from KrisAnne, missional minister
For more than a year now, I have been spending regular time in the community near my home– frequenting a local business, praying at the firehouse with other pastors and neighbors, walking the streets, tutoring at my children’s school. Below are a few things I have learned during these months. I share them because I believe in the power of this life rhythm: practice and reflect, practice and reflect. It is formational, actually it is transformational. It creates the space for God to shape me, change me, grow me into Christ-likeness. This practice also helps me see where and how God is at work through me to touch the lives of others with grace, hope and love. Change is coming… slowly, surely… God restores.
So here are a few themes that have emerged, and I hope you will find them helpful:
Sidewalks enable a sense of community. It is easier to walk dogs and to push babies in strollers when there is an intentional walking place like a sidewalk. We can walk for exercise or leisure on sidewalks. We can stop our walking, to chat with one another as we pass by. When sidewalks aren’t there, it is not as easy to connect with neighbors. We aren’t as likely to walk our streets and greet each other. We simply aren’t as “present,” rather, we are more likely to be in our backyards which are more private and secluded. And that is ok– I love my backyard! But as I have spent time in the community, I have noticed the absense of people. There is a certain emptiness here that I have not observed in neighborhoods where there are sidewalks. It seems like this community is more of a place to pass through, than a place to dwell. Geographically, it is a major intersection, and it is on the edge of three townships. It has the feeling of being fringe; being a bit forgotten and neglected. I often ask myself as I am there, “What would reconciliation and restoration, wholeness and health, look like for this community? Does it look like sidewalks, a playground, a park, a farmer’s market?”
Spiritual conversation can happen anywhere. At a local business where I have spent a significant amount of time, I have met some new friends. They have been surprisingly open to talking about everything from their kids’ artwork, to family members’ struggles with cancer, to broken relationships, to tragic deaths and questions of faith and spirituality. Their stories are a gift of trust, so I treat their words with honor. I offer to pray about the situation, and then make the effort to follow up when I see them again. My hope is that this communicates love, God’s love. One new friend has talked to me repeatedly about free will. He often says, “It is all about what we choose to do with our lives, with our thoughts. We create this reality we live in.” He believes we all have something in common as human beings, unique from the animals or the rest of nature. To me, it sounded very much like Genesis 1 and 2– God created humankind in His image, male and female, and made them stewards of creation. My friend and I were speaking the language of theology and I am not even sure he was aware of that. In that moment, I did not respond by talking about my faith or theology. Perhaps I could have… I don’t know how he would have received that. Maybe this was a missed opportunity, and I can pray for more opportunities to speak hope and truth into his life.
It is good to go with a friend. I have not taken this journey into my community alone. I am not sure I would have had the courage to start the journey or the courage to stick with it had it not been for my partnership with Sandy. We walk together, we pray, we encourage each other when we feel anxious or doubtful. We share our observations and our reactions to different conversations we have with the people we meet. This partnership has been powerfully formative for both of us. It seems that in God’s wise provision, when I am struggling with doubt and anxiety, she is full of courage. And when she has been low, I have been courageous. When I have been at a loss for how to respond to someone, she has had just the right words, and I have spoken when she has been silent. More than that, because Sandy and I see things from different points of view, when we talk about our experiences in the community, we learn from each other. She will often comment on things I did not even notice and I will share things with her that perhaps she did not see or hear. This is the gift of the Body of Christ!
What has God taught you “along the way” as you have practiced missional living in your community? Is there a particular place you are drawn to spend time at, in prayer or in conversation with people? Do you have wishes, hopes, dreams for your neighborhood; or a neighborhood close to you? Could you commit to praying about those wishes and those places and people? Could you commit to spending regular time there, even if it is a small amount of time once a week or a longer time once a month?