In a previous article I talked about some lessons I’ve learned during my short tenure of being a white church planter in an all black ‘hood. My wife and I are taking this thing one day at a time, taking each learning experience as it comes.
There have been many glorious days, like when a good friend comes to the Lord. There have also been many trying and difficult days, like when a person you love gets locked up; or when chaotic stresses press in, and when the unhealthy obsession with ministry pounds, like an angry mistress on your marriage’s door.
Through the ups and downs, however, it is not the lessons we learn that help us stay the course. Rather, we have strong reasons for being there. One reason is more obvious. We want to help. We want to bring the light of the gospel to a dark and broken place. This answer doesn’t really shock anyone.
But the other reason we don’t often realize or understand. We are also there because we need what the ‘hood has to offer. There are jewels, if you will, in marginalized communities that are missing from the Church’s crown. Without these jewels, the Church sparkles less.
I’d like to make one quick distinction. When I say “hood” I don’t just mean black people. I am not primarily making a racial distinction. Rather, I mean the culture that is the “hood.” Though racial, it is more cultural.
Now for the jewels – the reasons why we need the hood so much.
People in the hood know how to celebrate.
In more affluent communities – communities where graduating from high school (and even college) is expected; where living to an old age is a given; where vacations and holidays are no longer a privilege but an entitlement, and where even salvation is something that “should have” happened to us – gratitude is lost. And because gratitude fuels celebration, celebration is lost.
In the hood, these things aren’t taken for granted. Birthdays, graduations (from any grade, class, or program) and holidays are times when everyone comes together to celebrate with dancing, eating, and communing together. The streets are full. Children are everywhere. Smoke from a hundred grills permeates the air. Laughing echoes through the streets. It is a celebratory taste of heaven
People in the ‘hood instinctively understand covenantal commitment.
While the familial brokenness seems to take center stage, we shouldn’t ignore the areas where commitments are strong – even exemplary. I have seen friends in the neighborhood sacrifice greatly so that those they love can survive. I have seen a man give his last dollars, without a single hesitation, so that his brother could pay the rent. I have seen a man take a jail sentence so his friend wouldn’t have to.
When we refuse to look into some of the darker areas, we fail to see some redemptive light. Most of the violence in these neighborhoods is not selfish or arbitrary. When law enforcement, for reasons both just and unjust, is not perceived as helpful or protective, they take justice into their own hands. Justice, that is, for others.
Men are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and vindicate those they love. They are willing to bleed so that others won’t have to, or because others they love have already bled.
And these decisions are made instantly and naturally. It is rooted in both their commitment and courage.
People in the hood are courageous.
Most college football programs have figured out where to get warrior-like men who don’t care if they get dirty, hurt, or even killed. While coaches are going to the ‘hood to recruit for the football field, the church needs go there to recruit for the mission field. Many of the unreached countries are unreached because they are dangerous. People who go there may end up dirty or dead. Men in the ‘hood aren’t afraid to get dirty, nor are they afraid to die.
When I was unable, a young man, without hesitation, labored for over an hour in the rain and mud for me. When I was in college I saw one of my teammates (who was from a ‘hood) walk up to another man pointing a pistol at him, and fearlessly tell him, “You ain’t gonna do nothing with that. I will turn my back on you. Shoot me.” I was freaking out. But I never forgot the courage.
I’m convinced that if the ‘hoods of America are left unreached, the Great Commission will remain unfulfilled. The church needs the ‘hood and has much to gain from the treasures that can be plentifully mined there. When a river floods and becomes destructive, we don’t eliminate or neglect the river. Rather, we use our resources and ingenuity to redeem, redirect, and use it’s force. Such force can be used to light up an entire city.
This is precisely the reason we need the hood. The powers of celebration, commitment, and courage we find there are vital for the church’s mission to bring light to a world enslaved by darkness.