On Sunday night, right as the sun had begun to fall behind the big oak tree and cast the whole street in a burnt orange glow, I stood out on the sidewalk and looked into our yard at the people filling its tables. I did a quick mental head count, lumping family units together and the new kids together and the usual kids together. I then did another mental head count, lumping the evening’s volunteers together.
Something felt off, but I shrugged the feeling away.
I watched as the kids devoured over a hundred hotdogs with chili and relish and I snapped pictures of the ones willing to pose for the camera. I spent time in the dust bowl we call the basketball court and got so caught up in the ferocity of the game that I forgot I was supposed to be capturing the slam dunks in pixels for kids who know I’ll share their skills via social media. They think if I post enough pictures they’ll be discovered, especially the one with the face that loves my camera. I smile now at the thought of that.
At a little past 6, after the sun had finished dropping behind the big oak tree, the girls climbed into the back of a trailer for a hayless hay ride around the neighborhood and left the boys behind. The red tractor pulling a trailer in the middle of the city is a hilarity all on its own, but the kids love it and my brother loves any excuse to drive through town on his favorite toy. Thirty minutes later, the boys hopped on for their turn around the block and I found myself standing on the sidewalk again, trying to swallow down the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
I stood there on that sidewalk for a good long while, chewing my bottom lip and squinting my left eye and staring back into the yard, taking stock of the happenings and the people and the dust from the basketball court.
Something was definitely off.
And I knew exactly what is was.
Tonight’s meal looked more like a program being run by white volunteers than a family meal being shared among neighbors.
This was not good. My gut was telling me so.
And so were some of the faces of my neighbors.
I knew where we had we gone wrong, but I wasn’t sure how we were going to remedy this situation.
I always respond with the same answer, something like Jesus told us to live here. I also smile rather sheepishly and change the subject because I know to expound on the answer is to open a whole can of worms that just wind up slithering between me and to whomever I’m talking.
Because here’s the thing, if we don’t choose to live among the marginalized and wholeheartedly choose to identify with poor, calling them our people, our family, then our service is nothing more than charity ringing like a clanging cymbal.
Unless we move in and prepare a place of welcome on a level playing field, then what we offer feels like a handout and a not a hand out in friendship.
Unless we choose to embrace the slow way of Jesus and stay a good long time in a place, our presence will be untrustworthy to our neighbors.
When Jesus chose to push His Gospel forward on Avent Street, He invited us to join Him here that this place might have a tangible, everyday representation of Himself. He meant for the people here to be able to see Him, touch Him, hear Him. He meant for my neighbors to experience the safety of His presence, the joy found round the His table on a Sunday night, the HOPE of salvation found in His Gospel and He meant for us to be His little Christs here that they may know Him.
Which is why we started the Sunday night meals in the first place.
We wanted to invite our neighbors to taste and see Jesus with people that already love them and call them friend.
Sunday night’s sidewalk epiphany has had me thinking through all sorts of things this week. It’s had me thinking how white I really am and how not white my neighbors really are. It’s had me thinking through my resources and asking myself how we mobilize our neighbors to serve the meal rather than depend on non-neighbors to serve and clean up.
We’ve complicated things and institutionalized so much of life that we’ve squashed the natural rhythms of disciple making that Jesus put into place.
Even this go and live among a people group business is something we’ve put into the box labeled Only For Foreign Missionaries.
But it’s not just for foreign missionaries, is it?
It’s for every one of us.
Every one of us is invited to live so intentionally, right where we are, that our people might come to know Jesus.
And some of us are invited to go and live intentionally in a new place that those people might know Jesus, too.
*In case you were wondering about our Sunday night crowd of volunteers, let me assure you that they are rockstars. Seriously. We prayed for workers and Jesus has seen fit to send 36 people. Every person who has served on a Sunday night has loved well, served well, and been a JOY. Thad and I just haven’t been able to come up with a plan of action to accommodate the help while preserving the community feel of the meal. And in the process, Jesus has opened our eyes to some things we’d not considered. If you’re willing, could you pray that we are wise with volunteers and harmless as doves with our neighbors? Thanks friends.