We kicked off our very first Round Table dinner with a passage from Jeremiah 29. Rather than going to the oft quoted (and oft misquoted) verse 11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” we went a few verses back to God’s promise to His people who are in exile. God speaks of great restoration, but in the meantime gives a commandment: “Seek the welfare of the city where you have been sent, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Our program is unique because we live together in two houses, unlike most other Fellows programs who set up their Fellows with host families. What’s more, we live east of Troost Avenue, a historic and stark racial dividing line with Kansas City’s black community on the east side and its white community on the west. Given our circumstance, we have the potential to acutely feel God’s command from Jeremiah to build houses and plant gardens, even though we are only here for nine months.
Gabe Coyle, pastor at Christ Community Downtown campus, preached on this passage in Jeremiah 29 and his words were particularly relevant to us in this in-between stage in our lives. He said that in order to truly be in a place, God’s people had to resist the lie that they were just passing through. As short-term Fellows, it’s easy to feel like we’re just passing through, and with so little time, seeking the city’s welfare doesn’t seem worth it. But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that we can begin the efforts of building a community, even if we’re uncertain of how long we will stay. We can start because we worship a God who finishes, and who continues His good work despite our particular presence.
The Lord has been speaking into our situation through the year so far in a few specific ways. Matt Farmer, a former staff member at The Hope Center, basically followed the Lord to Kansas City and dedicated a whole year to dive deeply into the history, pain points and brightness of this place. As someone who has lived intentionally in this place, he encouraged us to be information gatherers of wherever we find ourselves in life, and through his own story showed us the value of investing in a city.
Inspired by Matt’s stories and last year’s Fellows class, we discussed ideas of how we might invest in our neighborhood, and aHalloween event was decided upon. On a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon, we hosted a Trunk or Treat for the neighborhood – complete with decorated car trunks, costumes, pumpkin pie and apple cider.
We went to the western regional Fellows conference in Memphis the following weekend with this experience fresh in our minds. God used the keynote speaker Tim Johnson to confirm us and push us even further into the calling of racial reconciliation. Tim is a pastor in Memphis who is in the process of planting a multicultural church along dividing lines similar to the Troost Avenue line here in Kansas City. Tim is black and spent the weekend talking openly to a group of mostly white Fellows about social justice, racial reconciliation and the church’s role in it. He highlighted the importance of location in ministry, and said that the farther you are from ground zero (the hurt within a community), the later, more lost and more limited you’ll be to help. He cited the Christian Community Development Association, a group that lists relocation (to a particular area) as a key way to effectively minister to the poor. One of the best ways to seek the welfare of the city and spread the light of Christ to others is to be in the city and be in position to witness and participate in God’s reconciling work.
Whether or not the neighbors we met remember any names or see any of us again, we hope that when they pass by our houses they’ll know “that’s the Fellows’ house, and they care about this neighborhood, this street, and this city.”
I’m seeing this theme of Jeremiah 29 all over the place, and God has been faithful in connecting the dots for me. I pray for bravery, boldness and creativity as we seek the welfare of Kansas City, whether it’s a gathering at our houses on a Sunday afternoon, a friendly wave and hello out at the mailbox, or a consistent presence at the Save-A-Lot grocery store around the corner. May we be faithful to God’s call in 2017 and 2018, just as the Israelites were in Jeremiah’s time. This is our beginning.