by Leslie McAdoo
This half-week has been completely packed with thoughts. So this is long. VERY long. But please, give it a chance. Obviously I think it’s worth your time 🙂 And no, I am not likely to write this much every time.
Wednesday we arrived, and got situated. I honestly don’t remember much of what happened, and apparently I didn’t journal for that day, so I have nothing to report for that day.
Thursday is more clear, at least in part because I have a journal entry. We studied the account of creation in Genesis, and how beautiful the world as it ought to be was. Then we went out around the neighborhood a couple of times, talking and praying for people, and trying to see what was beautiful about the city. A friend and I had a really good conversation with one lady outside her house, and another friend and I were able to pray for another lady. Both of those people, when asked point blank what was beautiful about the city, answered that nothing was. But in my interactions with them, I was able to see things that were. Both of those conversations started because people were outside sitting on their stoops (this is common in Baltimore), and because people are just friendly (certainly more than I was expecting). The woman that I was able to pray for cared so much about the children in the area that she started crying when we were praying for them. The other woman that we just talked to was able to share beautiful stories about fun that her and neighbors had, and it was clear that on their block there was a beautiful community. Beautiful is not a word that I am prone to use, but I can without a doubt say that I have found that the *people* in Baltimore are beautiful in their reflection of God.
I also had the opportunity to attend a prayer service (Truah was the name of it) put on by the local Mennonite church, and then a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in the church parking lot. Truah was more charismatic than I was used to, but I really enjoyed it. One of the themes that I took away from the service was the notion of desperation, which was clearly from God because of where I went next. At the NA meeting, I was very uncomfortable, and didn’t feel like I belonged. But these people who were there were inspiring. These are people who have a problem that they cannot fix by themselves. So they come to NA, desperate for something that might help them. But are they really that different from us? Sin and brokenness are so pervasive in my life that I *should* be desperate for Jesus. If we as Christians claim that Jesus is our Savior, and the only way we can be free of sin, the only way we can be close to God, then certainly we should be just as desperate for Jesus as these people are for anything to help them. But are we? If our lives don’t *feel* that broken, if we don’t *feel* in need of Jesus, it takes the edge off of the desperation. I pray that God restores the edge to my desperation, that nothing about how my life feels can convince me even a little bit that I don’t need Jesus.
Friday we listened to a resident of Southwest Baltimore (who is also on InterVarsity staff) as he talked about his neighborhood. And he described a heartbreaking situation. There is nothing for kids to do. No local library, no rec center, no city camps, nothing of the sort. So during summer, essentially kids have 2 options: be inside (likely watching TV or playing video games), or be outside (exposed to all manner of things, very few of which probably people want their kids getting into). What do we as a society think is going to happen in this place?? If we don’t give these kids something to do, is it any wonder that a lot of them turn to drugs? Is it any wonder that some of them start selling drugs? Whatever you believe about politics and what the solution is, this situation is heartbreaking. There is a huge gap between what is available to kids and what they need to be successful members of society, which all kids deserve the opportunity to become. Regardless to who or what you think should fill that gap, take a second and lament it. God’s heart is broken by this lack of investment in our children.
Saturday this idea of a gap was broadened. We went to a dinner to listen to a local church talk about some local refugees from Syria. The families cooked the meal for us, which was delicious. But we got to hear some of their stories, and they were hard to listen to. There is not a lot of support for refugees. I have a hard time navigating the world of being an adult sometimes, and needed a loving and patient set of parents to help me, and I still need their help. But I speak English as my first language. These people don’t. They are plopped down in a rental house somewhere, given support for something like 90 days, and then are on their own. These families had their kids in local schools, but they couldn’t really speak English and were bullied a lot. They don’t have the financial wherewithal to move to a better neighborhood (since they would need to provide proof of salary around 3x the cost of rent, which they don’t have). Again, we see a huge gap between what they need and what they have. Their situation was so dire that they mentioned that their time here in the US was not really that much better from their time in refugee camps. Again, regardless of your political leanings, no one should feel the way they do. God sees their situation and is pained by it.
