Hyaets Community frequently receives calls from folks wanting to visit. This is essential for us, as it provides us with opportunities to connect with old friends, meet some new ones, and most of the time brings willing workers to help out with projects around the neighborhood. Every first-time visit starts with an orientation that introduces people to our community, our neighborhood, and an overview of the work the visitors will be doing and why that work is important. Always included is a statement on how we want visitors to interact with neighbors. In brief, the talk goes like this:
- The neighbors you will encounter are likely to be rather different than you, in class, race, and family history. They will likely be black and come from situations of generational poverty.
- The Bible shows that Jesus himself was poor and that God chooses a preferential option for the poor.
- Therefore, the folks you meet are going to be your teachers. Your job is not to be the presence of Christ today, but instead to meet the presence of Christ and to recognize it in those you encounter. These neighbors will be your teachers about the kingdom of Heaven if you will listen.
I had a chance to give this talk to a church group not too long ago. Immediately after I finished, they were ready to get to work, and wanted to start their work with a prayer. Their leaders prayed, “O God, we just want to thank you for bringing us here today, and we pray that you would help us to be the presence of Jesus to those we meet on these streets that probably don’t know you.” In other words, they prayed for exactly the opposite of what I had spent fifteen minutes asking of them.
Life in Enderly Park has been a training ground for me in unlearning that perspective on mission. I am learning to see that my neighbors, who are mostly poor and mostly black, are some of the best teachers I can have in learning the way of Jesus. They certainly do not have all of the answers, but learning to see my neighbors as brother and sister rather than as recipients of my charitable cause represents a shift in doing mission. This is a shift that has been going on for a while – Hyaets Community certainly did not make this up – but that still needs wider adoption throughout the church in America.
I left that workday with the group a little frustrated and disappointed that it was nearly instantaneous for them to fall back into their usual perspective on mission. But perspectives don’t change after a single conversation. That did not happen for me, and I cannot expect it to for our visitors. I do hope that life together with our neighbors on Tuckaseegee Road can be so appealing, so interesting, and so doggedly faithful in both making and becoming disciples that people will pay attention when they visit. I’m having the time of my life with my neighbors, and we are all being converted to the way of Jesus a little more each day. I think that is Good News worth sharing.