Our SMI team working with “The Rock” ministries in Kensington

If you could ask any member of my team what they would remember most about the weather of the first week and a half of SMI, I can almost guarantee that they would reply emphatically with one word: HOT.

According to the Weather Channel app today the weather in North Philly feels like 106° Fahrenheit. Though the weather has caused many of us to drench more than one pair of scrubs in sweat and has sent one of our interpreters to the hospital, it has also provided a unique way to serve the community of North Philadelphia. 

My outreach team is partnering with Calvary Chapel of Kensington or “The Rock”, a church stationed on one of the streets heavy with drug abuse. We had the opportunity to offer free health screenings to the people along Kensington Avenue over the past couple of days by setting up our medical supplies on the sidewalk right outside of the church. We provided free water to the community, as many people do not have easy access to drinking water—even on days that soar into the 100s. When those passing by saw that we had free, ice cold water for them to drink, many of them were interested in the work we were doing, and we were able to share about the free medical screenings we were conducting. Many people were willing to stay and be screened, and also talk about their lives. 

One young woman in particular touched my heart. She told me how she has been living in Philly for the last six months and was in rehab from drug addiction, but is now back living on the streets, still addicted. Even though she would be seen as a “failure” in the eyes of the world because she did not succeed in overcoming her addiction, I thought about the fact that she too is beloved and treasured in the eyes of God. She even told me about her encounter with God and said that she hadn’t found Jesus. He had found her. She told me how someone had given her a Bible and how she had been learning a lot about Jesus lately.

She said she didn’t really like going to church because she didn’t think she looked nice enough. She told me how she uses a sharpie marker to touch up her eyeliner. I was able to talk with her about how God really doesn’t care about her appearance; he loves us just as we are. A small, shy smile lit her face when she heard this and she said that she would like to believe God is like that.

My heart ached for her as she walked away. Even though I was able to talk with her for those few moments and to give her water to help her stay hydrated, I felt powerless to improve her status in life in any other way. That made me think about the hope that the gospel offers. Even though surrendering her life to God would not immediately fix the young woman’s living conditions, it would set her free from the sin and lies that entangle her heart, mind, and spirit. Whether we have a “successful” life according to the world’s standards and enjoy an abundance of material possessions, or whether we are homeless and sick in body and in mind, we all need God’s grace and forgiveness in order to experience true peace and joy. I am praying I will see this young woman on the street when I go to church next Sunday and that she will be willing to go into the service with me. 

Talking with this young woman and many others on the streets of North Philly has opened my eyes to how broken the world is, but how God meets us in our brokenness and transforms us into conquerors through Christ. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs by All Sons & Daughters titled “Brokenness Aside,” which has the following lyrics:

I am a sinner, if it’s not one thing it’s another…
But you are a savior and you take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful.

Whether it’s anger or impatience, insecurity or worry, idolization of grades or addiction to drugs, we all struggle with sin in our lives. Sometimes we try to hide or minimize our sin by focusing on visible problems like financial resources and physical health. But ultimately, I am no different from people who are addicted to drugs and living on the street. We are all sinners, lost in our brokenness. The only hope for the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, the educated and the uneducated is the saving grace of Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection. 

Though each day is exhausting, I am thoroughly enjoying meeting fellow believers in the medical field and learning from the people who live every day in this community. I am privileged to be able to live among North Philadelphians for these few weeks, and I am looking forward to celebrating the 4th of July with my fellow Americans.   

—Suzanne Courter
SMI 2018