Sunday, July 23, 2006

City on a Hill

Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world--like a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see. Don't hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Twenty-one people people from my church piled into vehicles yesterday for a trip to City on a Hill (COH) an urban ministry in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We were headed to "The Family BarBQ."

In addition to many small-group and one-one one kinds of ministry, City on a Hill periodically hosts "big events" for the neighborhood. The Family BarBQ is one of those outreaches. The staff at COH is small and stretched to the limit already, so these event require many helpers. There were well over 100 volunteers yesterday from various churches, mostly Assemblies of God, but others too. City on a Hill works with many different churches and ministries.

So here are some of my parishioners, piled next to the wall for a group picture. A few faces were not included--I think the person we drafted to click the button had never used a digital camera. In spite of how the picture looks, we were actually having fun. I'm on the end ot the back row, and my husband is the guy in the hat. I was glad and proud that our small church had one of the largest turn-outs of volunteers!

A few minutes later (as we set up in the large parking lot) a little smoke, the mouth-watering smell of grilling meat, and sounds of hip hop and jazz drifted together down the city street, crowded with apartments and houses set close together. People appreard on porches to see what was happening.

Here's one of our beautiful teens, wearing her "Unshakable Youth" shirt. She is setting up children's games.

Don't these folks look like they would be good to know? I do have wonderful people as part of my congregation. Most of this bunch were working to set up the food. The smiling young guy in the center was part of the security patrol. Would you be intimidated by that face? Well, he can look tough when he has to. Fortunately, the need for that did not arise.

Under the big awning, children and a few grownups watched a magic show. If you click on this picture to enlarge it, note the expressions on the faces of the girls. Priceless! I had more pictures of the goings-on, but blogger is not cooperating again.

It was warm. Okay, hot. Mixed with bright sunshine, dark clouds swirled over our heads. We later heard that parts of Milwaukee received four inches of rain. A cool breeze fanned us all day, but not a drop of rain came down on our parking lot!

This morning I was told we served over 1,000 hot dogs, 700 brats (bratwurst, a staple of the Wisconsin diet) and an uncounted number of hamburgers. In addition to a free meal, the guests were treated to kid's games, face painting, basketball, various talented people who provided music and entertainment, smiles, handshakes (and sometimes hugs), and many gentle reminders of God's love. I wish my picture of "The Joshua Generation" could be posted. They are part of "Under the Clouds," an arts program at COH for young people. They performed worship dance to an urban beat. Their exciting, uplifting music, fresh faces, happy smiles, and exhilarating dance moves brought the crowd to their feet. Some of the braver onlookers occasionally joined the young dancers with some moves of their own. It was wonderful to see the encouragement they brought. One toothles elderly man, dressed in a colorful striped shirt that made me think of Joseph's coat, jumped up and astonished us as he moved in perfect rhythm, smiling and laughing and clapping his hands. We laughed and clapped with him. I worked in downtown Milwaukee for seven years, and something I learned to appreciate about many people in the black community was their ability to express emotions without self-consciousness.

I stood next to a lovely woman about thirty five years old with a sweet face.. She moved to the music and clapped her hands, smiling at me as I joined her. As the dancers took a bow, I said, "Aren't those kids great?" She replied with a kind of wonder in her voice, "They are so refreshing!" I moved away, praying for the kids, knowing the kinds of things they often face on the streets of Milwaukee's inner city.

Throughout the day some guests visited the prayer tent for one-on-one ministry. As I walked by that tent I noticed my friend, Pastor Bertha, who is pioneering a church in another area of Milwaukee's inner city. She saw me and gave me a "thumbs up" and a smile.

At the end of the day I stood with my husband at the exit, waving good-bye to the children and adults too, calling "God bless you and thanks for coming!" to various kinds of families. There were singles, old couples, young couples with children, very young moms with several kids in tow, homeless people, druggies, alcoholics, Muslims, Christians, young men with hats and cocky swaggers, others dressed in white shirts as if they were going to church, women in clothes much too tight for them, men in stained and dirty rags alongside men in new shirts, little girls with colorful beads in their hair, little boys dressed in Green Bay Packer shirts, old people, many in wheelchairs and missing limbs. Grandmas and babies. Black or white, many seemed broken and scarred by life. Some avoided eye contact; others waved and smiled, calling out to us in return.

A woman turned back to me, and I looked into the beautiful brown face of the one who had watched the dancers with me. "May I hug you?" she asked. "I just had to share some love with someone!" "Of course!" I said, laughing, and I reached to hug her over a short stone wall. This woman, whose name I never learned, hugged me and smiled as she said, "Thank you so much, all of you, for sharing the love of Jesus today. I heard again that God loves me, and I saw it too. I have been away from God, but today I talked and prayed with that lady pastor in the prayer tent. She helped me get it straighened out again.""Praise God!" I replied, thinking of the irony of the two of us hugging over the fence. I wish I could know her and maybe be a friend. She turned and waved as she went on down the dirty street, and she called out again, "Thank you!"

I'm a middle-aged white woman with a nice husband and a nice little ranch-style home in a nice rural town that is extraordinarily clean. My nice street is sometimes too quiet for my taste. In minutes I can be driving in green fields or sitting by the shores of Lake Michigan or Lake Winnebago. How blessed I am! But how blessed I was to be able to go, even for a day, to my "Samaria." Jesus told his followers to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth to spread the good news of the kingdom of God.

I was born in Los Angeles. I lived in Washington, D.C. and I worked in Milwaukee for seven years. I sometimes miss the city and it's people, even though I enjoy the country and believe God has placed me where I am now.

If you are interested in learning more, check out the City on a hill website. At the homepage you can watch a video that communicates what they do in a way that mere words cannot do. I was part of the beginnings of this ministry, and they have a special place in my heart. There was a reason I shared this experience. I'll tell you why in another post on another day.

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