I received a phone call yesterday while I was making dinner that made my month.  (And yes, I know it just started.)  To explain, I’ll have to give a little background.  Forgive me, those of you who have heard parts of this story before. 

In the summer of 2002, I lived for three months in one of the poorest cities in our country.  Camden, New Jersey, is a postcard example of white flight and urban poverty.  Situated across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, there is not much about it that would attract positive attention, not much many people think is worth their time or investment.  It is often listed as one of America’s most dangerous cities, and thus also one of its poorest.  I heard the gunshots at night, and I smelled the raw sewage each day as we crossed the river into North Camden.  I saw the needles in the streets and the houses condemned and overrun with drug lords.  It’s real. 

While I was there, I worked with a ministry called UrbanPromise.  A white girl from suburbia did not have much to offer the kids of that city, but it is not too much to say that God radically transformed my entire worldview through them.  God loves cities and the people who dwell in them, and He desires to bring redemption to them.  In the midst of the darkness in that city, there is light – His people living among those who are brokenhearted and captive.  God has done and is doing amazing things through this ministry.  Lives are changing one by one.  Strongholds are coming down, and a long-abandoned city is slowly being resurrected. 

Since my time in Camden, I have stayed in touch with one boy, who I worked closely with during that summer.  To say he has a difficult family situation is a vast understatement.  But God has His hand on his life.  He will graduate from high school this year, but he was starting the seventh grade when I met him.  I honestly did not know then how he would ever sit still long enough to make an A.  I also wasn’t so sure that he’d ever sit still long enough to let God heal him and shape him either.  But God is so faithful, and the mending continues. 

So, back to yesterday evening. 

I had just walked in the door and started to cook, when my cell phone rang.  I saw who it was, and I got so excited.  I had been thinking about my friend for a few weeks, wondering whether he had any news on the college front.  The last time we spoke he was waiting to hear back about his college applications and scholarships.  So, I was hoping that he would have some good news to share with me.  And he did.  He was accepted to a wonderful private university that will give him the opportunity to pursue his dream – to get a degree in education and come back to Camden to teach.  He’s even considering staying a fifth year to complete his Masters in Teaching!  I am so proud of him.  He has been blessed with several resources to help in paying for everything.  And as he told me all of this, I just marveled at the work of God in this young man’s life to do beyond what most would have expected.  He told me all about his preparations for graduation and the various senior activities he will participate in over the next six weeks.  He also told me that he is the first person in his family to go to college.  And although I know that is an accomplishment worth celebrating in itself, my excitement for him is for the many things I believe God will do in his life while he is in college.  I pray that these next few years would be formative and life-changing for him and that God would draw him close like never before.  And when God calls him back to the place where he started from, I pray he would return with abandon, completely surrendered to the God who has watched over every moment of his turbulent life.  And I pray God would use him and the many other children who continue to make their way back home to the streets of Camden to bring renewal to a city that most everyone else has rejected. 

I know you will do it, Lord.  You will make that city new again.        

I share all of this because after six years I am still shocked that a white girl who grew up in the epitome of suburbia has the privilege of knowing such a special kid, who has grown up in one of the most dangerous cities in America.  But I know that’s the way God meant it to be.  And I am forever humbled.  I will make no apologies about how many posts I may write in the future about the heart of God for those that the world often chooses to ignore, forget, or even condemn.  But I hope that no one who happens to read this post or others will sense any arrogance or judgment from me about any of these issues.  I confess that I am a broken and sinful girl who still struggles with God over many things deep down, and I don’t profess to live my convictions at every moment of every day. 

But I know one thing. 

Jesus came to be the Shepherd to sheep without one (Matt. 9:35-37), and He walked to places that no one else would go.  He touched people that no one else would.  He loved those that were His enemies (Romans 5:8).  And as long as I live, I will worship the God who loves someone living in poverty (whether by their own choices or not) just as much as He loves me.  And I will love them too.  I don’t know what that means for each season of my life.  But I know that I want more than anything to be where my Savior is.  And that may mean getting in where it’s dirty and going where most think it’s not a good idea.  It may mean that those closest to me may never be able to fully comprehend what I’ve witnessed.  And it will definitely mean knowing the extent of my own fragility, so that I can serve my fellow humans humbly, as one knowing she is here only by the grace of God. 

Many years ago, the group Caedmon’s Call wrote an extremely convicting song called “This World.”  The theme of the song is the tension we experience living in this world but not being of it.  And every time I hear it, one line pierces my heart more than any other:

“And the least of these look like criminals to me, so I leave Christ on the street.”

People who have it all together have no need for a doctor.  Jesus came for the sick (Luke 5:30-32).  And that’s who He spent His time with.  I find it interesting how He prioritized His time on this earth, knowing that it would be far shorter than most lives.  And He spent it with the marginalized, the sinful, the weak, the ones who had nothing to offer Him.  And those who pretended that they did watched Him from a distance.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…  (Isaiah 61:1-2)

That’s the life that paid for mine. 

May my road look like His.