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  • Reclamation

    Geraldine, from the nearby housing project, showed up. So did the guy from the local food market. Others from the community also came by to see the final creation.

           It was Reclamation, the end-of-project showing from Cru Transform Arts. Fourteen college students from around the country had been in New York for several weeks. They had honed their artistic skills as they collaborated on works of film, dance/drama, music and visual arts.

           They had also sought to be a blessing to their community.

           “This project completely revolutionized my understanding of how my faith and my art fit together,” enthused Lindsey, a visual artist and woodworker from Tennessee.

           In partnership with two other students, she had constructed a representation of the New Jerusalem, God’s reclamation of the world. The young man from the food market, an avowed unbeliever, spent a long time alone in the New Jerusalem piece. When he came out, he said he felt transported, that he was small but somehow significant.

           He and several of the students are now keeping connected via Facebook.

           The largest piece in the exhibit represented the progression of beauty: the highly sexualized version the world seems to value, the broken pieces of self image when we don’t measure up, and the reclaimed beauty of a person redeemed by God.

           Durell, a dancer from east Texas, saw over and over how art connects with the soul. “God and art are intended to be put together,” he said. Durell was part of a dramatic performance, New Heart, and one observer reflected, “That’s my story; that’s my life.”

           During their weeks in New York, the students also interacted with people in the community using Soularium (spiritual conversation cards). They found New Yorkers willing to engage in personal discussions – one lasted an hour and a half!

           Art can have a powerful influence on culture. These students are armed with fresh passion to bring their art and their faith together as they return to their home communities.

  • Basketball as a Bridge

           The scene could have looked a lot different – hostile words, maybe a brawl. After all, the park was teeming with teens from two rival housing projects. Their usual interaction involved guns, knives and fists.

           But on a hot June Saturday, what brought them together was basketball, a Street2Street tournament organized by two local churches. And what calmed the atmosphere was the message of the gospel, proclaimed as the tournament began and reinforced throughout the day.

           Street2Street (S2S) is an inner-city outreach of Athletes in Action (Cru’s ministry to athletes) in partnership with local churches. About 80 youths were drawn to this tournament by neighborhood fliers, word of mouth - and lots of prayer by the host churches.

    Before play began, Chris Bahamonde, church youth leader and one of the tournament organizers, challenged the participants to put their faith in Christ. No matter who would win that day, he told them, a trophy doesn’t make you a champion. “If you know Christ, you are always a champion.” Many of the teens indicated they wanted Christ in their lives.

    Throughout the day-long double-elimination tournament, volunteers from the churches coached and encouraged the players. Though this area of Staten Island is always troubled, the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy have made life even more unsettled.

    The championship games in both age groups (13-15 and 16-18) each involved teams from rival projects. The air was electric as they took the courts, and the games were hard-fought. But miraculously, each ended with hugs and handshakes.

    Chris reports ongoing contact with many of the participants. Basketball is a language that the youth in his community understand. That makes it a great bridge to the gospel. Chris concludes, “To them, basketball is everything. They need to know that there is more to life than that.”

    S2S tournaments are going on all summer throughout the metro area.

  • Serving the City in the Summer

    A panel of students from Medgar Evers talks about the importance of community

    The room was buzzing with friendly conversation. Some voices had an unmistakable southern lilt, others sounded international, and a few seemed firmly rooted in New York.

           It was the weekly gathering of Cru’s Campus Summer Project. The 15 project students and eight Cru staff were joined by students involved in Cru from New York. There was joyful worship, practical teaching, and a lively exchange of experiences. And, of course, there was food.

           The teaching emphasis that night was on the importance of community. No one can grow in faith in isolation. Several students shared how their Christian relationships had been vital as they weathered difficult seasons in their lives.

           The 15 project students, many from the southeast, are divided into three teams, and each team is spending time on three different campuses during their four weeks in New York.

           Their goal: to engage in gospel conversations.

           One team had been at St. John’s University the day before. Two of the men, Greg and Keith, approached Wilson, who was hanging out on campus. Using Perspective Cards (spiritual conversation cards), they sought Wilson’s views on several spiritual issues.

           Almost immediately, they were joined by Jordan, Wilson’s friend. Jordan is a Psychology major and is planning to go to Law School. He jumped right into the conversation, and soon he and Greg were talking earnestly about faith issues.

           It was clear that God and spiritual things were important to Jordan, and soon Greg was talking through the gospel with him. By the end of their conversation, Jordan bowed his head, opening his heart to the Lord!

           Greg anticipates ongoing contact with him during the project’s remaining days.

           The project participants are not only serving New York spiritually; they are also helping physically. The day after their weekly meeting they worked on Hurricane Sandy relief through a church in Broad Channel, Queens.

