Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is "it" Safe

I found this article from YMToday and wanted to share it. It has to do with safety/mission and life in the trenches:

"Is an urban mission a safe place?"

I cannot begin to count how many times I have had to answer this question or a question related to safety. It makes sense that parents and youth workers are concerned. When given a chance, I try to answer their questions by sharing my "safety faith journey."

It was the late 1980s. I was in seminary trying to figure out if I was called into ministry. One weekend, Rita (my wife) and I decided to visit some family friends living in Watts, Calif. This couple and their two children had moved from a small farming village in Southern Manitoba, Canada to what was, from my perspective, the extreme opposite: inner-city Los Angeles, Watts. After class on a Friday, we made the four-hour journey from Fresno, Calif., to Watts. Twenty years later, what stands out to me about this visit was a conversation we had in the backyard.

My question was simple, "Is this a safe place to live and raise a family?" Their response was both simple and profound. "The safest place to be is in the middle of God's will."

I do not recall any other parts of that weekend, but the idea of safety in the middle of God's will has stuck with me. I have been inspired and frustrated by this thought.

Ever since that afternoon, I having been trying to figure out God's will for my life. Some things have been made clear. I have been called to love God and to love my neighbor. Feeding the hungry and caring about the needs of others fits in as well.

However, I have never been able to fully answer the "where" question. God, where do you want me to serve you? Should I move back to Canada or stay here in the U.S.? Is it OK for me to work among people who look like me, think like me, and talk like me? Questions like these have been driven by my need to answer the "safety" question. I want to be a responsible husband and father. I want my family to be safe. I want my children to go to schools where they can grow and mature without having to experience fear.

After seminary, we moved to Denver to work in a nice safe suburban church. I worked with the students who attended schools like Chatfield, Bear Creek, and Columbine. During the three years I spent at this church, I learned two important lessons. First, safety is mostly an illusion. Bad stuff happens. Second, the call of God very rarely settles the safety question.

In the fall of 1994, I began my work at DOOR. Two years later, we sold our house in the suburbs and moved into the heart of the city. At the time, we had well-meaning friends and neighbors who at best thought we were crazy and at worst thought we had become irresponsible parents for moving from a "safe" neighborhood into "that" neighborhood.

Our new neighbors (and friends), for the most part, did not look like us. They saw the world from a completely different context and they were still learning English. We were, and still are, a long way from talking the same! I still struggle with the safety question, but my 15-year journey from the suburbs to the city has yielded some unexpected fruit: contentment with where I live and the feeling of being where God wants me to be.

As the National Director of DOOR, it is my responsibility to do everything humanly possible to ensure a safe experience for the participants that enter our program. I had friends who worked at Columbine High School the day the shooters came in. They were concerned about safety as well.

So this brings me back to the question, is an urban mission trip always safe? The honest answer is no—vans get stolen and iPods go missing. But the good far outweighs the bad. Because of an experience during an urban mission trip, many young people have met Jesus for the first time, committed themselves to vocational ministry, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and have been forever changed because they met God in the city.

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