My friend Joel recently told me what a “Dutch Front” is. He lives in Pella, Iowa, a blue collar mostly Dutch community known for their windows and farming equipment. He says walking the streets of downtown Pella is a reality check for him. All of the buildings have a Dutch front – a really well maintained simple piece of architecture, but when you walk through the alleys you would never know you were in the same town. They are as dirty as any other alley you can think of. He says it’s a constant reminder not only to put on the appearance of a person being transformed by Christ, but to make sure our actions and attitudes are actually being transformed.
Last week I was in Seattle serving with a group of 50 students. A few things about Seattle: Piercing the skyline is a giant space needle but just below it hiding in alley ways across the city are hundreds of heroin needles recently used by people struggling to find their way through this messy world. Poverty and homelessness are very real, tangible issues. People are alone. It’s a city that’s about as far away from the Bible belt as you can get, and churches are sparse. Seattle is a destination city. People love to go there because of it’s beauty. But any Christian visiting the city will immediately notice something missing. There is an abundance of people there who desperately need the hope of Christ to invade their lives. They are missing Jesus.
Our team worked alongside the leaders of an incredible church in the heart of one of the toughest areas in North Seattle. The church, Epic Life, has had homeless residents living on their front steps for quite some time now. We worked in their community garden – cleaning it up for the Summer when it will be used to host events for the community. We also joined them in their efforts to connect with an elementary school by cleaning, reading to kids, and doing yard work that would otherwise be neglected.
Mission Discovery’s CONNECT Mission Trips are an effort to train students in ways to get plugged into different missional efforts in their hometowns. We do this by first learning about the culture. Then serving the people in that culture. Our heart is to connect the students, and those we serve, with the hope of Christ. Our first day we sent students on city buses headed for downtown to observe and pray over Seattle. On our last day, we sent them into parks and college campuses, and even bus stops to listen to people’s stories and share about the hope we all have in Christ. They had games and coffee, even doggie treats. As prepared as we thought we were, we quickly found out we weren’t. People were definitely missing Jesus and His name didn’t seem to be very popular among the people.
Working in Seattle is a definite eye opener for me. One of the most beautiful cities in our country is one of the most destitute. I am proud to partner with churches like Epic Life and Holler Lake Baptist who have rooted themselves in a bed of rocky soil. They have connected themselves with people that are missing the hope of Christ. And they do it with great success because they have committed themselves to overcoming obstacles standing in the way of connecting with the community.
I have seen Jesus in the eyes of the homeless. I have heard Him in the cries of the hungry. But if I’m being honest, it is too easy for me to miss Him in the simplest things: a bite of hot food, a pair of clean socks, or giving a kid a piggy back ride. Sometimes my eyes are closed. Sometimes I miss Jesus, just like the community in Seattle does. I am thankful for the times that I don’t.
Psalm 139:7 asks a rhetorical question: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
The answer is simply – nowhere. Christ is before and behind us, above and below us. He is all around us all the time. Are my eyes open? Are yours?