It did not sound controversial. We had come to serve. For some people, though, this is a story of what-not-to-do.
For several years our church came alongside a ministry in inner city Philadelphia. One summer they asked our group of teens and adults to clean up a city-block sized concrete park. They sensed the Lord had plans for the neighborhood. Needles, used condoms, heroin bags, broken glass, and newspaper littered the park. No children played on the rusted playground equipment.
By lunchtime, we needed a second box of industrial-strength trash bags. New space emerged as we yanked weeks and debris from overgrown park corners. We began working on the broken playground appendages.
Who are you?
By the end of the first day, a couple neighborhood children walked over. “Whatcha doing? Why are you cleaning the playground?” On the wobbly picnic bench, we chatted and shared lemonade.
The next day, enough of the basketball court was cleared that a couple of our guys began a half-court game. The bouncing ball echoed off the surrounding townhouses. A few doors opened. A few teens came over to investigate. By the end of the week, with the full court cleaned, enough children and teens came to create multiple teams.
Adults wandered into the park, too. “Who are you?” They asked.
“Just a group with the church on the corner. We’re working together to make a space for children to play.”
Heads nodded. Eyes scanned the playground. The children’s laughter from the playground equipment mingled with the game shouts on the basketball court.
“Can’t remember when it’s been this clean. I never let my children come here. It’s not safe,” said one mom.
When Hope Goes Missing
They had grown used to the decay and crumble of the park. Hope was lost. They no longer had a vision for what the park could be for their neighborhood. Our days of labor began to scratch the surface of what could be. They also opened the door for conversation. Faith easily entered in as we talked about our motive to serve. By the end of the week, miraculously, we had the privilege of praying together with several neighbors.
And so began a new relationship between a church and a neighborhood. The hope for reconciliation emerged through the servant work of cleaning and the listening of conversation.
The request to clean went against my well-reasoned mantra, “Don’t do something that someone can do for themselves.” Outsiders picking up trash belittles and undermines families in the neighborhood.
But this was the task our hosting ministry asked us to do. In a spirit of humility, we stepped into their world. Yes, we cleaned and weeded. More importantly, though, we discovered the space for conversation. It paved a new bridge for the local church into the neighborhood.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Posted by Sharon R. Hoover