by Lindy Emerson
July – August, 2006
I am from rural Missouri.
Now I live in the Bronx.
Sometimes I ask myself, Why in the world do I live here, so far away from the way of life I once knew?
I won’t lie – my worldview is getting rocked. I am learning quickly how much I really have to learn about diversity, urban culture, what constitutes “church,” and how I ought to share the gospel in an urban setting.
For example, conversations with fellow Bronxites force me to examine my worldview. I have grown up thinking nuclear families are “the norm,” sex is for marriage, marriage is for life, drugs are bad, people are good, and true community does exist.
These are not average assumptions in the conversations I’m having in the Bronx … conversations I grew up with in Christian circles in Missouri. I meet people here who have never known anyone saving sex for marriage. I talk with non-Christian teens that are hard-pressed to date someone that won’t sleep with them in the first couple weeks. People are shocked to learn that I personally know someone who has actually been married to the same person for fifty years. There are those who think it is normal to hate other ethnicities.
Am I in ancient Corinth, I wonder? No, I am in the real world. A world that is in desperate need of Jesus. My reaction is to run to my safe Christian communities where everyone claims to believe in God and Christian morals are the standard even if they aren’t always lived out.
So, why am I here? I’m working with a church planting team in the Bronx, that is dedicated to planting vibrant faith communities in a context appropriate to this urban, working poor, multi-ethnic setting in the Bronx, New York.
Come alongside this journey I am on, and my commitment to you is to share what we’re learning as we seek to show Christ’s love in a place that seems at face value to have forgotten Him.
As I walk down an unfamiliar street I can feel the tension. The hate, racism, and oppression that these communities have felt for so long is palatable. Some of my new friends are surprised that I think there is an alternative.
Who will show promiscuous girls, desperate for attention, that there is a God who will give them unlimited attention? Who will show the guys that being courteous and treating women with respect is better than just being polite to get a girl in bed?
Who will model a healthy marriage for this community?
Who will model respect for elders to the youth of this community? Who will be the role model of what it means to be a loving father? Who will show the women of the Bronx that men can love their wives as Christ loves the church? Who will dare to say that violence does not solve problems? Who will proclaim through their life that love trumps all forms of racial prejudice? Who will show that community can be found in the Body of Christ instead of gangs?
Who indeed. More and more I’m realizing that it’s less and less through me and increasingly through seeing Christ lived out in people like Nathan. I worship on Sunday mornings with Nathan’s family and others from West Africa. I love it. I love their cultural perspective, their hearts, their prayers, their attitude, and their kids. I love them.
We were talking recently about racial discrimination they have encountered since moving to the United States. Nathan, the patriarch of the group, said their neighborhood is multi-ethnic yet unspoken rules keep people in their own ethnic group. Yet, our church network has people from almost every continent.
As he compared the two communities, Nathan said, “they are missing out on God’s beauty” and that struck me. How do we define beauty? We define it by comparing differences. If everything in nature was the same there would be no such thing as beauty and barrenness, extravagance and plainness.
The contrast is not just to say one is more beautiful than the other but also to see different forms of beauty. Fall leaves are beautiful in a totally different way than a bare tree covered in snow. As we circled around for prayer this struck me again as I looked down at the hand in mine: that of an eight-year old boy from West Africa named Darlington. Different sizes, shapes, and complete color contrast, but his hand was beautiful. These little black fingers looked perfectly intertwined with mine. I looked down and loved “God’s beauty.”
Some may look at his skin and treat him badly. Some may look at my skin and say it’s too white. But when our hands come together, it is beautiful. Nathan was right. This neighborhood in the Bronx is missing out on “God’s beauty.” If we are all made in His image, what better way to see a more complete view of our Creator than to come together from every corner of the earth and worship.
The Bronx is one of the most diverse places in the world but it needs more diversity. Diversity that is seen through the eyes of God and disciples like Nathan. The Bronx needs people to come live out Christ. Not middle-class values. Not white culture. Not an American Jesus. The Bronx needs disciples of Jesus, who, like Jesus himself transcend all social, economic and ethnic groups. The city needs people who are willing to bring the reality of the reign of God into every aspect of life.
But this isn’t just a call to the Bronx. We are the incarnation of Christ. His flesh. His hands. His feet. Do we look like Him wherever we live?
May the body of Christ cry out in unison, “Lord, here am I; send me.” May we be bold enough, not to merely be admirers of Jesus, but true disciples, living out our salvation.
May the Lord reveal himself through and in our diversity. May the Lord break down the deep, hate-filled, racism that plagues this city. May we find beauty in unexpected places and may we realize that our beauty is really not a matter of looking different at all, but beauty is found in hearts and souls that are created to love the Creator and deeply desire to be shaped into His image.
To see a photo feature about this church planting effort, click on this link: NYC: A Few Ways to Look at a City God Loves.
Lindy Emerson is from Mt. Vernon, MO and is a recent graduate of Rochester College, Rochester Hills, MI. She is currently working with a church planting team in the Bronx that is dedicated to planting vibrant faith communities in a context appropriate to this urban, working poor, multi-ethnic setting in the Bronx, New York. More of her learning experiences can be found at [www.lindyerin.blogspot.com].