We live in a world that feels very strange to us currently. It’s not a ‘strange town’, per se. But rather unusual if you compare it directly with what we’re use to.
We’ve caught ourselves biting our tongues as we’re about to call this place weird or odd or crazy. It’s not fair, really. It’s what so many people call normal. Just because that word isn’t a perfect fit for us doesn’t make it not true for all of the people who have grown up here.
All in one moment you can look to the right and see an old man in a hat and boots heading to the store on his horse, but a quick head turn to the left and there will be a group of 20-somethings with their Honda Civics all lowered with darkened windows, Spanish words emblazoned across the back.
The moments of seeming progress in the form of lowered cars halted by the reality that most people don’t have running water into their homes.
It can be easy to get a bit discombobulated when you come from a land of milk and honey into one where bathing your kids in a plastic tub is the norm.
Most houses are cinder block or brick with concrete, if not dirt floors. Protection from the elements? Yes, I suppose. Warm and cozy? Not exactly. Multiple family members will share a small bed while clothes are washed in that same bathing tub and hung to dry. Not a drop of food is wasted. Ever. We have so much to learn from this town and the people in this place.
But there are some pieces we’d rather forget, or at the very least turn a blind eye too if only that were possible. Crime is a way of life. Drugs pave the way out of misery. Of course, all the while leading down darker paths that only seem glorious for a time.
Leave your child’s sweater hanging on a fence post while they play and you’d better believe someone will make off with it. Leave your car outside the gates at night and you’ll awake to an empty tank and broken windows. True story – a mama leaves her child’s wheelchair outside her tiny apartment at night and someone will run with it. There doesn’t seem to be an ultimate low. Just when we think we’ve seen it, something else comes along.
Depravity is real wherever you go. Darkness is luring, beckoning in each corner of our world. Here it’s just unveiled and obvious.
It rained here a few weeks ago. The first real rain in well over a year some might say. Buckets and buckets in a torrential sideways downpour. Even us pacific northwester’s covered our heads, looked down to the ground and ran with purpose to the next covering – and believe me, it’s hard to impress us folk with rainfall.
We hunkered inside and listened to the familiar pelting against our windows but without the luxury of heat in our home to warm up by. The river it created ran down the dirt hills forging cracks and crevices making it impossible for people higher up the hills to even leave their home.
But within a day it was gone and the earth dried up to its crusty, clay like form and life went back to ‘normal’.
It wasn’t until 2 days later that something happened. Driving along the dirt roads, where brown and dust cover the land like a blanket, we spotted green. Green!
Hardened soil was given a few hours of water and suddenly tiny blades of green were emerging from the landscape. Green; the color of life and renewal.
The green is why we’re here in this hard and broken land. The landscape became a vivid picture to me of our call as messengers of the good news of Christ.
The spiritual landscape here can look much like the hard packed roads filled with cracks and holes. I could take a shovel to it and barely scratch the surface. It’s compacted layers making it impenetrable. The faces of the people we see walking our streets can look much the same. Deep lines. Hardened and tough. Hearts that are impenetrable no matter how much force we come at them with.
But the God-sent rain from heaven on our dusty town became a clear picture of hope and an affirmation as to why we’re here. With our very human selves we can do nothing. I can’t crack the hearts of the people coming and going from the drug dens surrounding us. No matter how vigorous my methods, impenetrable hearts can’t be softened by human hands, in the same way I can’t force the blades of grass to emerge from the hardened soil.
But right underneath that hard shell there is green waiting to come forth. There is life and renewal and restoration that only the rain from heaven can bring. So we’re here and we continue in our work with our human hands and feet and we serve and proclaim and are messengers of the love of the Lord, but the work is not ours. So we press into the Lord and plead with Him to bring the rain on our town that He would reign in the hearts of the people here. He is the only one who can penetrate hearts, renew minds, soften the hardened, restore lives. So we leave that work to Him and pray that in time we would look out over our town and see the green, the life and the renewal, begin to emerge from the people here.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6-7