One of the biggest challenges I face in my work is communicating a clear and compelling picture of the current landscape of material poverty in our cities and communities. After the riots in Baltimore, I was invited by Pastor Rod Hairston, pastor of Messiah Community Church located just outside of the city, to see the neighborhoods where the violence took place.
Listen in on some of what we saw:
It’s easy to see the physical characteristics of a hopeless environment: abandoned buildings with boarded up doors and windows, weeds sprouting up from the many cracks in the sidewalks, empty bottles of alcohol littering the streets, the corner markets specializing in products that do more harm than good, and people sitting on stoops and hanging out on street corners with nothing to do.
You may see the occasional image painted on a boarded up business, an attempt to bring creativity back to this place.
This place is not about the physical dilapidation you can see. The essence of these communities are the people and their stories.
This is their home – the place they find their identity and purpose. But even that can be fleeting, especially when they have no work.
For some, the issue is a lack of jobs. Once vibrant factories have closed and empty buildings are left unproductive.
For others, they’ve lost the will to work. Gangs, drugs, violence, prostitution – and fear – are trademarks here now. As children, they learned to survive in a place absent of safety. In their search for love and acceptance, they find anything to help them survive.
Without their own power and control, the members of these communities watch outsiders attempt to create order for them. It feels oppressive yet in their helplessness they surrender control. The internal feelings of shame, uselessness, and despair eroded their hope over time.
We can’t get to the root of the spiritual struggle if we aren’t present.
The hard part is these internal struggles aren’t much different than our own. We wrestle with good and evil every day. The choices we make take us down a path in life.
We may wonder how we arrived at this place of emptiness and loneliness. How did our own lives come to feel as broken as our cities?
We found hope through forgiveness and redemption from a heavenly Father. Only the power of God can restore lives and transform communities. We are not even the solution to our own problems, so how can we think we can be the solution to anyone else’s?
Beyond the broken walls are gifts and talents. Buried underneath the despair is dignity. Strength, perseverance, and grit are marks of the community.
Darkness is always overwhelmed by the light.
And good news, right around the corner is the Church.
A full podcast with Pastor Rod Hairston will be available on October 15th on the Jobs for Life Podcast.