For those of you who are not familiar with aspects of our lives other than our children, Pat and I are part of a small church that a group of us started about three years ago called Urban Light Community Church. One of the founding values of this church that distinguishes it from most is that we look to minister specifically to our neighbors, and I do not mean "neighbors" in the Christian sense. Our church exists foremost for those in the neighborhoods around downtown Muncie to which several families and individuals who began the church felt called to relocate. Our mission is to "reconcile people to God and to each other." One large part of this involves bringing people of different races (primarily black and white, since that is what we have in these neighborhoods) together to form one church. This is, of course, no small undertaking as there is lots of racial baggage, perhaps especially in Muncie, and the church is still one of the most segregated institutions in our nation. So here we plug away at what feels like a monumental task, both for our group and for us as individuals.
We also hope to bring justice to our neighborhoods, which are so often overlooked unless something bad about them is being printed in the paper. The most recent article was from today, saying that the school down the street from our house is one of the 20 worst in the state. So we work to help educate the kids in small ways currently, but we hope to make a more concerted effort in the future. Our neighborhood is notorious for its drug activity as well, so we work to help people break free from their addictions.
What have been small efforts thus far (though at great sacrifice to a few) are beginning to snowball. The week before Eden was born, we went to the site of a former strip bar known as the Dream Club. This bar was worse than a strip club; it fronted as a place to sell all manner of drugs and was a center also of violence and prostitution that held many of the people in our neighborhood (and others) in its grasp. We went to meetings from the local to the state level in order to have the place shut down (and we were not alone in these efforts; the city of Muncie was with us). Israel even attended a couple of the hearings! (He was not yet mobile at the time.) Not only were those efforts successful, but our church recently put most of the money we have been saving into buying the property! We held a service there and invited people from a church across the major street nearby (Madison, for those of you familiar with Muncie...) to join us to pray in the space. And they came. The people: members and leaders of Deliverance Temple, a predominantly African-American church.
Pat had met a few of the men from the church at a 12-step meeting started by our church. Deliverance Temple already has a residential drug rehab program and some of the men from it came to the 12-step meeting at the invitation of our pastor. We were able to meet some of them and to pray together with them. Their pastor, Bishop H. Royce Mitchell, was there as well, and led the assembled group of people from both churches as well as people from our neighborhood we had invited (by going door-to-door to invite neighbors to come with their ideas for the space...) in prayer. We divided into groups and each group wrote down their ideas as to what the space could be used for that would make our neighborhood and Muncie a better place. We plan to use the space as a community center of some sort and intend to enlist the help of our neighbors in running it so that we do not have just another church building in Muncie, but a place that is used seven days a week as a blessing to our neighbors. (Our church will meet there for awhile in order to get out of the park cabins we rent, but it will not be for us.) It was a great service and wonderful to see a group of people who would not otherwise know each other coming together to build something good in what had been such a bad place.
I remember, when Israel was VERY little, walking around and around that place (it's a nasty old building now...) praying for something good to be put there. Israel was quiet the whole walk to and from the building, which is three blocks east and three blocks north of our house. But when we rounded the corner of the building, he giggled. I took it as a sign, though I couldn't put into words specifically what it was a sign of. And after the service we held there, more than a year later,we went inside and stood around the dance stage and prayed. Someone prayed thanking God that they could hear children running and laughing in what had been such a dark space.
in front of the Dream Club
This was just the beginning of what promises to be a long relationship between our two churches. Our members are beginning to attend each others' meetings. We hope to work together on the community center. We are talking about doing joint things with the youths in our churches. We are currently working together on a house for women who are recovering from drug addiction. (For the next day or two, the news article will be here.) These things are too much for our little church as it is and God has been good to bring people from the other side of the historic racial divide in Muncie (quite literally, as Madison Street was the dividing line between white and black in town) to join with in the work that is to be done. Indeed, it is probably most correct to say that God brought us to them since they were before us; Bishop Mitchell has been doing the hard work in our neighborhoods for the last 30 + years. (He looks to be a fine, humble man -- not at all what I expected of someone people refer to by the title "Bishop." So dies one misconception.) We get the pleasure of coming in to help reap some of the benefits of his labor!