Each year, Here's Life Inner City's Summer in the City projects provide college students with endless opportunities to tell others about God's love and forgiveness. They also help new Christians grow in their blossoming faith.
It's what groups of inspired and enthusiastic young people expect to do when they spend several weeks in the city assisting ministries with ongoing programs, special events, and evangelistic outreaches.
Many students, though, don't expect to learn as much as they do through the very people they set out to help.
Pau Abad Tent, a 20-year-old student from Denia, Spain, flew across an ocean to participate in last year’s Chicago Summer in the City project. A friend had done the same in Los Angeles the year before.
Pau wanted to serve God, especially related to verses he had read about Jesus' care for those in need. "I couldn't say I had ever served God in terms of serving people in words and deeds," Pau says.
While helping in the greenhouse at Pacific Garden Mission, a homeless shelter in downtown Chicago, Pau met Julio, a 5-month participant in PGM's Bible program, who is originally from Mexico.
"I felt like the Lord brought me there so Julio could talk to someone," Pau says. Julio does not speak English well, and with only a few people at PGM able to speak Spanish, Pau provided some welcomed camaraderie. "Julio talked to me about his life, dreams, hobbies and soccer."
Julio also talked about his family, who responded in anger to his decision to become a Christian. It was a stark contrast to Pau's believing parents.
"On the last day at PGM, after Julio and I prayed and said goodbye, he gave me a really nice plant to take home," Pau says. Special to Julio, he had revived the plant from near-death. "Now the flowers are red again, and the leaves are totally alive."
The symbolism is not lost on Pau. "It made me think of Julio, how he was dead before and lost everything, and now God is taking care of him and giving him a new chance, a new life."
And, every time Pau looks at his plant, he will think of Julio and God's power to make each of us new.