Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Labor Of Love For Our City

Last weekend, I took part in serving my surrounding community in the Fishtown/Kensington area of Philadelphia alongside several members of liberti church, where my wife and I attend and fellowship. In addition, we were aided by a bunch of willing and able college students from Temple University, Philadelphia University, and the University of Pennsylvania. To give a little background, at liberti, we have a bunch of small group home meetings that take place throughout the week in different peoples' homes. Our purpose in getting together each week is to pray, study the Bible, pour into the brokenness and the joys of each others lives, learn how to better care for those in need, and seek to simply adore God for who he is and what he's done.

A couple of people from liberti recently came up with the idea that each home meeting ought to determine a few ways in which we can display the love of Jesus to our surrounding neighbors by serving them in practical ways with our time and resources. This idea was issued as a challenge for many of us to either get to know our surrounding neighbors or to deepen the already existing relationships by honestly asking our neighbors in what ways we can serve them best. I'm not sure if you've been to North Philly, but beyond the Center City facade, there are many people who need assistance in simply maintaining their homes, as well as many vacant trash and syringe-filled lots in desperate need of cleaning.

Through many peoples' willingness to step out of their comfort zones and build relationships with their neighbors, more than a dozen overall opportunities in the Fishtown/Kensington area opened up for us to fix and paint houses, clean lots, and do various types of yard work. On my block of Letterly Street, the most pressing need was the cleaning of an empty lot at the end of the street, next to my house. This is a space in which kids in the neighborhood frequently come to play and where people have barbecues in the spring and summer. Over the past year, this lot had slowly turned into a trash heap and a dog excrement zone. Freaking gross! With rakes, shovels, trash bags, and pooper scooper in hand, we set out to gut the Letterly lot. And gut it we did.

My next-door neighbor, Pat and UPenn study abroad student, Annabel

Yes, that is an entire bag full of dog crap

Tara found some really gross items

Getting there...

Among the excavated debris was a small barbell weight...(weird!)

Bethany, craving McDonald's as we neared the end

So what's the point in my writing about this? To pat ourselves on the back? To brag about what awesome teamwork skills we have as a church? To glory in the fact that we all accomplished a variety of productive tasks and should just take satisfaction in a job well done? Well, I'm not gonna lie; it's certainly within our self-centered nature to just accept all the compliments that collectively came our way. But what would be the point? I'd have honestly rather just slept in that Saturday morning than get credit for doing a bunch of manual labor.

No, this was something much bigger than that. This was a labor of love for our city. This was a small effort made towards the slow redemption of a city that the Lord loves and died for. This was the beginning of what we pray will be a continued partnership with those around us who are suffering and in need. We live in a broken, fallen world, and most would agree that many things are not yet as they should be. Jesus himself said, "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." (Isaiah 61:1)

To quote my good friend and liberti church elder, Joe Marlin:
"I saw some neighbors resist help, and yet, a new relationship and openness has been born out of the concern and love shown by members of our church. I saw a family that had broken away from each other over the years, in a house we painted, where the father had died late last year. I saw that family hold hands with us and pray with tears to Jesus for their family to be healed and reconciled. I saw college students with a new perspective on the city, the church, and what following Jesus is all about. At least one so far is rethinking what it all means for his future, his career, and his old attitude towards the city and the poor. Others are thinking of spending their summer interning with us and diving more into the ministry of Jesus in Fishtown. I saw a family that has fostered more kids than you can imagine, have the holes and drawings on their walls plastered and painted fresh, and praise God for us, even as we were praising God for them. I saw new relationships forming with the neighbors we worked alongside, who have long been disillusioned with the church seeming to do nothing but exclude people. I saw a new appetite in people to continue to show God's love and concern for their neighbors. I saw the gospel proclaimed in many ways on a dozen corners in Philly and his people equipped for service and good works. Little brings me more joy than that."

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