"Now, if you could boil your experience down," he began, inching closer to me in his metal folding chair, "and name the one thing that would make a difference in your neighborhood, what would it be?"
He was referring to my year in Atlanta with Mission Year. I had lived in a marginally maintained shotgun house in a poor community. I had taken the bus anywhere I needed to go. And I'd lived off a $70/month stipend while I volunteered at a local middle school. Now, I had come home, was preparing to return to college for my sophomore year, and was still trying to figure out how to answer the haunting, post-missions question, "How was it?" Now there was this.
How would I solve poverty? And with only one arrow in my quiver?
I hemmed. I hawed. I mumbled something about resources. I looked away, confused and discouraged at my own lack of a solid solution. I remember he caught my eye and said, "Money? That's the answer?"
I probably remember that question a couple times a year. Over a decade of studying poverty and living in poor communities, and I still wrestle with answers. And sometimes I feel angry. Like seriously, what is it? What is that one thing?
Last week, my friend Leroy Barber released his latest book, Embrace: God's Radical Shalom for a Divided World. As I tearfully watched the book's trailer, I thought about that question again.
The answer is relationships. Community.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to me. Shane Claiborne says it well in Irresistible Revolution, "I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”
Issues are huge and overwhelming and intimidating to tackle: poverty, mass incarceration, immigration, education, health care. But when people reach out across divides to interact in truly authentic and genuine relationships, the conversations are different.
I was especially moved as Leroy described how the people of Israel were being called to seek good for the people who destroyed them. God the Restorer is relational and always invites us into community.
I can honestly say in my own life that I have rarely been moved to action by statistics, Facebook arguments, or political rhetoric. But my passion for change, reconciliation, and justice has stemmed from hearing stories on front porches, watching the day-to-day lives of my neighbors, and listening to the hurts of people I love. Relationships inspire change. They move the needle.
The message of Leroy's book resonates so deeply in my own heart. And a fun little side note for ya, I have an essay in the book, talking about cross-cultural marriage. Because there's not a more fun way to reach across a cultural divide than to just marry into the family, right?
Enjoy the trailer here, and you can order your own copy of Embrace here on Amazon.
How have relationships across divides impacted you?