Serving a community often considered the most poverty-stricken city within the United States opened my eyes not only to the daily struggles faced by residents of Camden but also to the social injustice created as a byproduct of politics.
Breathing the putrid air at a playground near the sewage facility, which was considered "acceptable" on that particular day, was only a tiny glimpse into the environment forged upon people living in the vicinity. The definition of poverty for me has been redefined to include socioeconomic disadvantages that prevent a particular group from having a voice in the placement and development of undesirable facilities, such as wastewater systems and prisons.
In addition, interacting with kids K-8, street leaders, and interns at an UrbanPromise after-school program was perhaps the most rewarding and valuable experience from the trip. I had the opportunity to see what Camden was like through their eyes,and, from these exchanges, learn more about community dynamics as well as myself as an individual. The week we helped out in Camden was well-spent and inspires me to pursue engaging in activities with UrbanPromise in the future.
What an awesome experience! Several members of our group had participated in ministries similar to UrbanPromise, but everyone felt that UP had something special. Our time spent at Urban taught all of us a great deal more than what we were expecting. The extreme poverty that has smothered Camden cannot be understood without spending time in Camden. There has to be a change, and Urban is changing the city little by little, and it was wonderful to be a part of that.
We spent most of our time in the Camden Forward School, and it couldn’t have been any better. Working with the teachers and students there was such a blessing to us. Hands down, lunch, recess, and gym were our favorite subjects. I hope that we were able to encourage the teachers as much as they encouraged us. They are living out their faith at UP and putting God’s work first in their lives. As college students, it can be difficult to allow God to guide our lives when we feel so focused on the degrees that we are working toward. If Urban brings God’s love into a city that needs it so much, shouldn’t we be able to find ways to reach out to our campus that greatly needs God too.
The staff that organized all the WorkGroups was far better than we could hope for. We were immediately welcomed when we arrived at Urban, and given a quick introduction to where we would be staying (the Trekker House). Each morning we had devotions with all SIX groups that were at Urban that week. On Tuesday Jim Cummings gave us a more than excellent tour of Camden. This was not your typical tour, we all learned so much, and it broke our hearts to see some of the sights and learn about the history of Camden. We were also treated to a Caribbean beach party, which was the perfect mid-week booster. The food was excellent, especially because several in our group got to help make the shish kabobs. On another night, we had the opportunity to meet the Poet of Poverty, Father Michael Doyle. We watched a movie of his, and dove deeper into the injustices that have befallen Camden. Obviously we were treated very well, and whenever we needed something (whether direction or directions), we were well taken care of.
To sum it all up, we met amazing people at Urban, learned and saw things that will be life changing, and hopefully gave UP back at least half of what we came away with.
University of New England
This trip to UrbanPromise occurred at the perfect time in my life. Lately I had felt like I was walking away from God, without really realizing it. I was on a mission to mature. I had started reading the New York Times every day, cleaning my room and making my bed, and actually reading books outside of class! I guess I was trying to feel accomplished and maybe just like an adult. I noticed however that I never truly felt satisfied, like there was always another step. I was looking for that missing link, and this Spring Break venture to UrbanPromise so clearly showed me the absent piece of the puzzle. I was trying to cross a street to adulthood, but I went without taking God’s hand and looking both ways. In my yearning to act like an adult, I forgot that I was still a child of God’s; a child who must take the hand of his father, and be led through the busy, congested and dangerous road of life.
This week, UrbanPromise put God on the forefront of my mind, where he should have been all along. Different members of the staff gave daily devotionals, speaking about their work and their relationship with God. Multiple times a day we prayed over our food, our work, and the people of Camden, New Jersey. Special events like a tour of the city, a film screening about local Father Michael Doyle, and a dinner and panel discussion with UrbanPromise staff clearly depicted God’s role and presence in the lives of so many hard-working, influential and admirable citizens of Camden.
Throughout the week at Urban I was able to truly see the importance of what this ministry is accomplishing. Camden is a city of immense economic poverty, but what really threatens its future is the rampant mental, emotional and intellectual poverty. This organization works tirelessly to combat the doubts and negativity that consume this loving community of Camden. When kids doubt themselves and their future, many see selling drugs as their only way to financial stability. When parents doubt their children, childhood dreams are dashed. With UrbanPromise this week, my classmates and I contributed our time and energy just to provide some encouragement and to breathe life into the dreams children had been brave enough to dream.
As a result of this week, I do feel that my life has been transformed. On Thursday night, three UrbanPromise staff members came to the church where we were staying to have dinner with us. During desert, they each took turns sharing their testimonies with us along with the stories of how God led them to UrbanPromise. They all spoke with a heart and a certainty that only God provides. Their constant faith was evident and unwavering. This week I saw God brighten lives through my hands and the words and hands of those around me. For the first time in my life, I unquestionably saw God at work, and I am encouraged to continue in ministry as I grow in my faith. I am determined to be sitting at a table like Elise, Matt and Eric did last Thursday night, telling fellow children of the Lord of my testimony, and how UrbanPromise and the city of Camden finally inspired me to know God.
In closing, I reference a passage from Psalms 67. This is a passage that we read as a work group one night after dinner. It reads:
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.
Then the land will yield its harvest,
and God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
I pray for a day when all the people of Camden praise God, and when God himself is the city’s greatest fear. I pray for that day, and I pray that I can use my talents, my time, and my energy to do my part in bringing that day to Camden.
