Today’s guest post comes from Brett “Fish” Anderson of Irresistibly Fish. Brett is a missionary from South Africa serving in America. And besides the delicious satisfaction I get from seeing this flip in standard Americentric perspective, I just genuinely love the message of Brett’s story. –Tamára
The other morning I was walking to work and I watched this young black kid (sorry, “African-American” kid, cos of all that time he spent in Africa, you know) throw a piece of rubbish into the trash can.
Or try to. Because he missed.
And then something extraordinary happened. He bent down and picked up the trash and threw it again.
And missed. Again.
But then something even more bizarre happened. He bent down for the second time, picked up the piece of trash, and threw it into the bin.
And it made my day.
Which probably sounds really crazy. Or unimpressive, at least, to most people reading this.
But for those of us who live here, in this place, with this context all around us… it is the seeds of life.
You see, my wife Valerie and I left South Africa a year ago to join a non-profit called The Simple Way to live and minister in a poor and broken down inner-city neighbourhood called Kensington in Philadelphia, Americaland. When we tell people in Philly where we stay, we get the “What good can come out of Kensington?” looks.
It is a diverse neighbourhood (largely Puerto Rican with African-American and white, I’m sorry– “Caucasian”) with a lot of unemployment due to all of the factories having closed down and moved out of the area many years before. The majority of the families could not move with them. And so drugs and prostitution came calling as a strong enticement to people struggling to put food on their tables.
They ran an article in the newspaper on the top ten drug corners in Philly about two months after we arrived here. Turns out all ten are within about five miles of where we live. The number-one corner is about seven streets away and our corner is number six. There is apparently a murder every day in this area of Philly, and we have seen the after-effects of a few of those. At night we often hear gunfire or police sirens screaming past our door.
So, from the outside at least, this is not a nice place.
But we love it. To us it is home. And to many of our neighbours whom we live and walk this life with, it is the same. Some of them want to leave and make it out to a better place and way of life. But a good number of them are intent on building up the neighbourhood, on seeing change. Life from death. Beauty from the ashes.
For that reason I celebrate a kid throwing a piece of litter into a trash can. And more importantly, going back twice more to make sure it happens.
We live in a very dirty area at times. People throw trash on the ground while standing a meter away from the trash can. The mess builds up and by late afternoon it can look like a garbage truck has driven through, dumping out rather than collecting.
But at nine in the morning, as we walk down the street to work, we see a neighbour with a broom sweeping away. The block captain across the street has a brush and a pan and is doing damage to the dirt on his side. Our friend who joined us for prayer has taken our broom onto the street and is furiously working away. There is life happening, and it is good.
It will get dirty again. But together as a community, we will bend down once more, pick up that piece of trash and throw it once more at the bin.