This summer found me in an unexpected place – the center of Allentown, Penn., working with a tiny Mennonite church plant called Ripple. It was only a fleeting confluence of people, words and events that led me to that place in life, but I firmly believe it was exactly where I was meant to be.
At the outset, I was passionate to serve the cause of Christ in Allentown. I knew coming in that there was hardness in the heart of the city, and I thought that my presence there would yield tangible results. I expected to find God in the places I served and in the people I poured my heart into. That mindset, though, can very quickly lead to disappointment. I firmly believe that any service to God is a good thing but I know from experience that God does not always reward service in the way we might expect.
Take, for example, the homeless community under the bridge. I met Bam Bam, Ricky, Janette and some dozen other folks either permanently located beneath a bridge or in what they might call “transitional housing” in the same place. I spent a lot of time with them this summer and I can’t deny that I hoped to see their lives change. I wanted to see marijuana and crack replaced with Bibles and prayer. I wanted to see alcoholic drunkenness replaced by drunkenness in the Spirit; a sign replaced by a job and a family.
Instead, I found games of Spades. I found tears of joy at one surprise birthday party and tears of despair at another birthday spent in a drunken stupor. I found a man drunk to the point of falling over preaching the word of God. I found a community of people struggling for survival and sharing everything they had so that none among them would be needier than another. I saw a garden sprout in the early summer and die in the drought. I saw God move in the ups and downs and show up in places that according to all conventional wisdom He shouldn’t have been.
At the close, I was passionate to find the face of Christ in my surroundings as I struggled to let Christ be my center. I asked myself, “Why did I hang out at the bridge?” And I didn’t have a concrete answer. I could only say that I was there because God put me there and for that reason alone it was good. Now as I go forward looking to serve the cause of Christ, I go forward looking for him in unexpected places. I go forward not knowing where he’ll show up but knowing that if I follow His call, He will.