Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An MKE update: to make up for the months of my silence //

Purpose moves me. Not people or a paycheck, purpose. People ask what brought me to Milwaukee — school or work are the typical assumption — and while I know there is much purpose behind my placement here, ultimately what brought me here is Jesus. So thats what I say. Im in love with Him, He’s at work and He purposed for me to be part of that work in this city, at this time. How that looks is still unfolding. 

When I was moving here I had this fresh passion for homeless people and, knowing that the city had a population of homeless, I assumed Id immediately take the practical step of finding a shelter or an intersection or square of the city where homeless gathered in community and just make myself a consistent presence there with them. Instead I had some heart-to-heart times with my Father that resulted in something else. He reminded me that the point is to love my neighbors, to make disciples — people growing in knowing the Father. I didn’t move here to create a ministry. I didnt even move here to join a ministry. I moved here to live intentionally in community with the local church and the people in this city. 

Relationships require consistency and investment of time and emotion. The church as a Body is spread out all across the city, we don’t have the exact same neighbors. Thats good. One family lives in an apartment complex and they love on their neighbors there as they rub shoulders and cross paths. Another family lives in a quiet neighborhood and does the same with their neighbors. Some people are students and they’re loving their “neighbor” in the seat or class next to them. Others are loving their coworker “neighbor” in the hospital, at the gym, in the coffee shop, or at the grade-school. 

The church Body of Milwaukee is diverse. Im seeing it come together as One, rather than separate members and that is beautiful. But as one of the white members of that Body, with the unfair privileges and favor of my race in society, and the unconscious, ingrained race-related biases we are raised with, I know that there are groups of “neighbors” we (white people) avoid. Homeless, prostitutes, low income, etc. Its a shame that we have made people that are meant to be our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, into our enemies. Our struggle isn’t with flesh and blood. The separation that there was between mankind and the Father was dealt with in Jesus. No one needs to be held to separation by our judgement when everyone has freedom to the Father by the Son, who died once for all, available to them just like to us. 

In my own neighborhood there are families and couples and singles. There are white and black and Arab people. There are Christians and Catholics and Muslims. Ive met some of my neighbors in their driveways or yards, walking down the sidewalk running errands. Ive met some at the libraries and post office and pizza shop. Im not out on-mission, I don’t have an agenda, Im just aware and I care so my eyes and ears are open to them.

In like manner Im aware of my marginalized “neighbors”. I perk up at the sight of someone who lives on the streets or has been subjected to racial prejudices or who feels helpless to make money any other way than by selling their body, just like I perk up at the sound of someone saying my street address or neighborhood name. I choose to be more intentional about making sure I spend time around the neighbors that aren’t in my immediate neighborhood. There still isn’t a program, its not a mission, there isn’t an agenda. Its still just loving my neighbors, being a consistent presence, growing in knowing the Father beside them. I keep my eyes and ears open, I build community with other people who are being Love and making disciples as a lifestyle too, and I let the Spirit guide me to the specifics of where and when and how of “stepping next door”, both one yard over and across the river, each day.

We look for big things to happen though, don’t we? Well, for six months no big things have happened here. Life has been quite small and usual, although, as Todd White would say, “You’re a divine encounter everywhere you go.” And we know that thats no small thing! But it comes out in lots of small things. 
- Investing in the community I have at church — going on Sunday morning and spending the afternoon going out to lunch with people afterward (even if you don’t get any food because your budget won’t allow it), being at small group consistently, hitting people up from that group throughout the week to hang out or attend other events together, being available to say ‘yes’ when someone reaches out to ask for help. 
- Connecting with other area church members who are like-hearted — which means going to their prayer meetings and worship events (which may be out of your way), it means looking a little crazy and walking to the front to introduce yourself to someone after an event, it means going to Chipotle with a bunch of strangers/new friends,  it means actually following up on Facebook, it means GPS navigating to their home and sitting in their living room with them some afternoons -- normal relationship building things. 
- Being the best nanny. Being the most punctual, efficient, honest, encouraging employee at my part-time gig. 
- Going to the same coffee shops, the same post office, the same stores, the same bank, the same grocery stores over and over and taking time to smile at and be kind to the tellers and cashiers. Encouraging them with life-giving words, praying for their injuries (wrist braces, casts, slings, bandages, canes, crutches, apparent stiffness or soreness… these are all obvious and theyre easy to ask about and pray for quickly while your transactions are completed). 

Ive connected with area leaders without even meaning to, and with such ease and favor it could only be God. I ended up at events that they were at and we had opportunities to connect and to hear each other's hearts. To be known and not only accepted as a friend but respected as a co-laborer in this community that Im so new to, so quickly, by people who I have high regard for is humbling and inspiring. I created a Facebook group called “UNITED community - MKE” and have been adding them one by one as we cross paths and get connected. There are the staff members at my church (who’ve become more like friends than church staff to me), the eclectic group of individuals who makes up the team at Adullam — a ministry that meets in a warehouse in the middle of the ghetto — who’s heart beat is for that area and all their neighbors, a couple who moved here from Florida because of Jesus and as a resulted many are following suit, some men you will always find at any area prayer or worship event, a young mother of three and a handful of other women from her church who have been going to the same strip-club every month for almost five years to build trust with the dancers that work there and to love them with Jesus’ love, a pastor + his wife of the most ethnically diverse congregation Ive seen so far in this city, two pastors who were born and raised in all-black communities and have come back in order to pour back into them, women who are single mothers and who walk in the Spirit and are divine encounters everywhere they go, stay-at-home moms who are raising their children to know the Father and to bring heaven to earth and set captives free through love and the authority they have as God’s children through Jesus. 

For several months now Ive just been posting information about area gatherings of believers on this FB page, an open invitation for all these people from different bodies and parts of town. As One Body, and compelled by One Love, we have been gathering in various ways. We’ve been expectant for the Lord’s thoughts to unfold before us the ways He wants for us to reach out as a united community to our city. With my transition from the school work schedule to the summer one I am also transitioning the rest of my life here for the summer. Im jumping into outreach with already established groups, in neighborhoods they’ve been serving consistently for years. I intend to be a consistent face in these places and to establish relationship with the people I meet while doing so. There are dreams of where that may lead but for now its just the next step. We will just wait and see how the Father unfolds His dreams from there.