By Scott Ancarrow
“This is why we planted a church here.”
That phrase ran through my head as I tried to rest in the midst of the unrest in our city in April 2015. As peaceful protests following Freddie Gray’s death turned into a night of violence captured and shared on video all over the world, our family knew that moments like this are why we were where we were.
A hundred times I had repeated the refrain “the local church is Plan A for bringing hope to bear in the world.” I said it every time I talked to churches while raising the necessary funds to start a church. While we know that hope is an everyday necessity, this moment in our city was a huge opportunity to actually display it.
In the days that followed, the world offered spectators, lecturers, and a seemingly merry band of “I-told you-so’s” to Baltimore. Those looking for reason to validate their viewpoint found it. Those wanting to find outrage found it. Those looking for an opportunity to exploit the commotion found it. As in all tragedies, you don’t have to look far to see people using it as a prop to their views (this cycle has continued deep into the next round of elections). We tweet, turn to our pundits, and share in like-minded circles how the problem would be fixed if the other side would just think like them.
But this isn’t the way of Jesus.
For an incarnate Savior, our broken world isn’t a prop. Rather, it is a place to be present. It’s a place where the church has been called to witness. A light. It’s a place to be the visible church, where the people of God live on display. It is a place where hope could be both declared and demonstrated. As The Message puts it, “The Word became flesh . . . and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).
In the days that followed the uprising in our city, our church (the Foundry) bought pizza for kids who would not get lunch at school that day. We prayed . . . a lot. We threw parties. We helped run soccer camps for young people. We connected churches to a mobile food pantry in a neighborhood where looting had created a food desert. We were asked to help with grief counseling. We helped connect people in neighborhoods separated by segregation’s old “unspoken” lines. We created spaces for difficult conversations in the climate of both our city and country.
These opportunities have been the by-product of listening, opening our eyes, and asking God to help us know how to seek our city’s prosperity.
Out of these immediate opportunities, there have emerged additional opportunities for the church to be both visible and present. These reflect activity that the news media hasn’t captured on film and run constantly through a 24-hour news cycle. Yet these opportunities created additional spaces for greater investment in the city.
The pain in our world, the pain in your city, is not a prop. It is an opportunity to be the visible church.
I think of Wendell, who moved to Baltimore from New York City to start a high school youth program in the impacted neighborhoods in the days that followed the unrest in our city. He is seeing tremendous fruit in this ministry in a place where many would not think there could be such fruit.
I think of Brandi, who helps victims of human trafficking with math homework.
I think of Steph, who helped our small group with furnishing an apartment for a family of refugees who had just arrived in our city.
I think of Jeff, who has coordinated a youth football league that reconnects churches to the youth of their neighborhood.
I think of several friends who have noticed that prison recidivism is a huge issue in our city and are beginning to take next steps to learn what they can do about it.
I think of a friend in Southeast Asia who is equipping local churches to address the issue of human trafficking in their country.
I love the church because of what I see the church doing.
May the church be more like Job’s friends during the first seven days of his suffering (when they sat with him in silence), than how the friends behaved in the days that followed (when they were more concerned about the “correct answer” to the problem of pain than in providing any comfort).
We have a theology and a mission shaped on the brokenness of the world around us. The New Testament church is founded upon the most selfless act of love the world has ever known.
We have the greatest reason for hope, even in a world that often feels increasingly hopeless. May that truth help us know how to visibly demonstrate and declare our hope while we are “here.”
Scott Ancarrow, his wife, Amber, and their daughters live in Baltimore City, Maryland. Scott serves as lead minister of the Foundry, a church launched by Orchard Group in 2013.