threads than you might be, and I can see how your contribution of one hundred, fifty, five dollars to that random daughter of a friend you barely know is being used by God to change the lives of many. Please, be encouraged! If you ever want to know specifics, feel free to contact me. I'd love to tell you more!

Thanks for reading! NYC- Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday will be coming soon!

3 comments:

  1. This is beautiful, Kaycee. Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to read (and hear on facetime) about all the rest of the things God did in your life and through City Project this past summer!

    *Also, can't help but add that I, too, believe in equality between genders. Doesn't make me a feminist, though. ;)

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  2. Thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and I can NOT wait to tell you more! There's a lot that I am leaving out that happened over the first two days. It's very hard trying to pick and choose what to share. Some adventures would require too much backstory to explain why they are meaningful, some are too irrelevant to future events, some too personal, some that are too burned into me to be adequately translated into words... all that to say, I can't wait to talk so that I can stammer over some of the adventures I can't write.

    Haha, well, there are different definitions of the word 'feminist'. I'm a feminist by the dictionary definition, not by the definition tainted by people who would more appropriately be called 'misandrists'. I've noticed that a lot of women older than myself are hesitant to call themselves feminists. I was confused at first, but then I realized that my generation's version of feminism is, for the most part, drastically different from the feminism in the 80's and 90's. So no worries on the label, I'm just glad we both desire freedom for men and women! ^_^

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  3. Also, I tagged you for the Small is Beautiful tag that is going on over at PoetreeandBooks. You don't actually have to do anything if you don't want to, of course, but thought I'd let you know about it: http://jenelleschmidt.com/small-is-beautiful/

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