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Hard Lessons from the Streets of Toronto

I cried this week.  For the first time since my hosting experience commenced, I unabashedly let water collect in my eyes as my voice cracked awkwardly, then as I tried to speak through the tears I just let go and cried.  This happened during our Final Challenge, a beautiful Friday night of reflection, discussion, and praise for each other’s gifts.  I did not cry out of desperation or sorrow, but out of overwhelming joy and pleasure in seeing the spiritual growth and love that transpired over the week.  I cried because I am finally getting it:  there is no joy greater than the delight in the Lord, and to be united under the cause of Christ and to tap into his power for change together as Christians is the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of.  I’m finally asking myself, “Why would you ever do anything else?”
For some reason, God chose to reveal more burdensome encounters to this group than to any of my other groups combined, from an alcoholic screaming in agony that he wants to die, to a prostitute waiting on a corner.  Through it all, the students and leaders took God’s hand and pressed on, allowing themselves to be immersed in the filth of the city while simultaneously hunting for God’s fingerprints as beacons of hope and solace. I overheard them comparing the CSM Toronto trip to their past mission trips in Mexico where they just “built stuff.”  It was hilarious to me when Marc Porpilia, their leader, playfully remarked “Yeah, this whole people thing is pretty weird, huh?”
The amazing thing was when this group from Pittsford Community Church in Rochester, NY really got it. By the end of the week, they weren’t praying for God to end homelessness or prostitution or drugs or violence or gentrification or any of the “it,” they were praying for the people.  We discussed how the more you truly abide in God and “dig for gold in the scriptures rather than rake for leaves,” (John Piper, Desiring God), the easier it is to have a loving heart for people in the city.  We all learned that the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is not just about the negative of killing your own self love, but about restoring yourself to a new kind of love—“a charity and gratitude for all selves, including your own” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters).  
This week showed me that it is always the best policy to pledge allegiance to God, especially when you don’t know what this will mean.  Most likely, it will mean immense joy and growth, and maybe you will cry.  I did.  And through it all, I am learning that God commands we find joy in loving people: “[Let] the one who does acts of mercy [do so] with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:8).  
-Jennifer, CSM Toronto City Host Summer 2008