Central United Methodist Church/Wells United Methodist Church, Jackson, Mississippi

Read reflections from students who have interned in Jackson, Mississippi:

Letting the Youth Lead me to the Kingdom - July 27, 2009

by Cristina Comer

This summer I have encountered God in many ways. I wish I could recount them all. One of the primary ways I have seen God at work is through the youth at Central United Methodist Church and Wells United Methodist Church in Jackson, Miss. I was able to go on a mission trip to Tampa, Florida with the Wells UMC youth, and it was truly life-changing. It was my first mission trip with youth. (I had previously only gone on adult or college-age mission trips.) That all the youth really made their best efforts to get along with each other and to help each other out was so inspiring! It was quite evident through the course of the week that they were processing the work that they were doing for God and their neighbor (even though these neighbors were strangers to them). I could tell that we were all being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and that we were beginning to see the world in new ways.

The youth at Central UMC were equally inspiring. They helped run the Summer Enrichment Program and managed over 150 children. They taught the children liturgical dance and church songs and played all sorts of games with them. The youth even organized, by themselves, a water day for the children, complete with water balloons and water guns. The fact that these teenagers were willing to devote five, full, unpaid weeks of their summer to the children in the Farish Street community is awe-inspiring. I am so grateful that they allowed me to help them and participate in the fun!

I have seen the work of Christ in these young people, and they have exemplified what it is to never give up. I am thankful for the time I have been able to spend with them and for the motivation they have given me to finish strong my last year of Divinity School. I have always been somewhat intimidated by working with youth because of all the many issues they face and by the need to talk through drugs, sex, violence, alcohol, abuse, divorce, and all sorts of other difficult topics with them. It is not easy being a teenager; this I remember well. But I also well remember my own youth group, and I know that I would not be where I am today without the support I found in my church’s youth group and the youth groups at my friends’ churches. I pray that God may equip me to serve, serve with, learn from, and be inspired by the beautiful youth of God’s kingdom.

Cristina Comer participated in a summer Field Education placement with the Teaching Communities Program at Central United Methodist Church in Jackson, Miss.

I Want to Live It - July 6, 2009

by Courtney Bryant

I overestimated myself.  I have had experience after experience of being “the fly in the buttermilk,” the only black person in all-white communities.  I have taught people how to acknowledge that as Americans we live in a racialized society.  I have led seminar after seminar helping people deal with the baggage of race in the classroom and in the office.  Still, I was not prepared for the things God would show me in the first five weeks of living in Jackson, Mississippi.  What God has shown me is that the same issues of race, class, and denominational superiority about which I have criticized countless others hold my worldview hostage as well.

In the first few weeks of my placement, I found myself angry, judgmental, and hesitant to engage those who did not share my experience or opinions.  Even when I did, I secretly harbored assumptions, indictments, and feelings of superiority within.  “Methodists don’t worship authentically… White people pretend they want to help, but all the while they relish the power they have over those who are black and poor… I know I should go over and talk to them, but what do I have in common with someone who can’t read and smells so bad…?”  Somehow I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and nowhere felt quite like home.  The black people didn’t share my educational background, the Christians didn’t share my worship style, and the women were white and thought more about feminism than racism.  I was used to these kinds of situations, but at the end of the day I had always been allowed to return home.  I had always had a place and a time of rest where the people looked like me, and talked like me, and thought like me.  I have yet to find a place like that in Jackson.

For these reasons and so many more, I have existed as the outsider, the foreigner in the Jackson community, giving me a new understanding of the need to belong and to call someplace home.  In an effort to create a sense of home and safety, I have found myself reaching out to people for reasons other than the typical, visible, surface reasons.  Cristina, my fellow sojourner in this mission, has become like a sister to me—someone with whom I can truly share my frustrations, joys, and struggles.  Our relationship came into being very organically, and the fact that she is white and Methodist has never been an issue.  Our journey and our theological training have made us kin.

Surprisingly, those I felt most uncomfortable reaching out to in the beginning –the people who frequent the food pantry –have become my biggest supporters.  One day I asked God what I should do to reach out to them, and the answer I received was, “Pray with them.”  I obeyed, and my life and worldview will never be the same.  There is something tremendously equalizing about praying with a person, eyes closed and heads bowed before the Lord.  Clothes, education and life circumstances seem inconsequential.  There you are, two souls seeking your mutual God.  Not only does it equalize, but it unites, so that when you open your eyes you no longer see class or race or any other societal construct that might divide:  you see your brother or sister trying to make something of this thing called life, just like you.

This transformation is powerful and inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time, because you know that you will never have all the answers or resources to bring all of God’s children into a place where they can thrive and where, as the Bible says, “justice will roll down like a river.”  But it certainly makes you want to try.  Coming to the conclusion that people of the world are truly interconnected comforts you, because you know that you are not alone in the world no matter how far from home you might be, and that through your brothers and sisters you can in fact experience God.  These realizations have confirmed my desire to be a part of the work of reconciliation both personally and vocationally.  I want to preach it; I want to teach it; but most of all, I want to live it.

Courtney Bryant is a Duke Divinity student who interned in Jackson, Mississippi with Wells Street United Methodist Church.  Courtney is planning to graduate with a Masters of Divinity in 2011.  Wells Street United Methodist Church proclaims a holistic gospel and an inclusive ministry, as well as a congregational commitment to reconciliation.