A Life-Chaning Homelessness Activity in Denver

This summer I went on a mission trip to Denver, Colorado with a church from Austin. I have been helping with the youth at my church in Lubbock for years, but I had never worked with this youth group before. I was very nervous and excited about the trip. I had no idea what to expect from CSM but I was ready to see what God had in store for me on this trip. After getting to know the freshman class of this youth group who I would be serving with we began our week in Denver. While I still knew very little about these kids, I could tell they were a little out of their comfort zone.

We began the week with our walking tour around the Five Points neighborhood. While the tour of the neighborhood was fun and educational, it wasn’t what stuck with the kids. While I was walking with my group, we came across a man experiencing homelessness who offered insight on the history of the neighborhood. The kids were a little nervous talking to him at first but they soon realized that he was a person just like them. We talked with him for several minutes and the kids asked so many questions of their own. We asked if we could pray for him and then we went on our way. This encounter really set the tone for the rest of the trip for these kids. They talked about the man for the rest of the day and I could tell their interaction had sparked some kind of flame inside of them. Their nervousness began to melt and they started to get more and more involved in our activities.

As the week continued, the students began to come out of their shells more and more. Several of the activities we were involved with through CSM opened the eyes of these kids to a world outside of their own.

During debriefs in the evenings it became more apparent that the things we were doing during the day were having an actual impact on these kids.

I could see it in the rest of the youth group as well. 

I think the climax of the trip came when we participated in a homelessness immersion activity. We spent several hours walking around Denver seeing what it would be like to spend a day on the streets. Walking around a city in the heat of the day with no money isn’t something we were used to doing. We followed the instructions and it was clear the activity was having an impact on the kids. However, I don’t think things really set in until my group of kids tried to sit down on the side of a building in the shade. We had been walking for several hours at this point and most of the kids were hot and tired. We had just finished asking a man on the street some questions. The kids had not been sitting for more than a minute when two police officers walked up and told them they couldn’t sit there. The police explained that this rule was to prevent people experiencing homelessness from loitering. The kids apologized and stood back up. As the police walked away I could see that this had been a pivotal moment for them. It’s one thing for them to be taught what it’s like to be homeless, but it was another for them to be treated like it. They were hot, tired, thirsty, and they had less than $15 dollars between them. 

Moments like this that made it clear that their eyes had genuinely been opened. They talked about this experience constantly for the rest of the trip. It was easy to see that this trip had been different than any trip before. It wasn’t just another church camp to some city out of state.

I could fill a book with details of my week in Denver but all of the stories had the same effect on these kids. They began the week well within their comfort zone and by the end of the trip I had seen a huge change in these kids that I had only just met. This trip was one that I not only enjoyed immensely but would love to be a part of again.

Gabriel Reyna
Lubbock, TX

TestimonyEmily Kelley