I am a runner and hider. When I think something is not going to work out or that I will be criticized, then I run. I realize that this is not a mature way to deal with problems, nor does it fix anything, but it is comforting to hide when the going gets tough. This is that time of year when summer evaluations start rolling into my office. The vast majority of folks are very happy with their DOOR experience, but there are always a few people who have something critical to say. To be honest DOOR has chosen to approach urban ministry in a way that sets us up for criticism. This is not helpful in reducing the stress in my life!
One of the ways we have set ourselves up has to do with our summer staff hiring preferences and philosophy. The majority of our summer staff comes from the communities in which we serve. For the most part our “competition” hires predominantly college students who want to serve in an “urban location” for the summer.
It is important to understand these are two very different groups of people. College students who come to serve for the summer tend to be people of privilege. They come to the city with the same wide-eyed wonderment and stereotypes that many of our Discover participants come with. The result is that both the staff and participants have similar world views, prejudices and solutions to the “urban problems.” In other words they come to the issues of poverty, faith and appropriate behavior from generally the same perspective. This keeps everything comfortable.
By choosing to hire local staff, who also happen to be mostly persons of color, Discover participants’ level of discomfort increases. Bringing different folks together challenges faith, behavior and moral assumptions. When long held beliefs and world views are challenged, negative evaluations are certain to follow. When this happens, I choose to run and hide, not very mature, but comforting!