At the beginning of my Spring semester I accepted a job as a contributor to the campus yearbook, The Chinook. I was honored when our Editor asked me to be a representative at the College Media Association conference in NYC.
I would spend four days in the Big City with other team members who work for the Office of Student Media, learning media strategy in the morning and exploring the city at night.
The conference itself was fascinating, but the city took my breath away.
The moment that we stepped off the plane and into the underground maze of subways something started happening to my heart. I realize that this sounds “basic Christian,” but throughout the next few days in the city it did nothing but blossom.
I love New York; and not in that obnoxious NYC-pin-toting too-good-for-humans-and-crowds type of way.
Let me break it down for you. New York smells like pee and there is a constant stream of people pushing up against you at all hours of the day. The subways are dark, dirty and dank and house thousands of rats – some the size of mice and others the size of cats. It’s fast-paced in an obnoxiously tedious sense and in many ways its insensitive. The buildings are beautiful, but the streets are disgusting and full of grit. People have scowls on their faces and headphones plugging their ears at all hours. There is no time to stop and ponder the meaning of life because you will most likely be run over by a horde of rushed pedestrians. Things are hellishly expensive and the coffee is so strong it will sprout hair on your chest. There is a cacophony of smells that sweeps the city – a culmination of stale bath water mixed with aforementioned urine, foolish amounts of food carts fanning scents into overcrowded streets, the natural stench of human bodies and steam that bursts through the cracks in the pavement.
And I love every. single. thing. about it.
I LOVE NEW YORK.
It may sound hypocritical to be ready to jump on a plane with my adventure rucksack and waste a way my days in the city after a short introduction. I didn’t truly experience New York living, I don’t know what its like to keep your head down or run from a blast, what a mundane schedule feels like as fast-paced living grows monotonous, what it feels like to be stuck there after you’ve visited every corner of the city and have the scent of urban life forever burned to the inside of your nostrils.
But I know that the way that I felt about that city surpassed anything my human heart is truly capable of and certainly exceeds my mind’s capacity for understanding.
When we drug our bedraggled and plane-dirtied bones through the overcrowded sky train and extended subway ride, I was enamored by every second. I could feel the pulse of the city before my toes ever touched its soil.
Then something happened.
I watched the underground stations fly by as we tore through the underground.My head swam through travel-laden dreariness, fighting against the tide of sleep when my eyes landed on a girl. She could not have been more than fifteen, clad in cartoon-imbued sweat pants and a child’s innocence. But her innocence was being taken from her. There. In front of my eyes. We stopped at a tiled station, sterile lights flickering in the dark underworld of New York public transport and I couldn’t rip my eyes away from her.
She sat on a bench beside two men (young men, 20’s maybe?) and as they spoke one of the men rested his hand over her breast. Breasts that hadn’t yet sprouted from her young chest, and left his hand there. Without a word. She tried to wriggle away but he was persistent. It was not a grand show, no big moment – just a young girl being molested in an underground subway without a single person to save her. I was preparing to jump ship when the subway shot forward.
A knot built in my throat, my empty stomach ready to retch. Was this normal? Was this girl used to this? Why did everyone turn away?
She was so young. From my vantage point, tucked in the subway car, she looked tired. Sad. Burdened. Already, at such a young age, she looked like she had given up fighting.
I didn’t have much to say on the way to the hotel after that. I climbed into the shower to wash the humanity off and wept for the poor girl who no one fought for. What was I supposed to do?
I struggled to understand why the rest of the world wasn’t taking up arms. Throughout the next couple days I felt the Lord tugging at my heart. It was a unique encounter in that I wasn’t in New York on mission I was there exclusively for a secular work conference in arguably one of the most “secular” cities in the world (I hate the word secular, but that’s for another time).
I saw the people rushing past me on the streets and I fell in love. Walking down a New York sidewalk is a simultaneously terrifying and thrilling experience. In a two minute walk you can encounter every kind of person from every corner of the world, and it is such a beautiful thing. Those who know me know that my heart comes alive to the tune of different cultures. I felt like I got a glimpse at them all.
But with so many people there are millions of ways to get lost in the shuffle, and for people like this girl, and countless others I encountered, that was the case. My heart broke for them. It ached for them.
I have begged the Lord to give me a passion for “urban missions.” Cried out for strength to serve a demographic that I have never felt as strongly for. This was the first time that I felt my prayers tangibly answered.
I LOVE NEW YORK.
I love New York because it is broken, not because it was the ideal city (although it was fantastic).
I had the opportunity to worship with Hillsong NYC after conference classes Sunday night. I took two of the girls with me, and we piled into a crowded Playstation theater. I witnessed revival in that theater.
I watched as what had to be hundreds of people lifted their hands, reached for the Lord and cried out with everything that they had. I prayed through worship, asking for clarity, asking the Lord to make clear why this city was having this effect on my heart, crying over the lost souls and the idea of leaving.
I don’t know what was happening to me (early on-set menopause?) but there I was nonetheless.
If anything, the trip revived my love for the city.
I had a great time getting to know my coworkers better and spend time exploring with them; but upon leaving I was distinctly aware of the unique mark that the city had left on my heart and I am so excited to see how it will be used in the future. In the meantime I continue on in prayer.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to travel with new friends and the countless others that I met at the conference. Cheers to student media!
I leave you with this trip vlog, enjoy: