Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A successful night //

I went in, this was the second time, and even though two months had gone by since the first time things were much the same. What had changed was that I knew what I was walking into, I knew faces, I knew that we never know what the night will hold. Last time I'd been anchored in my chair, processing everything, learning faces and holding onto bits of the girls' stories as I heard them shared. This time I was up and around, going over to sit near girls that were alone, waiting for customers -- much like I pull up a seat next to someone new at church on Sunday's to communicate how wanted they are and how worth it they are. Its a funny dance, our group, the dancers, and the patrons, all together and shifting around each other for a few hours on a Sunday night. When we leave the shift carries on just like it did all the days and nights before, but that doesn't determine the "success" of a visit to the club. We're greeted with sincere smiles and trusting hearts, like good friends, when we come into the club. Its hard work, its statistically traumatizing and heart-breaking work, and from what Ive heard, none of the girls want to work there. Its complicated and hard for them to find other work. Whether they ever leave or not, whether they ever believe us or not, we are there to love them and to show them they're worth much more than they dare to believe. Brining Jesus' presence and love into a dark -- literally -- place consistently and without condition, not expecting anything in return and not growing tired of doing so, that determines a successful night at the strip club. We'll keep going, whether or not we ever witness change, because the people in those four walls are WORTH it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

I'm there to know them //

Last Thursday I showed up in the 'hood for an after-school program and neighborhood cookout. I knew the people putting it on but I didnt know the people in the neighborhood that showed up. But that was the point of me going, to meet them. I stood on the side-lines of the games. I talked with some moms and grandmas that walked their kids down. I went over and said hi to a girl who was standing off to the side just watching. She scowled at me and ignored me so I just stood near her.

During the cookout I was asked to man the prayer table. Its just a station set up with a sign for free prayer. Some kids came over to me and asked me to pray for their food. I was able to pray a blessing over a grandma that Id been by during the kids' games. Mostly, though, I just sat there and smiled and greeted people that passed by. One woman showed up by bus just for the cookout. She sat at the prayer station with me and talked all about her family and church community. She was encouraged to be in the company of brothers and sisters in an area that has had several shootings recently.

Monday nights I go to prayer and worship at the same location. I join an eclectic group of brothers and sisters who love the Lord, love Milwaukee, and agree in prayer and action with what God is doing in the city, starting with their own block.

As I was leaving the kids from the neighborhood were playing basketball in the street. I recognized many of them from the after-school program, though I hadnt yet learned their names. "Stranger! Stranger!" one of the boys yelled, pointing at me. I laughed, "You know me! I'll see you guys on Thursday!" They smiled and cleared out of the street.

Yesterday was Thursday and I went back. The kids were playing as usual and I was in and out but they recognized me. One of the boys wiped out on his bike and was crying. I helped him get cleaned up and after that he would ride past me saying, "Hi Chelsea!" He knew me. Just like he knew the people who have been serving there, across the street from him, for years. I'd been accepted in. Same with the other kids. They started to talk to me, engage with me, high five and hug me. The girl who had scowled at and ignored me last week, when I said hello to her and called her by name, burst into a smile and said hello back with a mouth full of potato chips.

I was manning the prayer table again this week. No one stopped by it except for staff members. They just wanted to fellowship. It was nice. Several old friends from the prayer and worship night showed up in the line for food and getting to see them, mixed in with my new friends (the neighborhood kids), as well as various men and women from the community who just happened by, was glorious. See, its one thing to meet someone once and be kind and generous toward them then. Its another thing to intentionally be a consistent presence in their lives and to continue to show kindness and generosity and genuine interest in them.
These neighbors of mine, over on 30th and Burleigh, they matter. Theyve been through hard things. Theyre beautiful people. Im there to know them. And as I know them, itll be my privilege to love them with patience, with persistence, and, Im sure, with provision. Because when you know your friend has a need, its your joy to help them meet it.