Here is an old newspaper column I wrote after chaperoning a mission trip to New York with some lovely young men and women. Such sweet memories.
I’m feeling a bit like Dan Ulmer this week in as much as I kissed the ground at the Minneapolis airport after spending seven days in New York City, plus two days of travel time.
It was not a sightseeing trip, but I saw many sights. There were 23 youth, ages 14-18, from Charity Lutheran Church chaperoned by four adults on this particular journey to the inner city under the guidance of the New York School of Urban Ministry in Queens, New York.
It was the most awesome and the most grueling week I have ever spent away from home.
New York City has population of 8,104,079 in five boroughs – Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island. I have been to each of them.
Our group traveled by subway for the most part. My neck was stiff from counting 23 heads over and over as we made our way around New York on the public transit system. It is not a new thing for these people. Rapid transit, consisting of above ground El (elevated) trains, began as early as 1829 transporting tourists to Coney Island in Brooklyn. At that time Coney Island was a popular resort destination. That wasn't the case for us.
It was Oct. 27, 1904, that the Inter borough Rapid Transit Subway, or IRT, became the first subway company in New York City. Even with elevated train lines springing up around the city, the need for an underground rapid transit railroad was obvious as a solution to street congestion in an ever growing city and also to assist development in outlying areas. With this new mode of underground transportation, the subway, New York would never be the same. The subway system in New York celebrates over 100 years of public transportation.
Living on the plains, we don't really fancy public transportation, but it’s a good thing in a way. For a week, I didn’t have to worry about gas or car maintenance, not to mention driving in New York’s very narrow streets. You see, not every place in the world has the wide-open country side like we do.
Our first day in the city began at Coney Island. Only those of us over the age of 40 had even heard of it before this trip. At the mention of the name, people wrinkle their noses, and ask “you didn’t go into the water, did you.” Not really. We did walk over the hot sand to the shore line, but we were there primarily to serve the soup and bread from a mobile kitchen to people barely surviving in this high-rent city.
It was hot in New York City, very hot, but the men, women and children were grateful, many asking for extra bread to take home. It could be the only food they had to eat that day.
During the course of the rest of the week...
I saw Ground Zero, and I saw people sleeping on the ground.
I saw the Statue of Liberty and I prayed for freedom from the things that tie people to this earth.
I saw Trump Tower, and I towered over broken people lying on the street.
I saw Phantom of the Opera and I saw what personal ghosts can do to people.
I saw trees growing out of the tops of skyscrapers and I saw teenagers grow up.
I saw Times Square, and witnessed the power of Pastor David Wilkinson preach at Times Square Church.
I saw the neon cross of St. Paul’s Mission, located in Manhattan’s west side, that reads “Get right with God.” This cross, in New York's 'Hell's Kitchen' district, appears in the opening credits of 1970s Saturday Night Live episodes. Another one of those trivial bits of information that gets lost on the younger than 40 crowd.
That group of youngsters had never been exposed to our particular type of upscale accommodations. We slept in an old hospital wing with no air conditioning. We ate cafeteria style and had to take turns with kitchen duty. We barely had time to sleep with NYSUM's mission schedule taking us out the door by 6:30 a.m. and sometimes not getting back until midnight.
Perhaps, it was this lack of rest that caused us all to feel like New York City rocked and swayed all the time. The subway trains rocked on the tracks. The sidewalks rocked with the subways running underneath. The churches rocked with the Holy Spirit.
There hasn't been time to digest it all.
I just remember being like 27 little white lights walking around in a city of diverse ethnic groups.
I am sure there are New Yorkers that will never forget we were there, and that we will never forget New York either.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.