Moving Into the Neighborhoodby Lydia Powers
I had heard the stories of Allison Hill, a neighborhood that had more single mother households than 98% of the U.S. and where only 2% of the population attended college. I had met people who had chosen to move into the neighborhood, leaders of the Burn 24-7 missions movement who longed to make earth look more like heaven and now called Allison Hill their home. I had seen the residents of the Hill from afar and watched some gather on a Monday evening to the Burn residence to hear songs of truth ring throughout the streets of their city.
Yet unknowingly, I kept a safe unattached distance to the reality of this neighborhood that stood as my temporary home for a 15-day worship training program. Though I was living on the Hill, my heart was not connected to the realities of what daily life was like for the people that surrounded me. Yet just one week into my time in Harrisburg, I found myself being invited into the neighborhood in a much deeper way.
One Saturday morning, the Hillside staff members informed the 60+ students of Hillside Worship Intensive that we would be participating in a 9-hour Burn service with simultaneous outreaches throughout the city. As my team was released that afternoon to begin our outreach, our leader told us that we were assigned to the Hill – to learn and love the place which was our home.
Our hearts were expectant as we parked on the Hill that day. Though my mind had yet been disengaged with what was going on in the neighborhood, as I began to walk the streets, I was suddenly captivated by its sights and sounds. My senses could no longer avoid the Hill’s barred windows above and garbage below, but more importantly, the people that surrounded me.
As we continued to walk, we turned a corner to face another block bursting with life. People filled the streets as generations living to tell the history of the neighborhood. Just beyond a man who shared with us his nearly 20-years on the Hill, we came upon a parked van, doors open wide that welcomed us to engage in conversation with the people inside.
In the back seat, a young man reclined listening to the rhythms that came from his headphones. Just outside the van, a woman in her sixties leaned against the passenger seat, quick to engage us in conversation by her open demeanor. As she shared some of her story with us, of the reality of pain that riddled her body after an invasion of cancer, she extended her hands to meet ours in prayer.
I watched as the heart of heaven met this woman on the Hill that day as Jesus, once again, used flesh and blood to move into the neighborhood. Heaven came with connection, as it always does – person to person, flesh to flesh. The woman’s response was one that was similar to that of anyone encountering the love of Jesus. Immediately, she began to yell to her friends, “You! Come over here! You need prayer!” I chuckled and imagined the bubbling up well that could not be contained as Jesus healed the deaf and mute man in the book of Mark. “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.”
Wars and Rumors of Wars
As I think about the connections that I made with people like her that day and the conditions in which they live, I am reminded that the wars and rumors of wars of this age are not isolated to the streets of Harrisburg. I open my smartphone, and the reality of the world does not escape me as pages and pages tell the stories of the fight for survival by so many. The ripple effects of the turmoil in our world are great as the structure of politics and religion and race and family are touched in a profoundly deep way. And yet, somehow, for so many of us, we manage to live our lives guarded and unattached to what is going on. Though we may be somewhat aware of the conditions around us, we can easily choose not to dwell there because of the pain brought to our hearts that has no immediate answer.
As the woman’s call rang out and drew others to the van for prayer, I was met by Daniel. Though I didn’t know Daniel’s story, I was immediately captured by his eyes that glistened and smile that beamed with the potential of connection and leadership in the neighborhood that was his home. Before I knew it, initial pleasantries of meeting were overshadowed by a turn in the conversation. Daniel began to freely share about his experiences with people of similar “mission” to my own that came into his neighborhood in the name of love and hope. His words held the weight of pain from those he met who were willing to save, but not willing to understand or love.
I Had No Answers
As he continued sharing his story, a longing to have an answer to his pain welled up inside of me. I began to feel uncomfortable with the despairing circumstances and conversation that surrounded me that day. What words could I say that would help heal his pain from encounters of the past? Or, in all reality, what words could I say that would help me feel less uncomfortable when talking to this man? But as I stood before him, I knew that an answer or clever response was not going to heal this man’s heart. He had heard enough from people who claimed answers.
I didn’t know why connecting with anyone in vastly different circumstances was so difficult. I didn’t have the answer.
Despite my greatest hope for him to know the life of the gospel through the words that I could speak, I felt the presence of the Lord saying to simply stay, look him in the eyes, be willing to feel the uncomfortability of his pain, and listen.
So I did.
Thy Kingdom Come
In a world that seems to have been turned upside down, the expression of the kingdom may look different than we imagined. It often does.
Into a world that was groping about in darkness, feeling their way along the wall of life as people without eyes, was sent the savior of mankind. Though anxious hearts were looking for a gladiator-king, those abiding in love were little surprised to hear the sound of a baby’s cry. This alone proved that one needs little words to bring heaven to earth.
Whether 2,000 years ago in the City of David, or 2 weeks ago in the city of Harrisburg, love always looks like something beyond words alone. Love seeks connection first. Love challenges the societal norms. Love forsakes selfish-ambition. Love moves into the neighborhood.