Stepping Into the Neighborhood

In 2011, we moved to Arizona knowing nothing about the place.  We found a house to rent close to Intel for the husband’s new job.  We quickly learned that Arizona suburbs can be the  most monotonous, Pleasantville like places.  Honestly, it was a bit creepy.  As we looked at houses most neighborhoods were shaped in one of three repeating floorplans and painted in one of three shades of beige, all forced to remain that way in perpetuity due to HOA rules.  Thank you 80’s building boom.  We were interested in one house, but when we drove through the neighborhood we noticed that all the houses were EXACTLY the same.  Could not deal.  We didn’t even look inside.

The house we settled on to rent was great at the time.  We were coming from California and a small 600 square foot expensive in-law unit.  This house was more than double the size…plus it had a full size fridge!  We were real adults now!

But I saw the neighbor’s landscapers more than the neighbors.  Making friends and meeting people as adults is way harder it turns out.  I finished my degree, we had a kid, and a few years later we were ready to buy a house.   

We knew we wanted an “old” house (note: old for the Phoenix metro area is reserved for houses built in the 70’s).   We found an adorable 1950’s ranch with character and big backyard that we loved.  Many people thought we were crazy for wanting an old house.  After finishing my masters in non-profit administration (which specifically included classes on holistic development) I knew I wanted a house in a lower to middle class neighborhood where we could create impact.  

I can still remember driving by the house for the first time more than 3 years ago.  I felt Adventure God say, “this is it.”  Then as I left the neighborhood I drove past an empty plot of land and I instantly saw the coffee shop and community center there.

Adventure God has continued to show me that this house and this neighborhood are special.  He has big plans.  People thought I was crazy when I said I think I am supposed to build the coffee shop on this plot of land.  That is much more money and work.  Start smaller.  But Adventure God likes to go big, so I am jumping on the ride.

I’m writing this while sitting at my computer in my quirky 1950’s house.  The Local Mission is now a registered non-profit corporation in the state of Arizona, and once I get tax exempt status from the IRS I will be approaching said plot of land’s owners and pray they want to  donate the land for a tax deduction.

Things are moving.  But Adventure God is still clarifying the vision and showing me we are in the right place. I am reading Economy of Love currently; this passage hit me hard:

“We who are financially secure are too often estranged from the dispossessed—insulated within our vehicles, the neighborhoods in which we choose to live, the churches we attend, the places where we shop and eat. So the poor become depersonalized, our responsibility to them often reduced to a line item in our monthly budget or to a heartfelt prayer for those in need.  We speak of poverty in abstracts, not in concretes. We discuss the utility of one social program over another; we debate whether social justice is trumping other theological essentials.  Important questions, these, but questions that become (if I may say so) alarmingly bourgeois when divorced from real relationship with the marginalized….And if the kingdom of God begins now, as we believe, surely it begins here—where we who make up the body of Christ resolve to create community across class lines and to test Christ’s teachings with our lives.”

We need to figure out what it really means to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I believe that it means stepping into the neighborhood and developing relationships.  We need to invest in people and relationships, not just a one day project.  Jesus didn’t keep those in need at an arm’s length, and neither should we.  What if we lived in an area that crossed class lines and then met the needs around us?

I dream of a day when Christians would look more for a neighborhood where they can create impact for others than for the safety, security and distance. Jesus did not call us to be safe and comfortable.

So, while doing research on my community for a grant I realized how well God was orchestrating this plan for The Local Mission.  Learn about your city and neighborhood.  You may be surprised about the need around you.  Then, let it compel you to go out and engage and meet the needs of those around you through real relationships.   Check out the data below.  This community has needs!  I honestly felt guilty looking at these numbers knowing how much we have. I need to step further in and engage the needs now.

The 2016 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows that those in poverty, immigrants and refugees are at high risk for exploitation because of their status.  Many times, those deemed illegal or less than don’t report crimes out of fear. There is a lot of need in the Phoenix area, and a lot of need in Chandler and in my neighborhood.  These aren’t just numbers.  They are people.  They are children and families with stories.  To me, this confirms for me the need for The Local Mission in this neighborhood.  It is easy to look at statistics. But what does it look like to engage those people instead of ignore them?  Maybe our thoughts about “those people” would change if we got to know them.

I see a coffee and community space where those living in poverty or are unemployed can come and get a coffee and food and be known by name.  Be seen.  I see a safe place location where anyone can come if they don’t feel safe. Single moms can bring their kids to play and get adult time.  They can get resources for food, jobs and education.  The community can rally around those families in need around us and show that we are in this together.  We can show that we see you, you are loved and valuable and we will not allow you to be exploited.  This is a space for you.

This is my story, my neighborhood and the vision God has given me.  Challenge time! Check out the stats on your neighborhood at CityData then tell me what you learned and how you can engage the needs around you and step out into the neighborhood.  Tell me the needs and what you are compelled to do to meet them in a relational way.  

Join my dream to use coffee and community to create impact and prevent exploitation! You can fund administrative and capital costs and help launch our immigrant and refugee programs.  DONATE NOW! Want to volunteer?  Contact me!

“And the doing of JUSTICE is the prophetic invitation to do what needs to be done to enable the poor, & the disadvantaged, & the neglected to participate in the resources & wealth of the community.” Walter Brueggemann


Categories: Community, Create Impact

About Callie Unruh

I am an passionate wife, mother, wanna be radical, aspiring entrepreneur and recovering evangelical. I am working to create a life of impact in the suburbs of Phoenix and enjoy gardening, hiking and being outside.

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