Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Building Community

Where Sierra and I live is known for being a rough part of town.  In some ways, it's really good.  We're only about a 15-minute walk into the city.  Just around the corner is a very popular and posh strip full of little coffee shops, restaurants, high end boutiques and bookstores.  And, we have a great view.

But there's more.  Right out our front door is a major area of sex trade - street prostitution happens at all hours and there are men constantly driving around looking to buy sex.  It's not unusual to get propostitioned.  We sometimes come across needles, and there are often fights outside when the girls get into it with each other or with the men.  There are sex shops all over this city, and within a few minutes of us are a few.  Not far away are the legal brothels, but the girls on our street are the ones who are older, run down.  They are often so high on drugs and alcohol that they do not seem to be able to function.  Some are even quite pregnant.  It can be disheartening, to say the least.

I admit, I have struggled with this - a lot.  I've felt scared, angry, disgusted.  Never in all my life did I think I'd find myself living in a place where prostitution was happening literally outside my front door.  I worry about Sierra's safety, about my own safety.  That's what we all want, isn't it?  To be happy, healthy and safe? 

Then there are times when I think "why should I have it special?"  What makes me think I should live a life secluded and protected from the reality of what is happening in a broken world?  Oh, it's one thing to think about going out to love the unlovable in theory - from a nice, safe, academic distance, to spend a week or a month amongst the poor and needy.  Yet it's quite something different to have it be your life, and when the ones who are poor and needy are not so easy to accept.  Yet, Jesus accepts them.  He loves them.  He cherishes them, actually.  He loves them so much that He died on the cross for them - just like He did for me.  How different from them am I, really?  In truth, not that much.  It is only by God's grace that I am not the one outside of my front door.

For a long time, I just wanted to move somewhere easier - a few blocks away where there are parks and nice houses and families.  It's all fine and good to go out and visit the girls, or head out weekly to bring a warm meal - but to live right in the thick of it?  Surely that's too much, isn't it?  It's just not sensible as a single mom with a beautiful teenage daughter.

I felt so overwhelmed - I wanted to help, to see change - but what could I do?  How could I possibly have any impact?

I started to just chat with the girls when I was walking by, spending some time getting to know them a bit.  At times they were really friendly, somtimes they were suspicious, and other times they would be really out of it on drugs.  All the time they would continue to scan the road, waiting to see if a car driving by might have some "work" for them.  Eventually, I started to bring down some cookies or tea to offer to the girls while we chatted.  Often I am able to share with them about the Lord, and sometimes I'm able to pray with them.  It's a long road, and there is so much pain and brokenness.

I was praying and asking the Lord "what more can I do?" and I felt He said I can be a good neighbor, and knock on people's doors.  I thought, Yes!  I can do that!  Then He gave me the idea of having a sausage sizzle for the people who live in my apartment complex - about 36 units in all.  I started to knock on doors and introduce myseld and invite people to the sausage sizzle.  Everyone was so open and friendly!  Many expressed deep gratitude at the opportunity to get together and get to know one another.  I found out I had neighbors from all around the world - Australia, England, Indonesia, Malaysia, Ireland, Scotlad, Czechoslovakia, Colombia, Nigeria, Sudan, Iran, India...the nations are all around me!

I felt that the idea of getting to know my neighbors was one of those simple, yet profound little things.  As we get to know one another, people start to look out for each other.  Friendship starts to grow and our little block starts to become a community. 

I had the BBQ about a month ago.  It went so well!  About 25 people showed up, and they loved it.  There were two older men from Czechoslovakia who live in the complex - neither knew the other lived there, and they were so pleased to get to catch up in their own language.  Another family from Iran came and were so happy to meet other families.  I heard people making plans to get together for dinner and everyone agreed we should do this again.  About a week later, I saw that someone had gone out and swept and cleaned up the front walkway - taking ownership!

A few nights after the BBQ, at about 9 pm, I heard a faint knock at my door.  "Who is it?" I asked.  I heard the faintest little "me"...I opened the door and there was Moni, our downstairs neighbors little boy.  "Have you had dinner?", he asked.  Well, of course we had had dinner - it was after 9 pm!  We were actually getting ready for bed.  "But my mom made chicken!"  he pleaded.  So we headed down and found that his mom had made a big batch of chicken curry and wanted to feed us.  At 9:30 pm we ate dinner again, this time with our neighbors all standing around watching us!  They had been so blessed by our little BBQ that they wanted to bless us back.  In fact, during the BBQ, Ajanta (the mom) had mentioned that this was the happiest she'd been since she'd come to Australia from India.  All from a simple little idea.  God is so clever!

Since our BBQ, there is definitely a sense of community that is building.  Friendly greetings, little chats, plans to do another get together - I'm just so pleased that I could be a part of it!  I'm continuing to pray and seek the Lord for more ideas - including other complexes?  Knocking on more doors?  Perhaps a block party?  I'm determined that we can change the atmosphere of this block with the help of the Lord! 

And ultimately - that's what it's all about, isn't it?  Taking back the ground the enemy has stolen - not pushing it aside or ignoring it, but redeeming it for the glory of God.  With Him, all things are possible!