A couple of years ago everything on television was “EXTREME!” It marked an era of radical transformation. About a decade or so ago my family and I made the choice to move into the community where we serve. For many this is a no brainer, the people in your church live in your neighborhood. Yet, we serve in an inner city ministry. The areas where we live make the news for crime, poverty and poor education. In the last two years our street has seen two fires and two shootings. My school district ranks as one of the bottom three in our state.
When we made this choice to move into what some would call the “hood,” family and friends called it “extreme.” Would our children be safe? Wasn’t this a place others were trying to avoid? Our philosophy was that to truly be in community with people, we needed to live where they live. Our current neighborhood is an eclectic mix. We are multiethnic with several African American, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, and Mexican families. Ours happens to be the only Caucasian family on the block. A bartender from New York City and his partner have their summer home two doors down. He tells us it is the one place on the “shore” a gay couple can be “left alone.” There are those that have lived here their whole lives and the transient. We are lower Middle Class, working class and some struggle below the poverty level. Everyone would consider themselves “unchurched,” except for us and a wonderful Haitian woman across the street. It is “extreme” because we get to meet and interact daily with all sorts of people who look at the world in a variety of ways. Living and doing “ministry” here has taught me some great lessons:
1. Be A Community.
On a nice day everyone hangs out on their front stoop. Kids play on the sidewalk, we chat and talk about life. This is where we get to know each other. In other places I have lived we come home, and go right in the front door without acknowledging anyone. We don’t “keep to ourselves” at all. It’s also where we disagree and make up. I trust my neighbors. Community is messy. It means we don’t get along and then make up. We pray for each other when we are hurting. It’s reciprocal.
2. Don’t Bother To Hide Your Mess. It Gets Found Out Anyway.
There are some who go to a lot of work to pretend like they have it all together. In my “hood” the attitude is, “We are who we are and it isn’t perfect.” Fights can be loud. The other day we could hear every detail of a two hour exchange between boyfriend and girlfriend with allegations of cheating. There is no embarrassment, because they could be quiet about it and the mess would still be there. Just put it out there for everyone to see, and perhaps then we can find a way to clean it up.
3. Lead By Example.
It was easy to tell that from the first moment we unlocked our door people were watching. One neighbor says still, “I don’t get why you choose to live here, when others are trying to get out.” They aren’t looking for our perfection. I live with three Middle Schoolers. Sometimes I get frustrated and our mess is obvious (see above). I have to “practice what I preach” for they want to know who we are and why we care about Christ. In addition, we have to be willing to constantly be about our own relationship with Christ. People are looking to the way we live, more than what we say to notice a difference.
4. Jesus IS the Only Answer.
Last summer a neighbor ended up in the hospital near death. His girlfriend knocked on my door and wanted to know if we would pray. Yes, we provided rides to the hospital and stood with the family. Yet, there was nothing we could do to save this man physically or spiritually. Jesus is the only Savior.
5. Service Is A Lifestyle.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I want to hide in my house and not talk to anyone. This winter, every storm, we dug one neighbor out. She has never said thank you. She may never say it. Serving isn’t about the thank you. It isn’t about an event, an outreach, a program or even compassion. These are all part of service, but serving isn’t even just relegated to my neighborhood. Service is about loving the Lord your God with every bit you have and loving your neighbor as yourself.
These are ongoing lessons. I would love to tell you I have it “all together” and every day is filled with roses in doing what we do. Sometimes when my street makes the news, I want to scream. I don’t stand apart as special because I live here. Whenever we immerse ourselves in the adventure with Christ, then it is “extreme” ministry. You do it too.
What are you learning from your own “Extreme” ministry?