I went to Detroit on a mission trip last week and I saw hope, lots and lots of hope. I came home sweaty and exhausted and much more happy than when I left. Hope is infectious.
Generally, the purpose of a mission trip is to help people recover from a disaster, typically a hurricane or a flood or a fire. The disaster Detroit experienced did not come in the form of rain or rising waters. Detroit’s disaster was created by humans. It was an economic and racial disaster created by a complex history of racist policies and the failure of the auto industry.
When we drove through Detroit and we could see the prosperous, beautiful city it once was. Beautiful neighborhoods, stately homes, wide welcoming tree-lined streets. Then we looked closer and realized that most of the businesses were boarded up. There were abandoned homes on every block, boarded up, lawns overgrown, roofs caved in. One of Detroit’s biggest challenges is keeping lawns mowed and weeds pulled. With the loss of jobs, people left. Without revenue from property taxes from homes and businesses, the school system is in shambles. One young woman told me that there is no economy in Detroit, none. Detroit has been labeled as the most dangerous city in America.
But there is hope, we saw lots and lots of hope.
Hope: Mr. Williams, the patron saint of vegetables, is enthusiastically creating a community garden in a park. That’s where we were sent on our first morning in Detroit. The goal is to provide a place for people to gather and good food for people to eat. His hope is in the form of kohlrabi and Brussel sprouts. And he was so filled with hope, it overflowed into us and we spent the day pulling weeds and smiling.
Hope: Mrs. Moore arrived at the community garden. She grilled hot dogs for us for lunch. She serves on the zoning commission for the city of Detroit. All day she hauled us in her minivan back and forth to the nearest bathroom. On one trip she took us by her house. She has a garden in the front yard and her house has a porch. We asked if she sat on the porch in the evening. “Not in this neighborhood,” she told us. And yet she is committed to this neighborhood. Hot dogs and transportation to a bathroom and her laughter all filled us with hope.
Hope: Shirley is the president of her block club and one morning we met her on her front porch. She was grimacing in pain, preparing to go to the hospital, and yet she waited for us. Her neighborhood was made up of older two-story homes, evidence of past elegance, with scrollwork around the windows and balconies. Beautiful homes, and again, an abandoned home or two on every block. The alley behind her neighborhood was overgrown with weeds. It gave the impression no one cared, and people didn’t like to walk near it. We set to work pulling weeds and cleaning up the alley. More than 70 bags of weeds later and a whole lot of sweat, there it was again hope. (Shirley returned from the hospital later in the day. The diagnosis was a gallbladder attack. She will be having surgery soon.)
Hope: Stephanie was a volunteer for Cass Community Services. Cass Community Services was started by Cass United Methodist Church. She found us circling a neighborhood—we were a little bit lost. Cass Community Services is establishing a tiny house neighborhood in a depressed neighborhood. They currently have seven houses in place. Another three are being built and eventually there will be 28. The homes are leased to people who have never owned a home. The rent is $1 per square foot. One house was 350 square feet=$350 monthly rent. If the renter maintains the house and the rent for seven years, the house is turned over to them. Cass UMC also operates a small factory where they make doormats. Detroit has lots of abandoned tires and the people of Cass drive around the city and pick them up. The tires are cut into strips and people who had been regarded as unemployable due to disabilities are employed to make them into mats. They employ 60 people. Want to see one? Stop by my house. I bought one and put it on the front porch. And when I step out on to it, I feel hope.
Hope: Terrance was a part-time volunteer, part-time janitor at a small church. The church ran a clothing closet and a used furniture depot. The morning we arrived at the church, the police were there too. Someone had rammed the door of the garage where the furniture was stored and stolen the lawn mowers and cases of diapers. The volunteers who ran the clothing closet were discouraged. “If they had waited until we were open, we would have given them the diapers.” We went to work, mowing with a borrowed mower, pulling weeds, painting. Terrance told me “I do what I can because God has given me more than I deserve.” Hope marching on, even in a moment of discouragement.
Hope: All of these people were African American. Their skin is darker than mine. Their history is a story that differs from mine. Their hearts were open to me. Their hospitality blessed my life.
I have a pretty good radar for how money is used and as far as I could see, none of these enterprises had much, if any, money. The tires were free if you didn’t mind scouring abandoned lots. The building where the factory was located had been abandoned. Mr. Williams just needed seeds. Stephanie loved her church. Cass United Methodist Church mortgaged their church building to begin the tiny house neighborhood. Shirley just looked out her window and saw what needed to be done.
Hope strengthens us. Hope opens our eyes. Look closely and hope is like the open hand of Christ offering blessing and resurrection.
And hope makes you hungry for more hope. I want to be like Mr. Williams and be the patron saint of something. I want to be like Mrs. Moore and commit myself to something beyond myself. I want to be like Shirley and make the neighborhood around me a better place. I want to do what I can, because, like Terrance, God has given me more than I deserve.
So I am looking around the church, searching for what is hungry for hope here, and dreaming about Detroit, and planning to return someday and see what hope has done.
Every blessing to you.
Pastor Cindy Hickman
West Des Moines United Methodist Church
720 Grand Avenue, West Des Moines Iowa
We worship at 8:30 and 11 and we would love to worship with you.
Visit us at wdmumc.org or like us on Facebook.
This week at WDMUMC:
Incredible storms swept through the Des Moines area last Saturday. This week look around and see how you might lend a hand to those impacted by the flooding. As you identify needs, feel free to text me (515-988-0636) and we will post those needs on our Facebook page. Follow our Facebook feed to see how you can help.
Sunday we continue our worship series, Kidtalk, what children have to say about God, faith, and church. Graham Jones, from Hillside school, will be sharing part of the message. Hope to see you there!
VBS begins July 15! Sign up on the website.
And we’ll be serving up food and hospitality at the Iowa State Fair. Volunteers are needed! Check our Facebook page for details.