A few years ago my wife Megan and I started to feel God calling us to live intentionally in a hurting neighborhood. We knew we did not want to do this alone. Living in such a place is not always easy and support from others is something we deeply valued (and would later realize deeply needed). We wondered if such a situation was possible. Then we discovered what was happening at Transformation City and realized that such a situation was possible.
Living in the neighborhood has been a tremendous blessing for me personally. I have been significantly impacted by the relationships that I have in the neighborhood and the ones with the guys upstairs. While I still have a long way to go, I have come to a beginning knowledge of how to love my neighbor as myself and live my life for the benefit of those around me in a way that I have never before known even existed.
For anybody thinking about living in the house I would tell you first - PRAY. Then pray some more. If you really feel God leading you to this, don't be afraid. The safest place you can be is exactly where God desires you to be.
Often God doesn't call the qualified. Often He doesn't call the willing. Usually He calls whoever is so bad they'll make Him look good. This is true of me moving into the community house; the ministry involves spending time with kids (I don't like kids), being in a tough and often dirty neighborhood (I like order and beauty) and living with roommates (I like living alone). But what I like has become less important as I have become a part of something important, and I like that. That's what you don't expect: the sacrifices are freeing. In the call of community, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.
I first got involved with urban ministry when I was in college as an after school intern at a nonprofit near where I went to school. The closer I got to graduation, the more I realized I really didn’t want to go on to become an athletic trainer or physical therapist. My then-fiancé (now husband) and I were digging around online one night for where God might be calling us as a married couple when we ran across Transformation City Church and their ministry at the Community House. We were hooked.
Community House life is nothing like what I expected it to be, it’s worse, and better, and more abundant than anything I could have imagined. Living in community truly puts you into the position of the believers in Acts 2. Daily life becomes an uninterrupted opportunity for the Holy Spirit to move in big ways. This means crazy things happen, struggles are felt deeply, and control has to be fully relinquished. (Perhaps, the latter is the most painful experience yet for a planner and organizer such as myself.)
I thought I could draw from my years of nonprofit experience or mission trip experiences when I moved into the neighborhood. I was wrong. This isn’t just another program, ministry, or mission trip. Living in the neighborhood has completely changed my thoughts on God’s love, grace, ministry and what life is all about. I’m not a pastor, a volunteer or some crazy white lady who moved into the hood. I’m a neighbor, a partner, a student, and a humble disciple trying to follow my Lord in the city. It’s not just a job or a ministry, it’s a lifestyle. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
During the summer of 2009 I felt God calling me to move to Milwaukee and into Transformation City’s community house. I was excited to be a part of what God was doing here in this city. I had read many books about living and serving among the urban poor, and was fresh off a two-year internship for which that was the focus. So as prepared as I was, I still find myself needing to be reminded that 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 is true-that God will use the ones the world says are foolish and weak and low and despised to shame the ones the world says are strong and wise and powerful. During my time here I have been confronted with my selfishness as I encounter the generosity of my neighbors. I have been confronted with my greed in the midst of the need of those around me. I have been confronted with my humanity and lack of ability to fix everything as I learn to depend on God and his timing to bring transformation to our neighborhood. I have learned about community and a new culture. And I have learned that I have a lot more to learn because God is continually showing up amongst the least of these, confronting me with my sin and teaching me about loving God and loving my neighbor. And I am filled with joy and hope because I see that as God is working in me, so he is working to bring transformation and restoration in our neighborhood and in our city as well.