I first drove into Trinity Gardens around 1990. As a dentist, I volunteered to screen elementary school kids for dental problems during February. I was assigned Brazier Elementary and had no idea where it was located. Using an old-fashioned paper map, I found an easy way in that used a main street and I avoided most of the neighborhood. I did that for 10-12 years really having no interaction with the neighborhood. In 2002, we were invited to visit Mt. Hebron Church and ventured a little deeper into the neighborhood. Here we were attending a black church in a black neighborhood. I still took the most direct route to Victory Avenue and avoided most of the neighborhood that looked a little scary to me. Over the following 10 years, my wife explored the neighborhood, offering the after-school Bible Club and picking up kids for church on Sunday. I heard all about Katye Street, and Carter Street, and Jessie Street, and Lincoln Street. But to me they were just street corners where she went to pick up kids.
In 2013, I began to enter the neighborhood more with her. As I drove the streets, the first impression was the poverty. I estimate that 25% of the houses are vacant and boarded up. Another 25% are in serious disrepair and should be condemned. The remaining housing is still very much below the standard of middle-class America. I have moved into a 1200 sq ft brick house in the neighborhood. I have been here for almost 3 months. I thought I just wanted to be here while my retirement home is being built 3 blocks away, but I have seen that God wanted me to live here in this humble house and meet people. A white guy in the hood is definitely an outsider, but if I had moved directly into our brand new 2200 sq ft house, I believe it would have been a stumbling block to building relationships. I will have lived on First Avenue for at least 6 months before we move into that house, and I feel sure that people will rejoice with us and enjoy that new home rather than see us as outsiders moving in.
After living here 3 months, driving the streets as needed, and walking Toby everywhere, my view of the neighborhood is different. I don’t see the vacant houses. I don’t see the weed-filled ditches. What do I see now? I see people. I see people. I meet people and try to learn their names. The kids know Toby’s name and call out to him from down the street. There are wonderful people here. I am blessed to have made these new friends. One of these friends brought us two trays of chicken salad this week. It has been great. I’ve been eating it for days on sandwiches, with chips, and in a lettuce wrap. She just did it to bless us. She then volunteered to cook the Sunday meal for 75 people after church Sunday. This is an example of real community and deepening relationships.
The lens through which I see my neighborhood has changed. The lens of the Gospel has allowed me to see people, not old houses. To desire deeper relationships and not to pull away from strangers. To take risks and not be self-protective. I recently read this from Paul Tripp, “Grace calls us to do things that we have no desire or power to do and then gives us the willingness and ability to do them.”
May God continue to give me a clear lens to see people and to reach out with the Gospel.