Written by Leneita Fix for Download Youth Ministry:
In the past week, I have had four conversations about my neighborhood with unwitting participants. It reminds me why I don’t really talk much about where I live. For almost 24 years I have been in some form of family ministry and for 17 of those they have been primarily focused on the inner city. Then almost ten years ago we chose to move into the neighborhood with the people we serve. It wasn’t noble or politically charged. The Lord called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Why not be a physical neighbor to the people of our ministry?
Practically speaking a good friend of mine puts it this way, “You guys look like a stereotypical middle-class suburban household who moved into the hood. Leneita, you might as well be a soccer mom.”
For a while, I would tell our story often and then one day I stopped talking about it. This is because there are usually two reactions to talking about where I live. In the last week I have had four conversations with people from all over the country that sound something like this, “Oh, I am so glad they are cleaning up the bad side of town.” (where I live) or “I am afraid to go to that part of town, who knows what might happen to me when I am there.” (where I live) or “If they could just get rid of those people over there in that bad area of town then everything would be solved.” (where I live.) All the reactions are based on fear.
The other reaction is raised eyebrows when I use the words, “hood” and “West Palm Beach, Florida” in the same sentence. People have told me the affluent section of Florida that surrounds us does not have a real hood with real problems. I am told we have nothing in common with our approach to ministry. After a while, I got really tired of explaining or proving myself and so I closed my mouth.
I didn’t know how to help you understand most of my neighbors are just families trying to get along. I didn’t know how to explain that when a community as a whole loses hope it just claws forward to survive by whatever means they can. If a person doesn’t know Jesus, well then they try to fill that hole in their heart themselves.
In our neighborhood, it is expressed through drugs, alcohol, and anger. I suspect you know some pockets of your own community that looks just the same. I got tired of telling you we weren’t that different after all.
Today I break my silence. Your area may not look like mine, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t called to your own community.
Here are some thoughts on what to do in your own neighborhood:
Let Compassion Move You To Action
The only difference between the inner city and some other areas of residence is we don’t try to hide our issues. The drug deals are public instead of private. There are hurting families in your midst as well as mine. The despair may just take on a different slant. We can tend to create two categories in our heart for our church and community, “The ones who will succeed in Christ and those who probably won’t.” What if we asked the Lord to replace our tendency to give up on some with an overwhelming compassion? Then we must let that compassion mobilize us into reaching out. It’s not our responsibility to save anyone, but instead, let the Lord show us how to love the people in your midst.
Each of us has some families among us that hide their secrets really poorly. We may not know all of the details but we have seen the drunk parent or the kid whose acting out because of pain. It’s easy to immediately come up with solutions to fix the problem. What is harder is to stop and ask someone how they would like to be helped. You might say, “Well they don’t even know.” Before you act ask yourself, “What will this do to this person’s dignity?” We must do what we can to help people know they are worthy of respect.
Know the Difference Between A Tragedy and A Crisis
The way we act in tragedy should be a little different than what happens in a long-term crisis. In a tragedy, we should come in to support and love powerfully. We may need to feed, clothe and hold the hands of the hurting. Yet, there will come a moment when the immediate danger has passed and the grief begins. The way we respond to these two scenarios should be different. One may require our stepping in and doing whatever it takes to provide a solution. Yet, this is not sustainable for anyone long term. There is also a tendency when the “urgent prayer request” fades to forget there is still hurt in play. Crisis management requires walking with people not providing solutions.
This is what we do as believers we seek out and hold the hands of the least, the lost, the lonely, the poor, the destitute and the ones who appear they will never get better. Our heart breaks for children who lose parents to accidents, choices, and cancer. Bringing hope that only Christ holds is the whole point of why we are who we are.
It’s easy to stop talking about where I live and what I do because I don’t know how to explain it. It’s not really that special. I just look around at my community and see they need hope. I am sure you do the same. Our experiences may be different, but let’s keep talking about it so we are never isolated in our service. Jesus allows us to see the broken through His eyes so that all we can do is share His love. Today let’s both share stories about our communities and the transformational power of Christ showing up there.