This last week I had the opportunity to accompany our church’s youth group on an urban mission trip. The city that we went to is one that has been the center of attention for the last few years for all the wrong reasons; Detroit. It’s a city right down the street from me but in a whole other world that makes the life I’m living seem pretty comfortable.
We worked alongside with an inner-city church that recently bought an old Greek-Orthodox turn Church of God in Christ (COGIC) church. You could easily tell it was originally Greek-Orthodox by the ornate inlay in its arched ceilings, cupola dome, bell tower on the western side and sanctuary on the eastern. At the same time the presence of the COGIC was found in the stained glass windows that contained designs featuring the denominations seal and facial profile of its founder.
Going unused since the early 2000’s the church, like many old buildings in Detroit, fell victim to copper thieves. This raping of infrastructure eventually led to water seeping into the plaster walls and rotting out the metal mesh it laid in. Part of our job was to get the loose material off of these walls, which was easily done with just the tap of a paint scraper. Another task included trying to scrape off glue residue from the marble floor because it had at one time been covered with carpet.
The other reason why we were there was to help facilitate a VBS program put on for kids from the projects. I don’t use that term lightly, these were kids that came from an apartment complex more dreadful in appearance than any housing situation I have seen. The brokenness of these families spilled over into the attitudes and behaviors of these would-be, should be innocent children. Walls existed that a week of impact could not tear down.
After tirelessly scraping off a small section of the tacky glue from the marble floor, I found our youth pastor working on one of the many crumbling walls of the church. I was reluctant to but asked a question that youth group volunteers who are supposed to be supporting the cause, probably aren’t supposed to ask; What’s it matter? Why are we doing this? What’s the point? Our group of a dozen or so would never be able to restore the church to the extent it needed. We didn’t have $20,000, we didn’t know how to plaster walls and our floor scraping would be much more efficient with a large floor buffer.
His answer was simple but resonated with me; ‘Every little bit of progress we make is less work for someone else.’
It was true not just for the work we were doing on the building but also with the kids. Those kids probably won’t remember the exact dates of that week, what church we were from or even any of our names but it is a few more good days and good experiences they will have. Every little bit of progress we made in telling them about Jesus was a little less someone else would have to do.
Since we returned, I’ve been asked, ‘Were you ever scared?’ The answer is yes. I was terrified as I drove out of the city, north past eight mile, away from the pain of the children we met from the projects this week and into a world that retreats from the brokenness and keeps the light of Jesus in our comfort zone. That is what scares me the most; that nobody will continue the process we got to be a part of because as I found out, it does matter.