On this beautiful autumn morning, riding from the motel to the church I was scheduled to speak, the urge to stop and visit with neighborhood, street people overtook me. The desire to hear their thoughts were too much to pass by. The message burning in my soul was about the church experiencing a ‘Genesis Work’ of ‘recreation’. It appeared the best thing to do was to affirm the felt need with facts. The community has changed, racially and economically with most of the church members driving in from other communities. A beautiful facility filled with wonderful Christians but not so connected to the community, however the pastor certainly desired to see the community transformed by the Grace of God.
The first encounter, a man in his 60’s, all alone, was hesitant to talk to a stranger, much less one riding a Harley Davidson. The question was poised, ‘what kind of neighborhood is this?’. Quickly he responded, ‘a good neighborhood’ and then tried to abandon our visit. After having several questions to keep him engaged, he finally said, ‘look, we need help. Killings when you don’t even know who it was that killed you. Senseless killings. A church could help the neighborhood’. The frustration and pain of living in a place of impending danger rose to the top and with that he departed stating, ‘just help our neighborhood’ over and over.
The next encounter was three men in a parking lot of a convenience store. The conversation was okay as long as we kept it brief. “What do you think a church can do to help this neighborhood?” Steve (did not get his last name) started off by saying, ‘now I have a knowledge of what is right but I am not saying that I am living right’. Wow, honesty is a good ground to start on. The next words of wisdom overtook me on this bright, crisp morning.
- His opening statement was, ‘a church should integrate.’ (Isn’t this interesting, here is an African-American talking to a white man about a predominately white church and the first words were integration. Maybe integration of the church could be a desire that all have but seldom cross the line?)
- When asked how do we integrate he stated, ‘I think it would be good to go door to door and tell them they are welcomed.’ (I must admit this one threw me. It has appeared door to door was not effective, yet the cry was, ‘come on out and visit my house and let me know I am invited to your church’. Not an outreach, not a special service but tell me it is okay to just come and participate in regular church.)
- A break long enough to take a drag off the cigarette in his mouth and a flip of the butt into the parking lot was followed by, ‘you see, most of the church people think that the work begins when people walks in the door. You know, that is what’s wrong, the church needs to come out here and talk to us’. (That is wisdom for sure, when we state we are ‘working’ for the Lord it most generally refers to our service to the church folks in the church building.)
- Then out of his mouth rolled some very profound words, ‘You know, most of the people put on their grave clothes, yeah that’s right, they dress all up for death, go to church and forget they were once just like many of us out here. They are people who have forgotten what it was like when you could not seem to get out of the situation and condition you are in. They talk down to you because they forgot. If they want to speak to me, talk about how you overcame because you were down here also. (Oh my, this one is very painful, we are seen as people who have forgotten our failures and make people in failing situations feel small. Could we speak from a time we were not so strong? Oh, please don’t go so far as to constantly talk about the days of destruction in your life but allude to those days when you were not so strong and give hope.)
- ‘You know, there are a lot of people giving food and that is good and you can never do enough of that’. (Refreshing he brought this up into the conversation. He recognized there were those who were trying to help and was thankful.)