Thank you UrbanPromise for a week that brought 9 students from Colby College closer to God and for a week that I truly believe has changed my life.
Colby College Student
What an amazing week we all have had here in Camden. For some of us it was our first trip in. For others, our second, third, forth, and fifth time in the city. Regardless of the number of times we had been to the city, we were challenged by what we saw, the kids we interacted with, and our role in it all. As college students, we are trying to figure out our calling in life--our vocation. Coming to Camden has opened our eyes a little more to the needs of a broken city, a broken world, and a broken people. Each of us have been wrestling with the questions, "Why are there cities like Camden?" "How do you change the odds for the children who live in this city?" "What is our role?" and "What are things we have learned from UP and the city to take back to our own communities to serve both those who live in our immediate communities and those who live in Camden?" As our week comes to a close we are left with more questions than answers--but maybe that is where we are supposed to be--questioning...searching...
From scraping paint off the trim of a building to getting beat in Connect Four by an eleven year old we have encountered both the beauty and brokenness of humanity. From the heart-breaking stories of the lives of the children to the joy-filled laughter as we played together on the playground we have had the opportunity to experience something life-changing--something Holy.
A first timer on our trip looked at me the first day we were here and said, "Urban Promise is a place that you know has been blessed by God". Thank you Urban Promise for allowing us to come and be a small part of something amazing-- of something that changes the lives of all who are involved-- of something sacred.
Ashley Clayton, Georgetown College
Serving a community often considered the most poverty-stricken city within the United States opened my eyes not only to the daily struggles faced by residents of Camden but also to the social injustice created as a byproduct of politics. Breathing the putrid air at a playground near the sewage facility, which was considered "acceptable" on that particular day, was only a tiny glimpse into the environment forged upon people living in the vicinity.
The definition of poverty for me has been redefined to include socioeconomic disadvantages that prevent a particular group from having a voice in the placement and development of undesirable facilities, such as wastewater systems and prisons. The fact that many kids did not show up on that day of the Olympics was a testament to the repulsive stench there.
In addition, interacting with kids K-8, StreetLeaders, and interns at an UrbanPromise after-school program was perhaps the most rewarding and valuable experience from the trip. I had the opportunity to see what Camden was like through their eyes,and, from these exchanges, learn more about community dynamics as well as myself as an individual. The week we helped out in Camden was well-spent and inspires me to pursue engaging in activities with UrbanPromise in the future.
-Tracy, Bowdoin College
Six students from UrbanPromise Academy traveled to Transvolcanic Mountains of Michoacán Mexico this past February. The students had the opportunity to do field research on pre-selected subjects and to meet with rural Mexican school students who are also studying the Monarch Butterfly and its migration north. Here are a few pictures of our travels.
It’s a bit of an unlikely recipe: take 19 college students from southern California and have them shovel snow in Camden, NJ. But believe it or not, that’s what we did and we enjoyed it! Our first day of work was a good one spent working in the snow, a new experience for many of us. We are a group of students from Pepperdine University, all connected by a college ministry group at Malibu Presbyterian Church. For a group of college kids far from home, snow shoveling can be a quality bonding experience.
So while we weren’t able to work with the kids on Monday as many of us had planned, it presented an opportunity to watch the documentary Ordinary Radicals about Shane Claiborne and the Jesus for President book tour. To say the least, it sparked some lively discussion about vocation, calling, and the will of God in our lives. It’s pretty hard to come from suburbia to UrbanPromise without being challenged regarding the will of God for us as Christians.
Tuesday was a bit more of a “normal” day. We went on a tour of Camden with Jim Cummings, which was both incredibly challenging and informative. Later, we sorted books, put seats in the bus, worked in the school, and participated in the after school programs in the afternoon. It truly is a joy to work with the kids and see the joy and hope instilled in them by Christ through UrbanPromise. In the evening we had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion with some of the program directors and interns. There’s light in darkness, joy in struggling, and a fearless refusal to allow these children to succumb to the odds of their surroundings. Indeed, all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us.
The rest of the week consisted of more of the same amazing things: working with kids, building relationships, learning about and praying for this broken city, and helping with the many work projects around the UrbanPromise campus. We’ve bonded as a team, done some work, and also hopefully have done some good.
The week has been Spirit-led, and a late night brainstorming session has led to us executing the first few steps of a potential new program at UrbanPromise. We’re looking into foreclosed properties and using workgroup labor to make them places of life once again. This is the first step in a much more ambitious idea, but we’ve spoken with Bruce Main and will just have to wait and see where it goes.
We leave tomorrow; it’s a bit crazy to think about. We’ve heard so many stories, and seen so much joy that the skeptics would say is impossible. We’ve seen the transforming power of Christ that is possible when His children just go and do His will. We’ve been greatly and profoundly impacted by this trip, both by UrbanPromise and the city of Camden. I have a feeling that several of us will be back very, very soon.
UrbanPromise was blessed last Wednesday to have 45 managers from the new Nordstrom's store in Cherry Hill, NJ come and spend a day serving the youth of Camden. We look forward to a continued partnership!
Staff & Youth of UrbanPromise
Please take a moment to enjoy a video Jennifer Herron, one of our talented AfterSchool Program directors created to illustrate the power of one program in a family's life.