Nervous in the alley

A couple weeks ago I was headed to a CRM staff meeting which was being held over at another teammates house a couple of blocks away. As I walked through our neighborhood that morning, for some reason I made a turn and decided to take the “back” way to his house.

As I began down the alley I instantly felt like I was being watched. I could see a man and a woman digging through the trash up ahead, their hands on the trash; but their eyes were locked on me. A little unnerved I kept walking. As I continued to walk, the man began shouting at me from the distance.

“Partner! Partner!” “Hey partner, how you doing?!”

I could barely understand what he was saying, let alone why he was shouting partner at me. I became a bit unnerved. As I got closer, I recognized their faces. I had seen both of them around Starbucks a couple of times. My experience with the man was of him being very volatile and getting pretty angry quickly.

Even before I could engage them the man turned to his friend and pointed to me, “He’s my partner, this guy’s helped me out.” I was still confused; he turned to me, “You’re my partner, you’ve helped me a couple of times before, thank you! God bless you!”

Stunned, I said, “yeah I’ve seen both of you around, I work at our Starbucks here in the neighborhood.”

“Yeah, that’s where you helped me – thank you for helping me,” he said again. I introduced myself and asked them their names. “I’m Jamaica, and this is my friend Red,” the man replied, extending his hand.

We shook hands and parted ways. “God Bless you brother,” Jamaica said as I walked away.

As I continued walking that morning, I was humbled. I replayed the few interactions I had had with Jamaica and Red at Starbucks in the past over again in my mind and realized how very little I had actually “helped” them. All I had really done before was be nice to them. As our neighborhood’s transient population comes in and out of our store, many people have little or no patience for their requests and lingering. I’ve simply tried to be kind and patient.

That morning as I finally arrived at my meeting I was reminded that even the most minuscule and seemingly insignificant interactions we have with people can have significant kingdom impact.

We used to…

Every Monday night a few of us head over to the neighborhood park to partake in some soccer and volleyball. It’s a ton of fun to not only play, but to play with such consistency that people know – Monday’s 5:30 – we’re there. From day one the aim was two-fold: have fun with friends and connect with our neighbors. Through the consistent week in and week out play we’ve met a lot of people, many of whom have joined us for just a season, some we’ve built friendships with, some we’ve seen once and then never again. But consistently we get a chance to meet our neighbors, and it’s pretty darn great. But what happens when the very thing we’ve set out to do – meet neighbors – begins to work.

Hint: It changes things.

Over the past couple of months we’ve had some new neighbors begin to come with great regularity. Neighbors we rarely get to interact with. Somewhere around December a number of our Latino neighbors began showing up to play volleyball at the same time we play. They’d bring their own net, their own ball, their own people, and be ready to play. All 10-15 of them. It certainly changed some things. Before when neighbors came we could have them jump in and play, our numbers rarely got above 6 on 6, so everyone could play – no problem. But 10-15 extra changes things.

Let me explain. It’s a gift to have an entire segment of our neighborhood that we rarely get the opportunity to connect with show up and invite themselves into our world and vice versa. But with it comes a whole slew of new challenges. We all know living out Kingdom values costs us. In fact, that sort of life always asks us to put others ahead of ourselves – humbly choosing to serve, rather than be served. And yet, we like things to play out the way we want them to, don’t we? I know I sure do. And so when something different happens in ministry or even life than I expected to happen there can be a pretty strong rub. I’ll find myself using the phrase – “we used to” a lot. You see, we used to be able to all play as many games as we’d like without having to rotate in and out. We used to be able to play by our own set of rules. We used to be able to fully understand everything that was said and done on the court. But now we can’t. Inviting our Latino neighbors into our game means I play less; it means I need to be more flexible with the rules we play by; it means I need to pick up a couple more Spanish phrases to participate in small conversations with my neighbors. It means, volleyball really isn’t about me – it’s about getting to know my neighbors. But that’s the funny thing about ministry and life, we get used to things a certain way – we might even say something like “let’s do such and such so that we can better connect with our neighbors;” which is great until it costs us something. But if I’m honest, when it costs me something than I tend to balk a little bit.

What’s so encouraging to me is that our community has done such a great job of welcoming, loving, and being flexible with our new friends. Mondays are now a lot bigger, and even more so a place where we can connect and meet with our neighbors while having fun. Which is exactly what we set out to do! I may not be able to get into as many games, but if my focus is on Kingdom building and not myself – it really doesn’t matter how many games I get to play; because it’s not about me. Whenever I begin to starting saying, “we used to,” it’s probably worth a look into my own heart and motives and remind myself why we’re doing what we’re doing. No matter the ministry, no matter the circumstance, when God starts moving and things start happening, it’s gonna be messy and it’s gonna cost us something – but the payoff is always, always worth it!