Monday, November 22, 2004

Life changing experience

Wow. I'm still coming down from my awesome experience Saturday. We held the neighborhood canvassing project, where members of 5-6 local urban churches got together and walked through the neighborhood meeting people, asking about their concerns, getting to know them. We worked in pairs, and tried to make sure that no pair came from the same church. I worked with a man from a Baptist church (which happens to be virtually across the street from my Methodist church). This was an incredible experience... I have a lot I could blog about. :)

For starters, it was a great situation. We introduced ourselves and our church affiliations-- we made it clear immediately that we were not selling anything, and that all we wanted was a chance to chat for 5-10 minutes so we could "learn about the neighborhood and try to become better neighbors." The fact that we came from different churches seemed to cause people to scratch their heads a bit... but sent a powerful message. If we weren't representing the Baptists or Methodists, who were we representing? Yup, the Big Guy. Neat eh?

The experience was really moving. We met some folks who live in pretty desperate situations. Some expressed concern for their safety in the neighborhood, though most did not (perhaps they just grow accustomed to the surroundings over time). Many were more than happy to point out the problem properties, especially ones that were being used to sell drugs. One man told us that drugs had been sold out of an apartment directly over his at one time, and that he had witnessed drugs being sold on the corner in front of his apartment. Many also complained of property crimes (mainly cars being vandalized or broken into). Several noted that there was little in the way of organized/supervised activities for youth in the neighborhood. In the end, we generated quite a list of issues that the churches and/or the city can begin to help neighbors address. Our group will meet again in the next few weeks to continue (finish?) the canvassing and start planning responses.

The best part of the process was knowing that I was doing God's work. More than once, people seemed really taken aback by the fact that we really cared, that we were honestly just there to find out what concerns they had. We didn't ask for money, and we weren't looking to add souls to our list of converts. But guess what? I think they got a healthy dose of evangelism. :) More than one asked what churches we were from, and wanted information about services. One man in particular said he hadn't been to church in many years, but knew that he needed God in his life. When we asked whether there were things we could pray about for him, his fought to hold back tears as he just opened up. At one point, he was apologetic, saying "I'm sorry, I don't mean to unload on you guys." As he pondered returning to church, he said what he really wanted to find was a church where he felt welcome, where people wanted him to be there. We certainly gave him a hearty invitation to our churches... both are large, so here's hoping that the folks he makes contact with make him feel welcome. I bet we spent 20-30 minutes talking with this man. I am very thankful that I got that opportunity to be there for him.

I could go on... it was incredible. And I'm the first to say that *I* gained more in this experience than anyone I talked to. Not because we were out solving the world's problems, but because in a very small and non-idealistic way we were just simply doing what I think Christ would want. We listened, we let people know that we care, we prayed for folks, we invited them to worship with us. I'm hooked, can't wait to do more. Thank you Lord.