All Things New: From the Inside Out
Driving through this once-desirable neighborhood, vacant, boarded-up houses outnumber inhabited ones on many blocks. Empty lots littered with debris—soggy mattresses, rusty appliances, rotting garbage—reveal the footprint of razed bungalows and two-story foursquares.
A handful of diehards refuse to abandon their neighborhood. These weary soldiers’ well-kept homes dot these same streets, but many occupied houses sit in severe disrepair and squalor, threatening the safety of the community’s most vulnerable—its children—with their shattered windows, peeling paint, crumbling sidewalks, and decaying roofs.
Not typically a destination, this neighborhood draws mostly passers-by, drive-throughs who witness only the exterior, the surface … if they choose to look. And even fewer stop, let alone enter, these homes where deterioration and danger grow with each step past the threshold.
No word portrays the condition of the homes of this neighborhood better than broken.
Tragically, it also captures the condition of the people who live here.
The Surface vs. the Root
Evidence of this brokenness abounds. Complex and vast, an intricate web of issues ensnares it: some obvious, some obscure. Interwoven and layered, each influences the others.
Violence threatens all. Here, people face a 215% greater likelihood of being fatally shot compared to the majority of the city.
Crime runs rampant while addictions thrive with unbridled access to alcohol, prostitution, weed, crack, pornography, heroin. The list goes on.
In this small swath of the city, incarceration often marks coming of age for its young men while pregnancy signals the same for its young women, not high school graduation.
Basic needs go unmet.
Without true transformation in the lives that make up this community, children grow up immersed in its unrelenting storm of chaos and trauma doomed to repeat the only “normal” they know—a path that leads to struggle, heartache, and devastation. Yet each one holds unlimited potential, untapped talent, a wealth of passion, endless raw ability.
They, too, dream, hope, desire, yearn, but all that soon fades along with the innocence of childhood. With no one to encourage, to champion, to protect, to believe in them, they give up on themselves as the reality of their steep climb over life’s barriers hits them. The pain, the rage, the grief, the terror, the shame they soak up from their world engulfs them. Abandonment haunts them. Hopelessness and despair sucks them down the deathly spiral. Invisible and alone, they fight and claw to survive the only way they know. And the cycle entraps yet another generation.
If we peel back the thick, powerful layers of injustice and trauma they filter life through moment by moment and look carefully, we discover in that tucked-away, protected place, the core—the root—of this desolation.
A profound poverty. Not simply material, but a poverty of soul, spirit, and body. This lack, this hole, this void … we all share it. Poverty exists within each one of us—not just the people in this neighborhood, but you and I, as well.
The Truth That Restores
Every one of us is broken. No exception. We enter this fallen world frail and corrupt, and unfortunately, this earthly life bruises and mangles us even more.
That poverty of soul, spirit, and body goes hand in hand with our inherent brokenness. Though it manifests itself differently on the surface, the underlying, core issues are the same. Lured in all directions, we struggle to fill our emptiness, searching for relief, for care, for hope, for wholeness—longing for all things new—only to encounter brief respites rather than cures.
A growing relationship with the Father through His Son Jesus’ gift of life offers the sole remedy. Only His truth redeems, only His touch heals, only His hope compels, only His love completes us. Only His work makes all things new, in a neighborhood, in a person, in you, in me.
God reveals himself to us and draws us closer through unconventional and miraculous events along with the mundane and everyday. A mysterious mix of both plays out through our relationships with one another.
Through life-on-life connections with people from all walks of life, we come face-to-face with our own poverty. In that sacred place, the Holy Spirit exposes the brokenness we strive so hard to disguise and bury. Without that mirror reflection revealed through these friendships, we jeopardize the Father’s work that turns our ashes into beauty, molds our brokenness into His image.
Bottom line, we need one another.
The Father’s Urgent Call
Turning the tide of this all-encompassing poverty in ourselves and others demands that we sacrificially pour out our lives into solid solutions that fly in the face of quick, easy, Band-Aid fixes.
No cookie-cutter, three-step escape exists. Well-intentioned strategies and good deeds that solely target immediate need not only fall short but often inflict more damage, neglecting core issues while diminishing God-given dignity, fostering dependence, and bolstering isolation.
An explosive ignition of enduring systemic change that reflects the Father’s justice, infuses his power, and restores his hope in all people demands courage and fortitude and, most importantly, wholehearted dependence on His Spirit’s lead.
Chaotic, slow, painful, exhausting, the process involves inevitable steps forward, complete stalls, jumps backward, spinning wheels, dives left and then right. Yet the journey is beautiful, a privilege.
Peering through the lens tinted by Jesus’ sacrifice for us all on the cross, we cannot give up. The mission is urgent. Every intersection of lives holds significance. Precious souls are on the line.
God calls us to embrace our own brokenness, dive into the trenches alongside others already engaged in the battle, vow to love people in their messiness, pain, and turmoil, and fight shoulder to shoulder with them for the long haul.
They, in turn, do the same with us.
Down & Dirty
Each of us holds a unique piece of the mosaic, a part in the Kingdom of God at work here on earth. Catch just a glimpse of the tangible, practical ways this plays out for me in this very neighborhood that my husband and I call home:
- Eating freezer pops on my porch with little girls from my block while we draw with sidewalk chalk and then teaching them to garden as they “help” me plant flowers in my yard.
- Celebrating the four-year-old staying five houses from us who never held a bat before but crushed the ball on his first swing and, later in the summer, mourning the loss of his 19-year-old uncle shot to death on their porch.
- Taking a young woman to the emergency room following a rape and then slowly processing all that it stirs up, both past and present, in the aftermath.
- Letting the child down the street whose first-grade classroom I volunteered in last year chase our five dogs with his squirt gun and then feeding him since he often goes without food when out of school.
- Guiding teen girls through a ten-week curriculum in my living room geared toward females susceptible to the sex trade—a reality in this neighborhood where we cannot walk down the street without queries for sex.
- Checking on the family a few doors down after the police leave following another domestic disturbance call.
It is simple. Nothing fantastic. Rarely earth-shattering. Like breathing.
Yet it is revolutionary. This incarnational expression of God’s love and hope in both truth and action changes us from the inside out, bringing wholeness and freedom. Though brokenness abounds, God is making all things new. One life at a time.