Today is Sunday, which for my whole life has meant church day. But today is supposed to be more than that. Today is our Sabbath, our day of rest. Church started at 10 this morning, and set up was at 9. I had intended when I went to bed to get up for set up, but as I lie awake this morning, it occurred to me that perhaps set up was not the most restful activity for my day of rest. And I really wanted to rest. Even in the few days that I’ve been here I’ve noticed that I am clueless without Jesus. The brokenness of this world is so overwhelming that the only thing to do is to figure out what Jesus wants me to do, and throw my whole being into that. And I wanted today to be dedicated to trying to hear the voice of my Savior, to sit in His Presence. So, long story short, I didn’t go set up. I ate breakfast, read some of my Bible, and at about 9:10 I could no longer sit in our house and read the Bible. I needed to go for a walk. So, I decided to go to the square across from church to just sit and pray and listen. As I’m walking there, I get to the point where I’m about a block away from where I’m going. And then my whole day was thrown by a sequence of seemingly random events.
This man on the other side of the street shouted something at/to me. I had no idea what he said. Ordinarily, I would keep walking. Not do anything. He probably wasn’t talking to me. But, I looked over, and lo and behold, he’s looking at me. Great. Now what? So, I ask him what he said. And, of course, he asked for some change. I am now faced with another decision. Usually, I would sort of turn away/shake my head and mumble “Not today” or some other lie. But, I figured, what the heck. So I cross the street, with the intention of handing him a couple bucks. And as I get to the other side of the street, what should happen but all of sudden I stick my hand out and ask for his name. And he gives it to me. I’m going to call him Richard. And for the next 20 minutes, I talked with this man. I talked to him about the church we were going to, and Jesus gave me a layup. I kid you not, Richard says “I want to go to a church sometime.” The only way that Jesus could have made it more clear what He wanted me to do would have been to come down in flesh right between us and invite Richard to church for me. So I did. And he seemed very receptive. I kept talking with him, and he asked if I was Baptist or Christian (as someone born and bred Baptist, I had to explain that someone could in fact be both). Turns out, he was raised Baptist. The interaction kept going. He showed me gun wounds. He told me his story. He told me how he wound up there (he fell asleep on the bus on the way to some work he was offered to do). I gave him my phone number. I told him a little bit of why I was in the city. I told him that I was getting married. He asked if I had any work for him to do to work off the money I gave him. Unfortunately, he had previously told someone that he would work today (washing cars/windshields I think), so he didn’t come to church today. But as he was leaving, he kept talking about how he wanted this interaction to be the start of a friendship, that the bond that we formed wouldn’t just die. He promised to get in touch with me, and that he would come to church next week. So who knows what will happen, but I certainly will be praying for this guy. I would love nothing more than to see him at church next week.
As I was reflecting on this interaction, I kept seeing the hand of God. I was given a window into this man’s life that I very nearly turned down out of habit. It was abundantly clear that this man was touched by this white guy who gave him a little bit of money and took some time to talk to him. More than that, this interaction cost me virtually nothing. It cost me $10 and 20 minutes. But there’s a chance (I think a good chance, but a chance all the same) that this man might start going to church, getting connected with his Savior and a community of people that will show him love. If given the terms of this choice again, I’d make it again every time. Every. Single. Time. This guy claimed to pray, to read his Bible, and I have no reason to doubt him. But envision the eternal consequences of this. If this guy comes to church, maybe reconnects to his Savior (or maybe connects with Him truly for the first time), a life could be changed (or even saved). But it doesn’t stop there. Who knows how God may choose to use this guy, who knows who he may impact? None of us. All for 20 minutes and $10. And it almost didn’t happen. I’ll move on and talk about church, because it relates.
