From Hero to Friend: Become a Student of Your Neighborhood
May 16, 2017
Cultivate, Everyday Peacemaking, Reconciliation
As a part of the #EverydayPeacemaking campaign we are bringing you stories from Everyday Peacemakers around the world.
. . .
Bri and Adam Brewster live in Des Moines, IA, where they recently moved from their home and life in the suburbs into an under-resourced part of the city. Check out their hearts below as they’ve literally immersed into the act of everyday peacemaking.
QUESTION: Please share why you two chose to move to the part of Des Moines that you did?
ANSWER: We had participated in what had started as a kids’ ministry in a park in this neighborhood.
“We realized that we were engaging in this ministry in the posture of “doing things for” and not “doing life with” the community.”
While attending a Global Immersion Peacemaking Workshop, we started investigating where the fractures were in our city. We lived, and worked, and played in mostly white, middle-to-upper-middle class spaces. We didn’t see how we could participate in racial healing when we only did life with people who were “like us”. This particular area we now live is the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Des Moines. We had connections here via the kids’ ministry our friends Chris and Sarah started, and already knew a lot of the neighbors on this street. They believed in what we wanted to do and actually bought the house we are renting and financed the renovations to make a gathering area in our house. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.
QUESTION: What was your initial intention in moving to your new neighborhood and how has it changed or been transformed through your experience?
ANSWER: To be completely honest, we went into this patting ourselves on the back a little for displacing ourselves for the sake of an under-resourced community. We saw ourselves as bringing light here, moving Jesus into the neighborhood. We realized very quickly Jesus was already here.
“When God showed up in flesh and blood, He showed up in Nazareth as someone who was marginalized. We have discovered Jesus is showing us more about who He is through our neighbors.”
Adam used to explain to people that it was a “rough neighborhood” or a “bad neighborhood.” Since living here, we know this neighborhood is beautiful and has so much to offer, so by calling it a bad neighborhood, it gives a negative predisposition to others that just isn’t true.
We also thought racial justice would naturally happen through cross-cultural encounter and friendship, but our time here is showing us we need more than friendship. We need each other. We are a community and our flourishing or lack of it is connected. More than friendship, we need to own our part of injustice and how to participate in ushering in peace.
QUESTION: Why was moving into an under-resourced part of town important for you rather than living somewhere considered “safer,” and commuting to serve?
ANSWER: We want to do life with this community and we’re tired of driving away every week, leaving this neighborhood behind. When we served in the park before moving here, we also sensed the distance it created. Without living here, we felt like intruders and in a way, we were.
We also think of safety in a different way. Jesus says don’t be afraid of what can kill the body, but for what can kill your soul. For us (I want to emphasize for us, I don’t want to come across as disparaging for those who live in the suburbs,) moving into the suburbs of Des Moines would have been more of a guarantee of keeping our body safe, but it would have crushed us. We’ve lived in the suburbs of Des Moines and we were weary from it. We want our kids to be immersed in a diversity of perspectives and to experience the Kingdom of God right on their street.
QUESTION: What are some ways you two have prioritized a posture of understanding and learning over being understood and doing the teaching?
ANSWER: We have really been trying to be students of our neighborhood and community. Whenever someone in the community hosts an opportunity to learn we do our best to show up.
“This has looked like attending plays by local theatre companies, storytelling events, panel discussions on racial justice or police brutality, etc.”
We try to make connections at these events in order to have people over so we can learn more about the neighborhood and the stories of those who live here.
QUESTION: How long have you been immersed in the neighborhood where you live? In what ways have you been stretched and transformed as individuals, a couple, and as a community?
ANSWER: We have lived here for 9 months. As individuals, we’ve had to confront the entitlement that is tethered to white privilege. We went from a space where everything was comfortable, familiar, and catered to us, to something completely foreign. We moved ten minutes away and, at times, feel like we’ve moved to a different country. We are being stretched as we navigate this.
As a couple, we’ve been (and are still in the process of) reforming what our boundaries look like. We’re striving to be front-porch people with open doors, but we’ve also struggled to implement this kind of approach consistently.
As a community, we’ve been stretched to see this take root in the culture of our local church body. There are growing pains with this as some people are more “on board” with it than others.
QUESTION: What has been the most profound impact on your lives as you’ve immersed in this type of peacemaking?
Bri: My vision of Jesus has been clarified and healed. I didn’t know how much I had made Jesus in the image of white man in power until I got a better picture of Him in the face of my neighbors who are immigrants and refugees. As I’ve learned to see that reconciliation is at the heart of the work of Jesus and the cross, the gospel has gone from black and white to full color.
Adam: Realizing the profound depths there are to explore when we realize the Gospel IS peacemaking. This has reshaped my entire worldview, my approach to scripture, how I participate in the church and community, how I interact with friends and family.
QUESTION: Please share some practical insights with someone interested in immersing into a community that they are not from.
ANSWER: Become a student of your neighborhood. Use the library as a resource to research the history of the neighborhood. Meet business owners and community leaders and ask them questions about the history of the neighborhood. Where we live is beautiful, but injustice is also present and feels so overwhelming. Instead of getting discouraged, be present.
“Take frequent walks around your neighborhood and pay close attention. Whenever a neighbor is out on your walk make time to introduce yourself and ask your neighbor generous questions. Spend time in your front yard and on your front porch.”
Take stock of your belongings and space and figure out how to use those things to gather people together. Become a member of your neighborhood association and go to the meetings.
Take steps to becoming an #EverydayPeacemaker by downloading and starting the Month of Peacemaking Challenge here!
About the Author:
Adrienne has blogged haphazardly over the last 10 years at www.adriennegraves.com She and her family recently moved to Nashville where she talks to strangers, gathers stories, and writes them down to share. Adrienne founded Bevy, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create safe spaces for women to share their stories candidly.