Back in the fall of 2014 our family went for a short weekend visit to another ministry in our state. I had communicated my interest in a particular overseas ministry position to a few close friends, and one of them responded by drawing my attention to a different ministry that’s more local. At first I thought, no way do I want to do that. I’m more drawn to overseas ministry. Nevertheless, I checked out their website to see what they were all about. Well, somehow God changed my heart and I began to entertain the idea of local ministry more and more.
After talking to my husband about it, I asked if it would be alright for us to go visit the ministry and see what it’s all about. I also got in contact with the Director to see if we could get a glimpse of what they are doing. I suppose this would be the place to tell you that this is an inner-city ministry, which aims to bring Christian leaders into under-resourced neighborhoods to live intentional Christian lives. Living an intentional Christian life sounds somewhat ambiguous, but what I take it to mean is loving God and others wholeheartedly, and looking for God’s leading in serving your neighbors in tangible ways. This could include hosting a Bible study in your home, hosting a game night, participating in a community gardening project, helping a neighbor get a working stove, or any number of other things.
This ministry is located about 5 hours away from us and we made the trip down to stay the weekend. Let me tell you–there are challenges with staying in a hotel when you have a large family. Our kids are all ten and under, so we wanted to stay in the same room. Hotels in the city are a little picky about so many people staying in one room, but I was able to find a place about 20 minutes away that was fine with all of us rooming together. It ended up being a 70’s looking, chalet-style motel. Whatever–it was clean and well maintained, reasonably priced, and the staff were very friendly. Yay for 70’s chalet motels!
The first night there, we were able to participate in an ice cream social that was going on at the church from which this particular ministry started. The ice cream shindig was to help raise money for another ministry that seeks to deal with human trafficking issues. We felt a bit out of place, showing up as complete strangers to check out this ministry, but everyone was very welcoming. Plus we got to have some delicious ice cream. It was also at this event that we met the director of the ministry who had agreed to show us what they are doing. We were immediately put at ease by his friendliness and candor. Whew–for a family who is rather shy, this was a relief. 🙂
The next day we had the earlier part of the day to ourselves to check out the city and see the sites. Again, large family=difficulties with certain activities. It can be a challenge to find things that everyone can participate in. We went downtown to see the main public library. Okay, we’re a bunch of bibliophiles and the library system is one of the most important items on our list of community amenities. We were simply amazed by what we found! The main entrance was gorgeous and it turns out that this was a Carnegie library. Let me just show you some of the splendor that greeted our eyes when we walked in.
Can you see why we were blown away?! The children’s area was amazing, too. There was a lighthouse that the kids could climb up inside, a stage area, puppets, and more books than you can shake a stick at! In the older part of the library there was also a smallish café/used book shop. Each of the kids got a voucher to pick out a book for themselves and mom and dad got a nice drink. So, the library trip was a success.
Next we found a little convenience store downtown and got some food for lunch. We took it down to a large park on the lakefront, sat on a bench and had a little picnic. The gulls watched attentively. Then there was time for playground play, going out on a little pier to see the expanse of water, and one child falling on a rock and getting a bloody mouth and fat lip. Sheesh.
That evening we spent with the ministry’s director and his family. They got some super yummy pizza for our dinner and cookies for dessert. Then we went for a walk around the neighborhood and got to see a couple of the ministry’s rehabbed houses, learn some neighborhood history, and some of the issues the residents face. This was such an interesting experience. When we drove into the neighborhood, it was quite obvious that we were in the minority because of our light skin. Walking around made the difference much more obvious. As someone who has lived in predominantly Caucasian areas my entire life, it is challenging to be in a place where I am the minority. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, in fact, I think everyone would benefit from that experience at least once in their lives. I was encouraged to see our kids running around being silly on our walk, just like they would at home. They were blissfully unaware of the rundown conditions surrounding them and the fact that we stood out like sore thumbs because of our skin color. We had some good conversation with the director and his wife, learning some of their own history and what brought them to minister in this place.
The next day we went to their church for service. The kids all went to their respective Sunday School class, hubby stayed in the service, and I went into the nursery with our toddler. I love hanging out with little ones in the nursery. It’s fun just to be with them and love on them. 🙂 There was a baby girl who was fussy and tired, and I got to rock her to sleep. That just about made my day. I also got to talk with another lady who was volunteering in the nursery. We got to talking about kids and parenting, and I found out that she has 6 or 7 kids (I can’t quite remember now) and all but one of them were in foster care. I didn’t really know what to say. This was an example of one of the painful realities that is present in this community. I didn’t feel judgmental towards her and I was happy that she was obviously trying to get things back on the right track in her life. That’s still a situation that, even if she got her kids back, life would be difficult. I guess that’s the type of ministry that often takes place in this setting–not arriving at a final solution, but continuing to slog through life despite its trials and messiness. Persistence, patience, compassion, grace, availability–those are the things that are needed to serve others in love over the long run.
We had lunch after church and then headed home–up north where we didn’t have to worry about drugs, gangs, shootings, broken homes, a rundown neighborhood, or kids who are in desperate need of someone to love and care for them. I’m not saying that none of those issues are present in our community, but it’s not on the same level or as overtly obvious.
So…our life goes on here, but I am continually drawn back to the call to live out God’s love in a place where His light will shine the brightest.
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2