Inner-City Riches

By Bart Campolo 3-31-2008

We've gotten enough calls and e-mails from folks concerned about my state of mind for me to think it's probably time for a more upbeat post. If you've been among those worried, you can rest assured that I'm far from despair. On the contrary, I can't remember ever feeling more alive than I have these past few years in Cincinnati, in spite of all the trouble and confusion we've found here. My worldview surely has been shaken some, but my soul is safe and sound.

Not to boast, but, amidst our many mistakes in starting over as servants of God, it turns out that Marty and I did right the single, most important thing we had to do right: We didn't try to do it by ourselves. If nothing else, we have learned on this adventure that loving people well - and loving poor people especially - is a team sport. And if I feel alive and well instead of utterly defeated, it is mainly because the other members of our somewhat intentional community here give me strength and security on a daily basis, whether or not they mean to do so.

I say 'somewhat intentional' to avoid giving the impression that we are some kind of religious order, with formal rules and a common purse and a weekly regimen of prayer. If you thought that, I'm afraid you'd be sorely disappointed when you came for a visit. What we are instead is a handful of families and individuals who have moved next door or around the corner from each other on purpose. This is so that we can share our lives and our meals and our stuff more easily, and so we can all love the same neighbors without having to walk very far. We still have our own jobs and houses, but because the houses weren't very expensive the jobs don't take all our time, and there's more left for each other and for the folks we're trying to bless one way or another.

For example, recently, when Marty and I weren't sure about inviting a struggling kid who's on his own to come live with our family, we ran next door for Karen's advice. The week before, Karen, Ric, and Marty handled the whole Monday night dinner party because my plane home from Vancouver was delayed. The other night, Sarah walked over to talk through her career options now that she knows she doesn't want to be a massage therapist forever. The night after that, Sarah offered to tutor the neighborhood girl the rest of us just couldn't fit in.

If that kind of give and take sounds appealing to you, well, join the club. Especially for those of us with kids, it is a pure joy to have such wonderful brothers and sisters around to help raise them. And when it comes to coping with the often absurd consequences of our beloved neighbors' bizarre combinations of poverty, neglect, and dysfunction, well, we're all better off with plenty of partners to share the load.

Out on the road as a speaker, when people tell me they admire the sacrifice of our 'radical' inner-city ministry lifestyle, I can't help but smile. If they had any idea how amazing it is to daily be surrounded by the kind of love, support, understanding, and practical help that my family takes for granted here, I think their admiration might turn to envy instead. After all, who else gets to live so close to their friends?

Please don't worry. This street-level ministry stuff is indeed much harder than I remembered, mainly because I know better now what it means for a child not to have a decent parent, or for a parent not to have a decent job, or for a family not to have a decent place to live. But it is richer now, too, because I also know better the true value of love, which is our God. And because here, in that knowledge, I am not alone.

Bart Campolo is a veteran urban minister and activist who speaks, writes, and blogs about grace, faith, loving relationships and social justice. Bart is the leader of The Walnut Hills Fellowship in inner-city Cincinnati. He is also founder of Mission Year, which recruits committed young adults to live and work among the poor in inner-city neighborhoods across the USA, and executive director of EAPE, which develops and supports innovative, cost-effective mission projects around the world.

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