  • The Power of the Gospel

    “How can that be possible?” Thea asked with a baffled look. She had just read John 3:3. “How can a person who is alive be born again?”

           What is it like to be delving into the Bible for possibly the first time? For many of the people who attend Bible studies at the Christian Embassy, learning about Jesus is a new experience. It can be exciting, and it can be troubling.

           The Christian Embassy ministry of Cru serves as a resource and a respite for diplomats at the United Nations and their families. Bible study is one of the resources.

           Thea continued to grapple with questions about eternal life, and by the end of the study, her understanding had grown. Her face shining, she said that, when she returns to her home country this summer, “I know I will take eternal life with me!”

           Other women in the diplomat wives Bible studies are making profound discoveries. Their comments give a taste of their journey:

    ·         I have been thinking a lot of things I haven’t thought before. In particular, I have been re-evaluating the Bible. I have never thought seriously about it. I always thought it was a storybook or full of myths or philosophies that don’t agree with those of my country.

    ·         I have always thought religion was superstition, but through reading and studying, it is really touching me – especially Jesus’ sacrifice.

    ·         When I read and think about what the Bible says, I know there is something about it that is different. It has touched me in a very special way. I still have a lot of questions, but I think I have to reconsider. Maybe in the future I will believe. Not a pretend or superficial belief, but really believe.

           The goal of the Christian Embassy is to influence political leaders at the highest levels in every nation to truly follow Jesus. So far, so good.

  • A Gift of Kindness

                                Jimmy Badillo

    There he was again. Every time Jimmy and his wife came or went on the subway, they saw the same bedraggled man just inside the entrance to their local station. It had been a relentlessly cold winter in New York, but the man usually wore just a t-shirt, pants and socks.

           Jimmy would always greet him warmly, and though the man responded, he was very lethargic. He seemed depressed, almost without hope.

           It was in the midst of a particularly bad cold spell that Cru Inner City distributed Homeless Care Kits through partner churches in New York. Folded in a large warm blanket were gloves, socks, a hat, a scarf, bottled water, food, Christian materials and a hand-decorated card.

           As Jimmy’s church in the Bronx prepared to give out the Kits they had received from Cru, Jimmy and his wife both thought of Bill, the man at the subway.

           When Bill saw the couple coming, his face lit up. Here were the people who actually noticed him.

           Jimmy bent down and offered Bill a Kit. The first thing Bill said was, “Can you pray for me?” They prayed, and then they opened the Kit. Bill immediately put on the extra socks – he said his feet were so cold. He put on the gloves, then the hat, then he wrapped the blanket around him.

    As he drank from the water bottle, he asked Jimmy where everything had come from. Jimmy explained that people who love Jesus had given money to provide them. Bill said, “But why would they do that? They don’t know me?” It opened a perfect opportunity to tell him the good news of the gospel.

    The next time Jimmy was by the subway, he was surprised to notice Bill was no longer there. At first he was concerned, but then he learned that Bill had moved into a shelter and was taking steps toward getting his life back together. It seems that receiving the gift from Jimmy and his wife had broken his depression and begun to restore his hope. Other people really did care.

  • A Story with Unexpected Twists

    It seemed like a dream come true. Trey had just graduated from Yale University and had landed a great job in an investment bank in New York City.

           At home in Los Angeles following graduation, Trey plotted out the life he hoped to live in New York starting in the fall. A strong believer, Trey knew it would be vital for him to anchor himself in a solid Christian community.

           But it turned out that good intentions weren’t enough. At work, the pressure to produce was enormous, and Trey found himself caught up in comparison and competition with others. He remembers, “I put an unwarranted amount of value on past personal accomplishments and an exorbitant amount of pressure on achieving future ones.”

           He continues, “As a result, all of my plans to flourish as a believer and get connected with other Christians imploded…I immersed myself in the materialistic, success-oriented, wealth-and-power-driven culture that is so prevalent in parts of the financial world.”

           But only a few months into Trey’s new life, everything changed.

           Bad enough that Hurricane Sandy had just stormed through. Trey was huddled in darkness, trying to keep warm, when the phone rang. His firm was laying off thousands of workers, and he was one of them.

           “After all of the displays of self-centered ambition and hard work for the purposes of personal achievement and popularity, I had nothing to show for it,” laments Trey. “It was all gone.”

           “It was by God’s grace that He humbled me, and it is by His grace that He sustains me in that humility. Five months after being laid off, I still do not have a job. But it is not a job that He is after; it is my heart.”

           Trey credits Cru Millennials with being part of God’s process in his life. He adds, “It is through Cru that I have found the accountability and fellowship I longed for, the church I desperately wanted, and the close relationship with God I needed.”

           For Trey, a new dream is taking shape.