February 2017

By Michael Martens

I thought these were going to be the worst two weeks of my life.

Juan and Victor were the first two men we met on our trip. They lived on the West Side of Chicago, in one of the worst neighborhoods. On the first day, my Renew group met up with Juan and Victor at the YMEN Center (young men’s educational network), where they worked. That’s where our Renew journey began.

When I close my eyes I can still picture Juan waving his hands around, inside work gloves completely covered in dirt, saying loudly and firmly: “Get ready to work today. It’s not going to be easy, and you are going to encounter difficult people and difficult situations. Take a look at yourself, you are difficult. But you are loved. Today, we will be helping out in the community, which God has placed Victor and me. But the most important thing I want you to remember is: In this life it is not about the work that you’ll face but it is all about the relationships that you’ll make on your journey.”

With those wise words, we were off on our first day of serving. We walked across the street where these two men kindly showed us the apartments they lived in. When my hand gripped the cold metal stair railing, I could feel it was coming loose, and the stairs felt as if they were going to fall through underneath me. But nothing could prepare me for what I would face seeing upstairs.

All I could think is, how do people so close to our homes live like this?

This place did not even come close to acceptable living conditions. The floor was missing in some areas, there was no plumbing or running water, no electricity or heat. We were not even allowed to walk in some of the rooms because of the mold build-up — it was too dangerous to enter.

But instead of fixing the place where these two men lived, we went down to Christ’s Vineyard CRC where these two men’s faith was built. Our group spent our afternoon painting, cleaning, and organizing this church. There’s no other way to describe it than strenuous, hard work.

After our work at the church, all I wanted to do was go home. But our work was not even close to done.

Next we went to a Chicago Public School to help out there. This school was nothing close to Timothy. There was no technology in the building and there were staff teaching multiple grades. They desperately needed help fixing and cleaning the school. Walking through the hallways peering into the classrooms, I would make eye contact with the kids; and in that moment I knew they were our brothers and sisters in Christ and I was called to help them.

Throughout the week, we continued to work with Juan and Victor serving around the West Side of Chicago. I truly believe meeting them was my God moment.

What I thought were going to be the worst two weeks of my life turned out to be some of the best. Without Renew, I would have never had the opportunity to meet these two men. Juan and Victor live their lives and serve in the image of God. Through them we were able to spread the message of Christ, not only through words, but through our actions. My take-away from this Renew course is that God has shown us incredible and indescribable love and it is our job to spread and show that love to others.