One of the most vivid memories I have from recent years is also one of the lowest moments of our time in Atlanta. January 14, 2009 was a critical juncture in the life of what would become Renovation Church because that was the winter day our Jesus-centered, socially conscious, transcultural movement almost never came to be. Why? Because I was finished. Actually, I was done. No mas.
I alluded to these things earlier, but it’s worth mentioning in detail that at this point in our efforts in Atlanta, I’d been beaten down by countless calamities and could see no hope for our future in the city. That morning I sat at my makeshift IKEA desk, staring out at the snow-covered parking lot of our loft, and felt the weight of all the previous months’ difficulties press against me: my inability to find a job for nearly six months; running out of money and having to pawn or sell most of our possessions; having various utilities shut off at one point or another; our first ministry team of people suddenly falling apart; plus my general inability to gain any traction in the neighborhood or execute the extensive plan I’d put together to see change come about in our neighborhood. In my mind, I’d failed and failed miserably. The only solution I could imagine at the moment was to pack up my family and get out of there.
My wife and I moved to Atlanta knowing there were problematic aspects, but we had no idea that the night we moved in someone would be murdered across the street from our loft. We had no idea that every single day we’d see the same sunken faces up and down Memorial Drive looking for food or money or both. We had no idea we would come to know so many children who were one crisis away from being a statistic. We had no idea that the first funeral our church would be involved in would be that of a ten-year-old boy. We really had no idea.
When we first broke the news to our parents that we were moving to the inner city of Atlanta for the sake of seeing the community change, both sides reacted with equal parts shock and fear.
“What about your daughter? Where will she go to school?”
“Will you guys be safe? Crime there is outrageous.”
“Why can’t you live somewhere else and just drive in to help?”
Those were fair questions, and to some degree they were right. Crime here is above average. In fact, three of the twenty-five most dangerous neighborhoods in America (two in the top ten) are within a mile of our neighborhood. Some of the locals, particularly Christians, were no different than our parents.
“Why would you want to live down there with those people?”
That was the impression many had and continue to have. The city is a place to be feared. A place to drive by on the interstate. A place to avoid unless absolutely necessary. But never, and I mean never, a place to move in and raise a family. I must admit on that winter day of my discontent, I started to believe they were right. I started to dwell on the intense sadness I saw in the faces of the homeless men that sat outside our building every day. I started to shudder at the thought of something happening to my wife or daughter. I started to create scenarios in which we became a crime statistic. I started to believe, if for just a moment, that the city could not change, that it is indeed a place to escape from.
This is not a book about my wife, Breanna, but I must say this: She is amazing. In that low-point moment, she placed her hand gently on my shoulder and reminded me that what we were doing was much bigger than us. She firmly told me that the sacrifices we’d made were not in vain. She assured me she was with me, thick or thin. She encouraged me by saying she still believed in a better Atlanta, and for whatever reason, we’d been invited to be a part of that dream becoming a reality. She told me we were staying, no matter what, and challenged me to see the city with fresh eyes.
From that day forward, I never saw the city in the same way again. I realized we had gotten only half of the equation correct—we’d moved in. The second half of our equation, the half we’d gotten wrong, was that we had moved in with a grand plan to “save the city.” But we did not truly know the people or the place; in other words, our plan was premature. You cannot have a plan for a people you do not know. I have revisited these words countless times over the last few years.
What we needed was time and the ability to see the city through the eyes of the people who were already there. I don’t want to overplay that day, but it truly was an awakening as I then saw our “failures” as gifts in disguise for they forced us to toss out our own plan and truly become a man and a family and a church of our context, our place—Atlanta. The place we were sent.
What if we chose the place we live because we had a sense of sent-ness, a sense of calling?
What if we chose a place, not based on how it would serve our ultimate happiness or economic future or delusions of safety, but rather how it would serve to cultivate in us a revolutionary understanding of why we were on the planet in the first place?
What if we lived with a genuine theology of place, a belief that God is intricately involved in and interested in all the details of our lives, down to the zip code we call home?
Excerpt from Renovate © 2016 by Léonce B. Crump Jr. Published in the United States by WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All Rights Reserved.