Thursday, October 10, 2013

This time of year the flowers turn brown and the deciduous trees look dead. 

Looks can be deceiving. 

This weekend Bill and I visited a church in one of Chicago's most violent, most drug-infested inner-city neighborhoods.  It's not on the top ten tourist sights.  Instead, it heads the unprinted "don't go there" list.  If you imagine crumbling buildings, trash on the street, and few flourishing businesses, you're right.

But what you could never imagine is the difference one church has made over the last thirty years. 

Sunday we worshiped in the gym used for youth sports. We heard the choir from Hope House, their homeless shelter for men. They provide housing, substance abuse counseling, and job training. We met Fred whom the others call "prof" because he's spent some time in college as well as other less positive places.  He was cheerful and articulate, not what I expected from a guy in recovery. 

Their church's spin-off ministries include health services--birth through geriatrics. A beautiful new facility boasts a top-of-the-line health club. 

They have a legal center. 

Students can join sports, the arts program, and after school tutoring. In a joint effort with the Chicago Botanic Gardens, local kids grow and sell their vegetables from their community garden. 

As well, they created a development company that built numerous homes and helped the area residents buy them. Their sliding-scale apartment building is beautiful.

Statistics and some first impressions would tell you it is a decaying community. It's not. New life, spiritually and physically, thrives here.

Likewise, there are seasons of life where all appears to be in decline. 

I think of a friend's mom, who in spite of her advancing years, was still very much alive. When Dot was  94, and in assisted living, she went to the gym with her daughter. She walked the treadmill at 2 mph for about five minutes. When she had to move into the nursing home this Catholic lady exuberantly sang Baptist hymns with the rest of the residents. She made new friends and encouraged one man to play the piano because he still could! She focused more on what she could do more than what she couldn't.

Lord, may my attitude be as good.

We went to Chicago to visit friends who are in time of difficulty. Family crisis, job loss and ill health have clobbered them. Even though the circumstances look grim they don't believe all is lost, they trust God. 

If you know someone who looks around and sees more ebb than flow, reach out and be the bright spot they need so that "their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love". (Colossians 2:2).

Because looks can be deceiving.

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