It was the late 1980’s; I was in seminary trying to figure out if I was called into ministry. One weekend, Rita (my wife) and I decided to visit some family friends living in Watts, Calif. This couple and their two children had moved from a small farming village in Southern Manitoba to what was from my perspective, the extreme opposite, inner city Los Angeles – Watts. After class on Friday, we made the four-hour journey from Fresno, Calif., to Watts. Twenty years later, what stands out to me about this visit was a conversation we had in the back yard.
My question was simple, “Is this a safe place to live and raise a family?”
Their response was both simple and profound – “The safest place to be is in the middle of God’s will.”
I do not recall any other parts of that weekend, but the idea of safety in the middle of God’s will has stuck with me. I have been inspired and frustrated by this thought.
Ever since that afternoon, I having been trying to figure out God’s will for my life. Some things have been made clear. I have been called to love God and to love my neighbor. Feeding the hungry and caring about the needs of others fits in as well.
However, I have never been able to fully answer the “where” question. God, where do you want me to serve you? Should I move back to Canada or stay here in the U.S.? Is it OK for me to work among people who look like me, think like me and talk like me? Questions like these have been driven by my need to answer the “safety” question. I want to be a responsible husband and father. I want my family to be safe. I want my children to go to schools where they can grow and mature without having to experience fear.
After seminary, we moved to Denver to work in a nice safe suburban church. I worked with the youth who attended schools like Chatfield, Bear Creek and Columbine. During the three years I spent at this church, I learned two important lessons. First, safety is mostly an illusion. Bad stuff happens. Second, God was not calling me to be a suburban pastor. The suburbs need pastors – I was just not called to be one!
In the fall of 1994, I began my work at DOOR. Two years later, we sold our house in the suburbs and moved into the heart of the city. At the time, we had well meaning friends and neighbors who at best thought we were crazy and at worst thought we had become irresponsible parents for moving from a “safe” neighborhood into “that” neighborhood.
It was 12 years ago this spring that we moved into the house in “that” neighborhood. Has it always been safe? The honest answer is no – our cars and house have been broken into. Our boys have been picked on because of the color of their skin.
The answer does not end with no; the good has far outweighed the bad. Our neighbors (and friends), for the most part, do not look like us, they view the world from a completely different context and they are still learning English … we are a long way from talking the same! I still struggle with the safety question, but my 15-year journey from the suburbs to the city has yielded some unexpected fruit – contentment with where I live and being where God wants me to be.