Urban:Suburban Challenge

Last night, Louis had a committee meeting at his church, which left me home alone.  I decided that I would take time to get ahead on postings…do a little planning on what stories I would tell and when.  I thought I had it all under control when I went to bed last night.  But, I woke up this morning at about 5am which is VERY unlike me!  There’s nothing better than sleeping in!  Knowing that, I believe the Lord takes great JOY in waking me up early to have a little discussion with me. This is hard to put into words as I grapple with it through my tears and fears.  I’m still processing.  But, I am going to give it a shot…

Where Louis and I Live and Minister

I have been challenged this week, when I received an email from the director of a local urban ministry.  He contacted me to tell me that there was a local suburban church who was looking for a 1-day mission project in a couple of months.  Thinking of me and SBH, he gave me a call to see if I could come up with a project for them to do.

Initially, I was THRILLED!!! WOW!  Am I an official ministry now?!?!?!  That people want to come and help for a day?!?!? But, something just wasn’t sitting right with me.  For a couple of days now, I have been thinking…what could they do?  I even went on the internet and started looking at what other organizations have done.  Asking myself, what does SBH need? What could we do? I couldn’t think of anything that a 1-day trip could accomplish.  Then, I was mortified.  I started beating myself up!  Surely there was SOMETHING!!!!  Lord, what was it?!?!

Well, He woke me up with an answer.  There may be NOTHING.  (Stay with me!  I said MAY!!!)  There may not be a THING that a 1-day missions trip could do to help my community. Am I trying to force it?  This church, I am sure, is full of well-meaning people of God.  I know this will sound completely OUTLANDISH to many of you reading this, but could there possibly be more harm done in that 1 day than there will be good?

Let me explain why….

I first thought of odd jobs they could do around the community – yard work, painting, etc.  But, then it hit me….How would my friend Everett make his living? Everett does odd jobs at an affordable price for folks around the community.  Cutting grass, mulching, planting, washing cars, etc.  How would Everett then buy what he needs without that income?

Would we offend people by offering FREE services? The last thing I would want to do is offend the people I have grown to LOVE. No one has come to me with a need that needs to be met.  But, I am now asking the right local people for their help.

Then, I thought of “picking up trash”.  Well, that would take a few hours. But, wouldn’t it be better if we rallied the community to do that?  But, it takes a relationship to rally people.  Does this well-meaning church have a relationship with the people to rally them?  The simple answer is no, but we do.

I once heard a story about a well-meaning American church who went to a foreign country to build a well in a dry place where the locals had to walk for miles and miles to get clean water.  Certainly a worthy cause! The Americans built the well on their own, then went on home to the USA.  Then..the well broke down.  No one knew how to fix it and the parts were too expensive.  So, the people were STILL thirsty, but also frustrated!! They had a taste of what it meant to get water without walking for miles….now it was more difficult than before.

What I realized this morning is that we need those and other well-meaning Christians to INVEST in the urban community.  Not just a 1-shot deal.  We need folks who understand the impacts and the nature of being poor and are willing to walk along side someone or a family.  We need someone who is willing to practice the art of being “present”….of just being there.

Yes, SBH may have people who don’t have a lot of money, but are RICH in spirit. Most of the folks in SBH are hard-working dedicated people.  Many people look into SBH and all they see are the prostitutes, the dealers (and their clients), the trash in the street, the homes in disrepair, etc. But, that is what they see from the outside looking in.  You need to BE there, PRESENT to see the inside…the many assets of SBH, the pride, the history, the commitment of the pioneers that have been through so much for so many decades…but continue to stick it out.

So now…I need to explore with this church and others.  Knowing I can not discount short-term missions trips altogether, I realize that many long-term missionaries and volunteers are born out of 1-day and other short-term missions opportunities. But, I owe it to myself and to my community to do a little investigating first.  The last thing I would want to do is bring unintentional harm to SBH or the servants.  Is this the beginning of that relationship? How can I partner with this church (and others) without hurting them or SBH at the same time?

A few questions to ask now (albeit not an exhaustive list)…

  • Can we come up with a project that will help SBH or someone who lives here? There must be something! I’ve put the word out in the community this morning. Lord…show us the need that we can meet!
  • How can I provide the kind of experience for the servants/missionaries where they truly experience the community and learn/benefit from the day?  I know it is cliche, but how would Jesus do this?
  • Is the CHURCH (the church at large….the Body of Christ) willing to commit…to invest…their time and/or resources to walk it out on the long-term?


is it a box to check?

served a poor urban community in 2010.            Check!

I am reminded of a book that friend Don Coleman suggested to me When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor or Yourself. I’ve used it as a resource, but now it’s time to dust if off and give it a good read.  If anyone wants to explore this book WITH me, let me know.  There are great exercises and probing questions to ask yourself in a group or individual study.

5 Comments on “Urban:Suburban Challenge”

  1. Louis Willams says:

    I’m loving it and loving you!

    • I love you too, baby! Thanks for your support and wisdom in the midst of all this!!!

      Just how many days are left in Lent? 🙂 Oh, that’s right. I’m not supposed to go around in ash and sackcloth am I? LOL


  2. Same question for those who want to come help the poor in other countries where they have no local investment . . . . .

    Love your thoughts.

    Chris Walker

  3. Whit says:

    Marti, these are important questions worthy of serious prayer and reflection. I’m in the midst of studying like crazy for my counseling licensure exam for the next month (in between ministry trips), but I would be interested in reading When Helping Hurts with you after April 7th!

    • You are right!! And there are many many more questions to ask!

      Sounds good to me! Chris Walker and I are thinking… is there a way that we can do a webinar/conference call/something study with a bunch of us. That would be great! If you have any ideas, let me know!