Unbelievable that Spring Break is almost over (SPRONG BROCK). Our team has some last minute thoughts that we want to share with anyone who still cares, so buckle up, kids. It’s gonna be a wild one.
With less than one day left of our time at Shepherd, it strikes me as odd that we often feel as if we must validate local missions. Somehow, serving those from our own countries and states, cities and communities takes on a very arbitrary form in Christian culture. We understand its virtue, but not its urgency, as if the people nearest to us are not equally as broken, equally as underserved, equally as worthy of dignity and love as the ones we travel thousands of miles to meet. The story we tell of local ministry is not a full one, and it is most certainly valid.
I am also guilty of trivializing local missions to a catchy slogan or punch line, yet my cynicism has been squelched this week at Shepherd. Never have I been more challenged, more convicted, more uncomfortable, and more humbled than in this vibrant city only thirty minutes from the cornfields of my hometown.
Our time at Shepherd has been marked by accidental nicknames, Catan betrayals, and more than a few original memes, but at the risk of sounding too dramatic, it has also been sort of tough at times.
Wednesday saw our team helping out at the Horizon Academy, prepping for a senior community luncheon, canvassing the streets of Indy to invite the community to Shepherd’s trimonthly Block Party (an outreach event featuring hot dogs, health screenings, and bouncy castles), and administering food items to community members from Gleaner’s Food Bank.
At the end of the night, our debriefing was heavy with the things we had seen and heard and their weighty implications.
The most jarring event of mine and most of the team’s day was the community walk. I headed out with Kelsey, Gabe and Carissa (two Shepherd staff members), a health specialist, and an IMPD officer to walk through two streets in the 46201 zip code, streets of people Shepherd aims to serve. Though this area isn’t the safest, IMPD didn’t accompany us for protection. Because of the negative connotation of the profession in the near East Side culture, the IMPD tries to be super intentional about community outreach to try and shift the paradigm. Hence, policeman.
Walking next to the 6’ 4’’ officer, I could sense the fear in the air. People who called the street home became stiff at the sight of the black uniform and the power it represents. The reluctance of homeowners to answer the knocks at the door spoke volumes with the silence that followed, and the ones who did answer had the panic written in their eyes. Though you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t be terrified if five strangers and a cop came banging on their front door, the context added layers of meaning behind those confused tones and inch-wide wood openings.
The community walk widened my privileged perspective, and showed me a different side of a city I knew but had never fully known. Boarded up homes and trespassing warnings had not been my experience growing up, but for so many Indianapolis children, it’s that experience an
d then some. When inviting the community to the Block Party, I was haunted by the children who answered the door. The girl that backed away at the sight of the officer, running up the stairs for her mom. The other that waved to us from behind her dad’s legs. These kids are the ones our team has gotten to know at Shepherd through coloring, playing cops and robbers, and hoisting them onto our laps for story time.
But life out there is not a game.
The kids of Indianapolis, kids Shepherd is trying to reach, are up against some serious challenges barring them from financial, educational, and social success at no fault of their own. Kids no different from me besides my pure luck at having been born into a white middle-class evangelical Christian family. The unfairness of it all strikes me again when I see their faces – but in the place of a face I see a steak knife in the yard in the midst of bouncy balls and toy cars left out from the day before. I see “Beware of Dog” signs and graffiti-decorated porches. I see tired faces and bloodshot eyes, and I remember that in the dog days of childhood innocence, these kids are dealing with a struggle I know nothing about when they walk out of Shepherd’s doors.
And, honestly, I don’t know what to do with that.
I could quote some hopeful Scripture or tell you I had a moment of clarity and began to understand the purpose behind perpetuated injustice, but that would be an aggressively cheesy lie. There is nothing that you or I or anyone else can single-handedly do to “fix” the issues of systematic racism and the cycle of poverty so prevalent in Indianapolis or anywhere else on this earth, and that is life on this side of Heaven. The men and women at Shepherd Community Center and local ministries like it are trying to do some good, not in the hopes of changing the world, but of changing the life of one child for the better with the knowledge that it is God who loved them first and it is God who is in control. And I am so thankful that they’ll be here long after my team and I have arrived back at Taylor.
See ya tomorrow, TU
Writer: McKenna Gold