Below is the Introduction from one of my favorite books, Theirs is the Kingdom by Bob Lupton. In this book Bob shares, through short stories and reflections, how many of his assumptions about himself, the nature of poverty, and of God’s presence in poverty-afflicted communities were challenged and changed after relocating. Bob soon realized that the mission he undertook was as much about his own salvation as it was for his “poor” neighbors. The stories are short and are very engaging and thought provoking. It has helped formalize thoughts and put words to some of the difficult situations that I have encountered in my faith while trying to live out God’s calling in this ministry. It is a great read for anyone who is willing to wrestle with the challenges of life as it intersects with Christ’s calling to live sacrificially.
“Look at them, walking down the middle of the road,” we said. “Young toughs. They act like they own the street.”
It looked like an act of defiance to my wife, Peggy, and me. It was one of those things newcomers notice immediately in a strange culture. We had moved into the city to work and make our home, and it was clear that overcoming our anxieties was our first challenge. We decided to take evening walks, a different direction each night, until we were familiar with our new surroundings.
Unexpected things happen when you walk down city sidewalks at night. Things for which one could hardly prepare. Things that the shadows conceal. Like a dog that lies in wait and then ferociously attacks the fence that only he knows separates you. And there are sections of the sidewalk, broken and jutting, with which time and tree roots have had their way. They too lie in wait to trip the one whose mind is more on talking than walking.
Maybe the most unexpected thing of all was that we were not afraid. Not for the most part. Scary strangers soon became familiar faces. Staggering drunks became friends for whom we learned compassion. Young people, sometimes high on drugs, became individuals with names and families and special needs. Even those who were most elusive behind their locks and bars — the elderly — began to wave and respond to our “Good evening.”
Of course there were the real and ever-present dangers. An occasional sociopath, the deeply troubled person who preyed on the unsuspecting and struck fear in the hearts of the entire community. Broken glass poised and ready to puncture the next thin-soled shoe to happen by. And tall weeds that reached out to scratch and cling. But for the most part we discovered that the real enemies of the street were alienation, misunderstanding, prejudice — those attitudes out of which most of our ill-founded fears sprouted.
More than seven years have passed since Peggy and I moved into the city. We still take our evening walks. It’s our best time for talking and catching up on the busy activities of the day. It’s a good time to confront the enemies of the street by
remembering people’s names and the little, important happenings of their lives. And the unexpected dangers that lurk in the darkness? We’ve learned to elude most of them by walking in the street rather than the sidewalk.
Someday a newcomer to our neighborhood will remark, “Look at them, walking down the middle of the road. They act like they own the street!”