this summer, i participated in a six-week mission trip called the los angeles urban project, or LAUP.
LAUP is partnered with intervarsity christian fellowship, and sends college students and recent grads all around los angeles to live with and work with the urban poor.
my team was placed in west long beach.
we worked with fountain of life covenant church’s family center, tutoring k-12 kids.
this is the story of when i led worship on a container ship.
before we begin, dear reader, i’m afraid you may feel like you’ve skipped a chapter in a book, and some things may miss your darling brain. so, this bitty intro here provides some context to keep you informed. if you think you know enough, then by all means, skip this chapter and read ahead. but, for everyone else, please stay and read.
my team this summer consisted of five lovely souls beside my own: jeff, emaly, michael, and kim, our ASC, or team leader. we stayed at the house of a biracial white/indian couple, who we called mama fay and papa chim. papa chim is a retired chaplain at the port of long beach, and had been serving for over twenty years, building relationships with captains and seamen, even occasionally housing a few.
papa chim invited us to go to the ports with him to sing worship songs to the crew before they set off to japan. we had to get cleared by the ports a few days in advance, and had to leave the family center early that day.
well then. now that you are filled in, reader, so begins the story of my favorite day of LAUP.
tuesday, 18 july 2017
PORT OF LONG BEACH – 6PM
it takes 10 days to get from long beach to japan, by ship.
24 hours to unload,
then 10 more days to get back.
21 days of work
and 4 days off.
they choose to spend one of days those with us.
it felt like we got out of school early. we cut tutoring short so we could get to the ports by 6pm.
we were laughing and bouncing and yelling in the car, just a bunch of kids on their way to a shipyard after school.
we meet up with papa chim and sam, his chaplain friend, at the port of long beach. they came with a stack of pizzas, we came with a guitar and djembe, ready to worship.
we were taken to the captain’s quarters, towards the top of the ship. ported, it looked down on the shipping yard, as giant cranes lifted crates from floor to ship.
we climb all over the couches, children in dad’s office, gaping at the giant claw-machines grabbing for prizes.
we fight for window space,
i shove emaly out of the way. with my face pressed into the thick bolted glass window, i can kind of make out the neighborhood of my beachside apartment.
i look down at the faded blue and red crates, stacked like a building.
this is something i didn’t think i would see when i signed up to tutor third graders for a summer.
the captain takes us to the bridge, the main steering room.
we take the elevator up, which made me nervous only because mama fay told us a story about a little boy who died in a ship’s elevator once;
his body got caught between the inner and outer door, and when it shut, the elevator pulled down half of him with it.
we pile in.
it feels like a coffin.
i am matchboxed in between six other bodies.
this casket of an elevator makes my back cold and wet with confinement sweat.
the elevator stops and i get out last, making sure to jump out with both feet so i don’t get caught in between anything.
on deck, we touch and take pictures of just about everything. the bridge is panoramic. it overlooks the entire port and everything going on below.
we make our way into a small common room.
sam and papa chim introduce us as missionaries. and before we start singing, sam says a few words
when they were our children, they were bad.
but when they become God’s children, they become better, and good.
i made mistakes, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was fun, and a privilege to lead worship on a ship, for a group of men about to go out on a 10 day journey.
our presence to these seamen was very important, as papa chim explained a few nights earlier.
they go out to sea and have a grueling schedule, one that allows for very little downtime. they often leave behind family for months at a time and completely change crews after a full shipment.
it’s a lonely job, especially for the captain, his authority ostracizing him from his crew most of the time.
the thing with LAUP is that we are put into an environment we’re not all entirely used to; one that is meant to show us what underprivelage looks like,
living in lower class neighborhoods, living on a stipend of $175 a week, living in the confines of a 1 mile radius from our site.
and it’s not to be a tourist at a zoo; we are there to integrate with, build relationships with, and sympathize with the people of our community; being a christian is all about community living, and you can only do that if you live in community with all of God’s people, from all parts of privilege.
so when we got this special treatment, it was displacing, uncomfortable,
and made slightly more uncomfortable when i learned that the pizzas papa chim and sam brought had disappeared along with a majority of the crew, and we were set to eat a dinner with the captain only. it was prepared by and served by ansari, a crew member who stayed extra long and took extra pictures with us after worship.
after dinner, the captain takes us to explore the engine. we each get a pair of earplugs because it’s so loud.
and for the rest of the time we were on the ship, i let myself just be there, and stay innocent to what i know is a very hard life.
we reach the very bottom and take the elevator up; too many stairs to climb.
i came back outside with the same amount of privilege i came in with.
stipend living does not take away our college educations, our living in a first world country, our ability to give up six weeks of our summers, to not have a job
and to live with the people that must.
the only difference is that now, i know what it looks like. and as simple as it is, that’s all i needed.
this is the second piece in a series of LAUP stories. click here to find more.