I live and work in an inner city neighborhood so I could tell you from firsthand experience about drug dealers and teenage moms. About domestic abuse and whole families living inside one room without a single piece of furniture but a mattress. About people outside pulling cardboard beds from dumpsters.
Or I could tell you about birthday parties.
About how someone bought a tablecloth covered in balloons, spread it out, invited friends, and celebrated the good gift of life. I saw my neighbors around that table, laughing in the sunlight, bearing the image of God.
I could tell you about the six foot black man who knocks on our door every couple days because he wants to show our two year old his dogs, he wants to pay back the money he borrowed, he wants to be an EMT.
I could tell you about the neighbors who feed pregnant teenagers and share their basketball hoop with the fathers. About the grandma who gives a ride to any kid who needs one and the stepdad who wants reading help for his friend’s son.
I could tell you about the family from the tutoring program I work at who fostered and adopted drug babies. About the dad who wants to help coach a fifth and sixth grade basketball team or the mom who brought me her favorite hair product to try.
I could tell you God is on the move here. That this place is full of hope and beauty. That the light is pushing back on the darkness everywhere, and we only need the eyes to see it.
God made these people and this place, and they are good. They matter to Him and they matter to us. To live and serve in this neighborhood grows our capacity for sorrow, but it also stretches our hearts for joy.
We are not sad to live and work among the poor. We are catching glimpses of Jesus here. Not only when we love our neighbors, but when they love each other.
There is much work still to be done in our community. We need a better relationship between the police and the poor. We need the education system to support, not alienate, the families it serves. We need people who can provide lifelong support systems to mothers who choose to keep unplanned pregnancies. The list could go on.
But we need to love our neighbors and help them navigate the complexity of poverty and racism and addiction in a way that affirms that the image of God in them persists.
We want more of Jesus for our neighbors. Always.
But we can’t forget that He is here.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).