If you missed Cynthia's update on Asabe a few Sundays ago, here is the message Cynthia read from her brother, who recently visited Asabe in Lagos, Nigeria.
Asabe is doing very well and is healthy thanks to consistently taking her medication and the fact that she is able to work less than before. She still has a part time job as a nanny for a missionary family, but not the kind of strenuous work she had in the past. Her children are doing well. Two of her daughters are married and she now has 5 grandchildren. The third daughter Naomi (Cynthia) lives in Lagos with an uncle. Her three sons all live at home with her to look after her and provide protection. Her neighborhood has been hit periodically with spurts of violence with several homes around her's burned down. The two older sons -- Iliya and Silas -- aren't married and are both partially employed. The youngest son Matthew is still in secondary school."
This Sunday we become Church Beyond the Building, as we have every "fifth Sunday" since March 2009. At Simon Senior Apartments, Kristen VanderLinden has arranged for us to host bingo and clean some neighbors' spaces. Kids are welcome to play bingo with a parent; the seniors loved it last time (as did our children). David Anema can lead three to five people (adults only) to Redeeming Soles to clean and sort gently worn shoes for homeless in Belltown. Kurt Munson will oversee further painting, and Biff will have a project at New Horizons. Linda will be bringing pizza and pop. Bring cleaning gloves if you have them; arrive prior to 10:30am. Look forward to this day; do not stay home. This is a great opportunity to continue building relationships and awareness of the gospel community in Belltown.
One of our youths invited two friends along a few Wednesdays ago, introducing them to the work of New Horizons Ministries, as well as to the reality of homeless teens in Seattle. They had fun together while serving dinner to street-involved youth. When your small group has a turn serving dinner on the 1st Wednesday, consider inviting a friend along.
Something new has come to the streets of Belltown: it is a program called LEAD, and it offers much hope.
DESPAIRIn Emmaus Road's neighborhood of gathering, few topics draw as much attention or outcry as the issue of public safety. Belltown residents and business owners often show up to community forums in much greater numbers to plead their case, protest policy, or at least offer feedback to the official du jour. Media stories on Belltown are also slanted toward crime coverage. Certain themes are repeated: not enough police presence, too great a concentration of "problem" people, etc. The common culprit for Belltown's misery is often identified, not by name, but by label: "dealer." The dealer is on the corner, in the club, down the alley. The dealer is intimidating, armed and dangerous, and has no concern for neighbors. The dealer must be removed and locked up.
When we reach the point of condemning someone who belongs to a detestable group, associating them by behavior or appearance, yet know nothing more about them, much has been lost. They are a label. They are less than human. We approach them as we might a problem pest, an illness, or some other impersonal force of nature. Their story, name, background, are all set aside so we can efficiently, forcefully, and righteously respond to the problems they cause us. The dealer is causes misery; the dealer must be removed.
But the dealer does have a name and a story. The dealer, like any of us, is a person. When the dealer is arrested, do officials they encounter in courts and corrections see them as a person? Are the individual, environmental, human factors that contribute to their lifestyle of lawlessness being addressed?
A fresh attempt is being made to approach dealers differently in Belltown: the cycle of arrest, incarceration, failed rehabilitation, repeated offense and recidivism, is being challenged by a program allowing people to speak to dealers as... people. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program is new, experimental, and being tested in Belltown. Details can be found here. The learning curve for LEAD will be steep; hard lessons will be learned. However difficult the journey, there is promise and hope in this direction.
For Christians, the assertion that Belltown's dealers are people, too, may remind us of the way Jesus approached the "problem people" of his time and place: "tax collectors and sinners." Jesus showed his followers how people respond differently when they are recognized as... people. Jesus called these people by name. He ate their food. He remembered they had been created in the image of God. Something - several things - had gone terribly wrong, and that image has been obscured. They had wandered into darkness. Yet Jesus never lost sight of God's image in people. He approached them with hope. In the face of his mercy, people could safely acknowledge their wrongs - this is confession. But rather than ending with despair and punishment, this encounter led to the promise of new life.
Jesus still approaches people this way. Let us follow.