At church, the question of the day (a question we’re given during the time when kids are dismissed and we are charged to go and meet someone) was “What can the church do about the problem of violence in the city?” Yikes. Usually the question is more like “Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?” Needless to say, this was a bit of a step up in complexity. I briefly mentioned something about the aforementioned gap between what people need and what they have, how violence is at least in part a symptom of this gap, and how the church, if sufficiently motivated, could *easily* fill that gap.
The sermon was excellent. Pastor George talked about (amongst other things) Jeremiah 29. In particular, he started talking about verse 8 and 9:
Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:8-9 NIV)
Jeremiah is speaking to exiles here. George talked about how there (very likely) were false prophets saying that the exile would be over soon. However, God says no such thing. He says to build homes and plant gardens, raise children and marry them off. This was not necessarily a time or place where the exiles were comfortable, but God called them to buckle down, seek the peace and prosperity of the city they were in, and told them that they would be there a while. What if something similar were happening today? Certainly the temptation for us today as Christians is to believe that God will *quickly* deliver us from trials. With this mindset, we can leap into something, “knowing” that it will be over soon. For example, urban ministry. Caring for the hungry. The homeless. The refugee. Providing education for people in need of it. Providing activities to involve youth in a positive way in their community. But, the finish line never seems to come, and we get tired and worn out. So we get discouraged, because God hasn’t fulfilled what we believe He promised. However, this is where it is important to hear what God says. Because the enemy is very interested in getting us to quit something because we’re tired. But so often God is interested in us pushing through being tired, and persevering because it forces us to rely on Him (and also the finish will be worth it). George closed by bringing it back home to Baltimore. As a believer in the power of the God that I serve and His Spirit that lives and moves in us, I believe that God can transform the city of Baltimore. Additionally, the city will not be the same, for better or for worse, in 5-10 years. Certainly God can do a marvelous work in 10 years. But, God likely will want to work through His people now in Baltimore just as He has throughout history. However, this will take work. And it will be hard. And we will get tired. There are a lot of problems in the city of Baltimore. But, if we were shown God’s vision for the city of Baltimore in 10 years, and at the same time shown how much work it would take to get there, would we think it would be worth it? Further, what about God’s vision for the city in 20 years? 30? 100? The exiles in Babylon during Jeremiah’s time were there for 70 years. Some of them died there. Probably a lot of them. God used a period of 40 years during Moses’ time to wait for a disobedient generation to die, and the exiles were gone for almost twice that. And yet, God told them to hunker down in Babylon. That same God is alive today. If we were shown what God wants the city of Baltimore to look like at some point after we’re gone, and we were told what we had to do to make this happen, would it be worth it? I think so. God seeks to redeem Baltimore. He seeks to draw the people to Him. He seeks for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner and the homeless to be shown the love of Jesus. A Baltimore like this is one that is worth striving for.
Certainly none of this is exclusive to Baltimore. Is the UMBC, the Elkridge, the Hanover, the Maryland, the US that God wants worth our lives’ worth of work? I claim yes. If you need further convincing, look no further than Jesus. John 10 (also in George’s sermon) describes Jesus as a Good Shepherd, who guards the gate to the sheep pen with His life. We see further that Jesus values us with His life when we look at the way He spent His time (and ultimately, gave His life) to bring us to Him. Certainly if I’m supposed to be like Jesus, and He gave His life for His sheep, it follows that I need to be prepared to do the same. Jesus showed with His actions that the world God wanted was worth His life’s work, and His life. Why would the world God wants today be worth anything less than my life’s work, and my life?
In that same passage (John 10), Jesus talks about how His sheep know His voice, and they run from the voice of strangers. Over the next 5.5 weeks, I will be seeking to find God’s voice and will for me in His quest to redeem the city of Baltimore and the world. I implore all of you to do the same. The enemy seeks to bombard us with voices from him, encouraging us to do anything but what God wants. But as His sheep, listen for His voice. Because what He calls us to will be worth it. Even if it takes a while.