|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 22, 2018 at 12:40 AM|
Today we joined in the work of Rippling Hope, an organization created by Carl Zerweck about 8 years ago to mobilize volunteers to do home repair projects. He works with neighborhood associations and block clubs to make this work happen- having these groups distribute applications for repairs. This helps the associations connect with neighbors and allows them some say in which projects get moved forward. They choose about 300 projects each year to accomplish and have groups like ours come to do the work.
Today we worked just outside city limits in Dearborn Heights with Barb and Joe. They have lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, raised their kids there, and obviously love their community. They have begun a neighborhood garden with about 12 raised beds and a butterfly shaped garden and are applying for grants to help make a park across the street for neighborhood kids. And whenever they have a chance, they support work in the neighborhood. And so do their neighbors- 3 different neighbors came to help out as we were replacing a fence around the garden.
Some years ago, there were un-housed folks who were staying on a vacant lot and the police in the area asked the neighborhood for help in getting them housed. Barb knew a neighbor whose mom had passed away still had mom’s house sitting empty. And they asked if they could use it. And he shared the house for free. Just because he can and someone else needs it.
And today we helped, just because we could. We hung drywall in an old house- adapting to the quirks of an old house and the reality of our non-professional selves. It wasn’t perfect, but it was profoundly good. To be given the privilege to serve. To be used well for others. To have a solid wall put up where they wasn’t one. And the young girl who lived in the house thanked us by drawing each of us pictures of a house- knowing that she is thankful for the work being done. This is what it means to be a community- to help when we can and be grateful when we receive the gifts of others. And we are glad that the people God gave us to be in community with happen to be wherever we are.
Some other students helped build a new set of stairs to the basement with the help of Tom, one of the most gracious and patient folks we’ve met. He mentored our students and let them do the work and gave us the opportunity to make the house safer for all the future residents that may live there. And the rest of us cleaned up the yard for the girl to be able to play outside when it gets warmer. And burned up the brush in a bonfire that we were grateful to gather around when it was so cold.
This evening, we had dinner at Carl’s house with Oliver Cole, the president of the Grandmont1 Improvement Association, a local neighborhood association, and his wife Denise, who is active in local politics. Denise- a Detroit native- loves this city with a passion. She has seen it in its hard times and deeply wants to be a part of its rebuilding. And Oliver is someone who is willing to speak hard words to politicians to remind them they are public servants and they need to respond to the needs of the communities they serve. They talked about their frustration with some realities of Detroit politics- where there are too many legacies and too many decisions (like development downtown) are made for folks who don’t make up much of the city.
Oliver talked about his neighborhood- a mix of new arrivals and many elderly folks who have lived in their neighborhood for 50+ years. He talked about the need to do what we can to help them remain in their homes. He talked about the tenacity of folks who continue to live life and plant flowers and raise kids and grandkids even on blocks where only 2 homes are left. These are the real Detroiters for him. These are the hope. And we just need a whole new group of folks to move in and learn from them- learn to make the city again.
After being so immersed in the city for the past 5 days, it feels like we can actually begin to understand some of what makes it tick, some of the joy that people see in it, and can dispel many of the stereotypes of what Detroit is.
These words from the prophet Haggai were the appointed Bible verses for today- “Speak now . . . to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. . . The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former . . .and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:1-24)
They are words spoken to a different people in a different time, but they seem like a prayer for Detroit. A reminder that God calls us to work and not to fear. To trust that God’s presence goes beside us when we work for life and for justice. And to believe beyond everything that our God has a habit of brining good in places we don’t think it’s likely.
Tomorrow we will work for our last day, for God is with us and the neighborhood we visit.