Changing Me in the City
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
I’ve been thinking about these verses continuously the last few days as we’ve moved to Austin this week. Several months ago that my husband and I had prayed and asked the Lord where we should live. We finally walked through with the decision to live in East Austin this past Monday as we packed it all up and left behind the familiar College Station after years of life there.
It was only days after moving in, shortly after putting the kids to bed, that we heard a bang on our door. It was a neighbor from down the street that came to tell us she had chased off some man from our driveway that had broken into our car. She had seen him walking back and forth in front of our place, and she finally got up and walked towards our driveway when she saw him walk through our open gate. By the time she arrived at our home she yelled at him as he took off running.
As she was recounting the story, I could tell she was angry for us, as was her husband and her grandson who was living with them for the summer. We all hung out on our porch as we waited for the police to show up. As they sat with us as a family they kept saying over and over again, “This just isn’t right. I hate that this happend.”
Their grandson, who had grown up in the neighborhood, said that the guy they saw in our yard wasn’t from around here, but he knew some other people down the road that knew him. He asked us at one point, ” you want me to walk down and see if the guy is there to make him give you back your stuff?” It was such a thoughtful gesture. And such a ludicrous one in my opinion. We politely declined the offer, but I appreciated the sentiment. They cared for us even though they barely knew us. We’d met them only days before yet here they were keeping us company and looking out for us. We were strangers to them yet they were treating us like family.
I’ve been thinking about that night, replaying how intrusive it felt to have someone steal from us right in our front yard and also how our neighbors responded in genuine, compassionate ways. They felt the injustice for us and were acting in ways that looked like what I think Jesus meant when he told us all to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
It was actually those verses that initially motivated us to move into this poorer part of the city in the first place. We felt like moving to Austin needed to mean a move towards the city and not just the outskirts of it. If God had called us to minister to Latinos we both felt moved by the Spirit to live where many lived and enter into community there. This place seemed like a good fit for that.
What I hadn’t anticipated was that before we could ever even make a move towards our neighbors without tripping over our own unpacked boxes, they would be the ones to move towards us. To love us. To reflect the kingdom to us. We came to bring light to this street in East Austin yet our neighbors were bringing it to us and my heart was being moved to ask some deeper questions in the process. “Do I love like they loved my family that night? Do I feel injustice on behalf of others I barely know like they did towards us? Am I even able to really see people that look and seem different than me? Can I step into their shoes and experience empathy for them or do I only see what I want to see?”
Sometimes I wonder if that is what ministry is really like for us. We come with the intention of bringing transformation to a community and yet we end up being transformed in equally significant ways. Could it possibly be that maybe our move to East Austin was really a move for God to change us, not soley for us to change it?
This whole experience has reminded me of so many conversations I’ve had with different majority culture staff that have recently stepped into ethnic minority ministry with Destino. Some have come with similar goals and visions much like Eric and I had as we moved to this part of Austin. They come with good hearts to serve and minister to people different than them yet not fully aware of what all that will mean for them either. For some maybe they’re even stepping in a little naive not totally grasping the complexity and anxiety that they have signed up for.
But I’ve also seen it over and over again how God has restored, transformed, healed their own lives in ways they hadn’t anticipated. It is so very hard to break the “mirror eyes” through which we have been conditioned to view the world. We see things as we want to in ways that best fit with our own perspectives and conclusions. We only see our own reflections when we look at others because it is all we’ve been taught to see. But God desires to break us of the narcissism so that we can truly see others as He does. And so we can truly feel compassion and mercy for those that don’t have our story. Isn’t that what it really means to love others as ourselves?
So, I’d love to know and hear in what ways you’ve been changed by the place you felt God calling you to serve. How have you and your communities been mutually transformed and blessed? For me, I can tell my eyes are being opened in new ways. Important ways. Irreversable ways. God’s kingdom is coming more and more in me as I seek to see it more and more in my new neighborhood. May that continually be true.
photo courtesy: cameliatwu