I recall the first time we moved into an inner city neighborhood. We laid in bed the first night listening to gun-fire for almost an hour. In my half- asleep stupor I rolled over and said to my husband, “What have we done?”
It had seemed like such an amazing and “noble” idea at the time. Move onto the street with the families we “served.” Instead of telling everyone how the “hood” should change, why not live there and be a light in the midst of it? It took less than 24 hours for reality to hit.
We all carry stereotypes and we didn’t even realize that our neighbors had certain pre-conceived thoughts about us. Within 20 minutes of arrival someone had asked us for money. The “Christian Folk, “ are supposed to give it all away. Within a week a policeman pulled me over and asked if I was “lost?” The color of my skin apparently did not fit “this place” in his eyes. (This has since happened many times.) No one told us before we came that drug dealers lived next door. In our mind it would all work out like a “feel- good” movie. Within two hours we would swoop in, everyone would “accept” Jesus, and all would be transformed. Instead we learned that seeing the effects of generational poverty undone was a snail pace process. Some days (many days) it felt like there was no movement in a forward direction at all. Still the Lord seemed to have us there for a purpose and a plan, and he used us in spite of ourselves.
Several months ago the Lord made it clear that we were to move ministries, lives, and “hoods.” We were FINALLY starting to see some progress where we were, why would he shift us? Honestly, there was little that I looked forward to in starting over. My neighbors were sad to see us go, as was the ministry and our friends. I think I cried the first 6 hours of the 23 hour trip. I knew this was what the Lord wanted, but I thought that meant it would be much more effortless than this.
As we pulled the moving truck in front of our home this past Sunday, I watched as those on the new street held their breath in our arrival. Once again our faces, and the color of our skin appear to “not belong.” As if to put an exclamation point on the situation as we were carrying in our couch a gentleman down the street screamed out, “WELCOME TO THE HOOD!” Reading between the lines we knew he was saying, “Do you know where you have moved? ” The guys across the street pulled speakers onto the porch and began to blare Little Wayne in all his expletive glory to see our reaction. The woman to our right sat on the porch and would not look us in the eye. Once again I wondered, “What have we done?”
Then something interesting began to happen.
Two little boys showed up from two doors down and insisted on helping us move in. Later in the evening we stood outside and met their Mom. While they did ask for money for the ice-cream truck, they just want to be around us already. Mom found out about our ministry and has them signed up for the fall.
The family next door turns out to be a Mom and Dad, with three kids, our own children’s ages. Apparently up until about 6 months ago our house held the local dealer. They were wondering why they were there. They started to hope and pray a family with a 13 year old, girl who happened to be a sweet, bookworm would move next door. Hmmm? We just so happen to have one of those.
Midnight the first night in there was a knock on the door. Someone was coming around looking for a little “something” from the previous tenant. After they took off we stuck our heads out the door to see who they could have been. Miss Flo three doors down informed us that she told the bleep- bleep – bleep to take off. We just moved in. We are good people. She wanted us to know that she has our back. “That’s what neighbors do around here.”
I know you are looking to hear it’s “that easy.” We move in. It all is different now. TADA the problems of the inner city are gone! There is no neat way to wrap it up with a bow like that. Urban ministry doesn’t seem to work that way. However, I do believe that there was a shift and a groan in “the world” as Christ pushed forward when we came here. It will take years for transformation to be apparent to our sight and touch. What has changed is that I KNOW that Jesus wants all around us to belong to him. I AM CERTAIN that while I may not know the results I can trust his plan. We start by simply getting to know our neighbors. Those around us are watching and wondering who we are. Another neighbor has already admitted that they were pondering why we would want to be the “only white people” around. Already though the kids on the block are knocking to see if my children will come out to “play.”
In case you have never noticed, ministry is really hard work. We are clinging to Christ as our official “first day” hasn’t even begun. All we have done so far is reside. I guess maybe that is the point isn’t it? Being about the business of the Lord has little to do with a building, programming, or hours kept. Instead it is about showing up, and remembering that Jesus was already there first. We carry around the Holy Spirit with us as we “go,” and wherever we wander, those are the ones that need to see his reflection behind our eyes. I know that when we got here we changed the face of this place, literally, figuratively and spiritually. We are here for such a time as this as they say…. As a friend of mine says so eloquently there is a reason why the windshield is larger than the rear-view mirror… May we ever be focused forward….