Over fall break eight John Brown University students, a faculty member and I took a trip to Chicago, Illinois to learn about issues of race and poverty within the city and our nation.
We went on a trip hosted by Sunshine Ministries, located in Woodlawn, Chicago, a neighborhood in the southern part of the city. Woodlawn, a dominantly black community, is considered to be an impoverished neighborhood. There are decrepit apartment buildings everywhere. There is trash littering the street. The schools are failing. The neighborhood is carved into gang territories.
Woodlawn is not suburban America. However, when we rolled into the neighborhood at 1 a.m. on Saturday, God instantly impressed me with the beauty of the neighborhood. Woodlawn is a unique place with unique people, and God is very present there. Sunshine Ministries is doing good work with the people of Woodlawn.
I think in the American church we have a very “fix-it” attitude. We hear reports about violence or overwhelming poverty and we’re immediately impressed with the extensive brokenness of our world. We have the notion that if we aren’t fixing it, nobody is. Hopefully I am speaking only of myself, but I know I’m not.
Before going on the Chicago trip, I was thoroughly depressed by how deeply racism has etched itself into America’s institutions. I think what I was really depressed about was the realization that I can’t fix it.
We attended an African American Baptist church on Sunday morning. What struck me the most about the church was their worship set. Most of their songs, if not all of them, were about praising the Lord. They were not pleas for strength or for God to change them, but praise songs. The members of the church experience racism perhaps daily in their home country, but they did not come together to pray for deliverance or demand that their suffering be seen. They came together to praise the name of the God of the universe, who can work all things for their good.
Sunshine Ministries is not fixing Woodlawn, because, honestly, the neighborhood’s brokenness runs deep. What they are doing is offering themselves, their gifts and knowledge, to the people of Woodlawn. Why? Because God is moving in Woodlawn.
We need to realize, as a church, that our God is the God of the entire universe and He is moving even when we can’t see Him in our immediate context. He doesn’t need us to bring redemption. If we aren’t willing to respond to issues of race or poverty, He will find somebody else to further His work. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t have a concern or feel disheartened when we hear about persecuted Christians or hurting people groups, but our hope in God’s redemption and movement should exceed our hopelessness for the world’s brokenness.
In everything, our praise and hope for the Lord should be greater than our desire to fix anything. When we hear about shootings or crippling poverty, we should feel sad. We should feel that brokenness. But I pray we also feel the overwhelming goodness of God and have faith that he is moving in those situations.
Perrigo is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at PerrigoM@jbu.edu.