Planting Seeds Week After Week, Year After Year

This fall, we had a meeting with our partners at Helping Hand Rescue Mission in Philadelphia. As we always do, we talked for a while— our partners sharing stories about groups from the summer and the work they were able to accomplish. For some reason, that day, the laughter stood out to me as especially beautiful.

The neighborhood the Mission is located in has undergone a lot of change in recent years. The Mission is housed in a building from 1905. Across the street, new apartments have been springing up. They will sell for a minimum of $750,000. Our partners at Helping Hands are witnessing the struggle in the community as people worry about taxes that will soon rise and social dynamics that are bound to continue changing. Whenever this change happens, there is often a deep fear of the reality that many people in the neighborhood will likely not be able to afford to keep their homes. When our partners speak of the loss of a home or someone nearby moving out of the neighborhood, they don’t just speak of houses and property value, but of neighbors, friends, family members. I am always reminded there is a sacred sense of connection we all grieve when things around us change.

Every group who comes to CSM goes on what we call a “Prayer Tour”. We drive them around the city and teach them about different history: social and economic dynamics, community development work and ministry that is happening in the city they will serve in that week. As we teach them about different things happening in the city, we call on our students to pray for different neighborhoods, people, and organizations. We want to give students as much context as possible for their service that week. We also want students to know if they experience something painful or beautiful— they can talk to God and invite God into that space.

This is a seed we can plant for our students, and a way we intend to sow into the work of places like the Mission.

Last year, we changed our Prayer Tour to drive by Helping Hand Rescue Mission so we could pray for wisdom for them as they serve an ever-changing community. When we visited this fall, we told our partners that though one group a week serves with them, every single student who comes on a CSM trip in Philadelphia learns about them and prays for them.

As I shared this with the two people we sat across from, I saw the woman I was sitting across from well up, as if she was going to cry.

She started to speak. She told us about a group of our students who had helped her to plant perennial flowers outside a few years ago. She said they have bloomed each year since, and that sometimes she sits and watches people pass the Mission, and “sees their faces soften as they look up… because a flower can make a place feel a bit more gentle.” She described the way exterior beauty can draw people into a space where deeper nourishment can happen.

When I got in my car to leave, I felt inclined to look up the word “perennial”. A perennial flower blooms again and again, for a seemingly indefinite period of time. Some synonyms for “perennial” are: abiding, everlasting, constant, endless, undying. The image of resurrection we can understand through perennial flowers—dying and coming alive again— and inviting us into a home where we can truly be nourished-- can teach us much about the love of God. I want my students to know a holy love like this and to act out of a holy love like this. We should all have the gift of knowing a love like this.

The Bible also describes the process of planting and watering seeds and acknowledges the communal process of cultivating a plant, saying God is growing the seed all along. Our community partners here in Philadelphia step into the godly work of growth in their communities. They go so far beyond the planting and watering of seeds individual seeds, as they advocate for justice in our world: for more equitable conditions, a fertile soil where brilliant minds can truly flourish. Our greatest hope is that our students can be a small part of supporting them in their longevity, and that our students can take a week to meet and honor the people participating in consistent, and often difficult, undying heavenly work.

When groups aren’t in town, we meet with partners, improve programming like the Prayer Tour, and do all our planning and scheduling for group arrival. While we have had weekend groups in town, this fall season has also brought us rest, reflection, and ample space to plant seeds for coming seasons. As we look to the new calendar year and move through the winter season, we hope to be intentional with our time, remembering the things we plant now will burst to life in seasons to come as we bear witness to the heavenly work happening here in Philadelphia.

Olivia Campbell Philadelphia Associate City Director