Saturday, January 30, 2016

Missional Living: Our Move to West Greenville

Every month the church we attend releases a missions magazine they call, New Covenant. For their January edition they asked me to write a short piece on what it means to live missionally as they were focusing on the work being done by members of the congregation in a part of town we call "West Greenville." West Greenville is a poor, predominantly black neighborhood full of beautiful homes built in the 1920's and 30's. When urban flight hit Greenville, this section of town was mostly forgotten. Today, many people intentionally avoid this section of town, convinced by one-sided reporting that it is very dangerous. Below is the piece I wrote for New Covenant on moving into this part of town.


When our family moved to Greenville in 2009, my husband and I focused on finding a place to live that was affordable and safe. Pregnant with our first son, being missional in our home’s location was not something we considered. We settled into a two-bedroom apartment and that cozy dwelling was the first home for our sons, James and Liam. After Liam was born I spent my days in that small apartment often alone and frequently feeling cut-off from the outside world. My husband, Nathan, is on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and his daily work in ministry involves leading college students to be missional. But where did I fit in? For most of my life responding to the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations,” (Mt 28:19) has been important to me. The short-term international mission trips I’ve gone on have expanded my mind and my heart so that I burn to just go sometimes. But what could I do with young kids? Planning a trip to the grocery store felt overwhelming, how could I even think about planning a trip across the world?

Around that time I read a book by Helen Lee, titled Missional Mom, which explores what it means to live missionally during this season of life raising young children. Lee suggests that it isn’t necessary to pause the work of the Great Commission in order to focus on the four walls of our home. Instead, we need to change the ways we think about mission so that we can include our children, moving missional living from an individual endeavor to a family affair. This requires either that we re-structure our short-term mission trips to be family-friendly or that we look for ways to invite our children into mission with us in our local communities.

I still remember reading Lee’s book and coming to a certain line. It was on the left-hand page toward the bottom. She made a point about what it means to obey the Lord. When we say, I will obey you Lord, as long as my children are safe, it isn’t true obedience. We cannot put qualifiers on our willingness to follow where he leads us. “Sometimes our step of obedience as parents is to entrust our children’s safety to the Lord. Not recklessly, but prayerfully and thoughtfully.”

And as Nathan and I discussed this concept, the Lord moved in our hearts. Out of the box missionality converged with surrender of our family to the Lord.

We moved to West Greenville.

In many ways we weren’t sure what we were getting ourselves into or why we were doing it. We clearly felt the Lord moving us but we weren’t sure what the practical day in and day out would be like. I had grandiose visions of house parties and rapid transformation. I thought we were moving in as missionaries to “bring Jesus” to an unreached part of town. How naïve we were!

We purchased a house on West Third Street in November of 2012 after one year of renting in a different part of West Greenville. Many people in our neighborhood know Jesus and love him. Many are cultural Christians. Many are saddened by the ways that part of town feels forgotten.

If I’m honest, I still struggle with looking beyond the four walls of my home because if anything, the needs of my children have only increased in the three years since we moved here. We are the only white people on our street and living here has made us confront prejudices in our own hearts we didn’t know we had. We have turned to the Lord in the midst of those and he has given us profound love for our neighbors; in fact, the only Kingdom growth I know for certain that has come from our move has been in us.

Living missionally has been a process of humbling and surrendering ourselves to the Lord. It hasn’t been about dramatic changes or showy sacrifices but about following Jesus, step-by-step, wherever he moves us. For some, that obedience takes us across the globe. For others, it takes us across town. Still others are simply being called across the room to love an acquaintance by the grace of Jesus. This act of surrender is the same for parents as it is for professors. The same for health professionals as it is for office executives.

Where might Jesus be calling you?

Liam and me, the day we purchased this house

Liam playing at the community center down the street

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