One of the most popular posts I have ever written is “Has the Light Gone Out?” In this post, you will find my answer.
Thursday’s at Embrace Richmond are like riding an emotional roller coaster because it is our outreach day in both Hillside and Fairfield courts. Janie Walker leads us in our morning devotions and prepares us for the adventure that lies before us but nothing can fully prepare you for the messy work of this kind of ministry.
We arrived in Fairfield Court, expecting to fellowship with the community, but the community did not show up. Only three residents were there at our start time. My heart sank. One of our newest AmeriCorps members decided that if the community did not come to us, she would go to them. She began knocking doors and inviting people to join us. I joined her and we headed to see an old friend whom we have not seen in a while. Mrs. Debra and her son were home and were thrilled we remembered them and invited them to join the luncheon.
This fellowship was a celebration of gifts. Stephanie shared her musical talents and beautiful voice with us as Yolanda danced. Chinary and Trudy teamed up for a wonderful Hip Hop song and dance. Janie told us jokes. Charles, Cynthia and I performed a heartfelt rendition of “This little light of mine.” There was great joy and celebration as more of the community joined in.
However, my joy turned to grief when Debra shared that the night before there was a shoot out one street over from her apartment. Two men shot, one killed. We had entered into a community in mourning, not realizing the tragedy of the night before. I left Faifield with a mixture of emotions. I was glad we could bring a ray of sunshine into the community on a dark day but sad many of our community friends were not present to fellowship with us while deeply grieved by the senseless loss of another life in the streets of Fairfield Court.
An hour later when we entered Hillside Court, I was struck by the stark difference between the mob scene I witnessed on Wednesday night and the peaceful friendly spirit that greeted me on Thursday afternoon. Wednesday night at about 7:00pm, a mob formed around two screaming women, people came from all over the neighborhood to see the fight. I did not get close enough to see who it was and was relieved that a police car rolled onto the scene and prevented things from getting out of hand.
On Thursday afternoon, when I entered the fellowship area, I was shocked by the number of people who were already there setting up for the event. We had so many people show up that we ran out of chairs! It was only by the grace of God that we had enough food. The energy in the room was powerful as residents shared poems, sang and danced. We have many new faces in the circle and there was such a positive spirit and hopefulness among the residents. I was struck by one woman who shared she had no food in her home then volunteered to sing and chose a song about God’s faithfulness. I was overwhelmed by the spirit of unity and joy.
I have been told that these communities are like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that the transformation happens at sundown. Those who desire to see their community change invest their time in the day light hours working to better their community, only to have the night crew destroy it. While my friends are hard at work, the night dwellers are fast asleep. While the insanity of the evening hours rages, my friends are barricaded in their homes praying. I was reminded once again that I will never fully understand what it is like to live in these communities. Long before the fighting and gun fire erupt, I am safely in my quiet suburban home.
It is hard thinking about what goes on in the communities when I leave. It is even harder knowing that, if I stayed; there is nothing I could do to stop the madness. However, I am thankful that for a few hours we transported the residents of Fairfield and Hillside court out of their world of murder and mayhem and into a world where they and their neighbors could find joy in simply enjoying one another’s company. I am reminded over and over again that there are saints in every community. We are blessed to support the remnant who is trying to keep hope alive.
What Embrace does is not all that impressive. We simply create space for a new reality to take shape. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms that space into a refuge for those surrounded by darkness. Janie asked us in one of our devotionals this week, “When was the last time you lit up a room?” I am thankful I witnessed God’s light shining brightly through so many people this week.
So has the light gone out? No, you just have to know where and when to look for it. If you look in the newspaper or on T Street during working hours or in the streets after dark, you would never believe that God’s spirit is alive and well in these communities. However, I am blessed every week to see it in the faces of the light bearers God has placed for just this purpose in these communities. May their light never be extinguished!
I pray all of you reading this post will let your little light shine where ever God has planted you.
Please pray God will continue to send brightly shining lights into dark communities across our country.
So, where did you see God’s light shining this week?