In seminary, I remember telling God, “I’ll go anywhere you want me to go and do anything you want me to do.” It’s a dangerous thing to say to God, but I sincerely meant it. I wanted to find that vocational sweet spot where my deepest passions intersected with the world’s greatest needs. I had already decided years earlier to pursue a life of service to God and humanity over simply trying to get as much as I could for myself, but I had no idea what shape it might take.
One thing I knew, the moments I felt most spiritually alive were the times I spent with those on the margins of society. When I took an urban anthropology course in seminary, something clicked. I read a book by John Perkins called Restoring At-risk Communities and it turned my world upside down. For some time, I had felt a deep aching in my heart over the racial and economic divisions within America but I didn’t know what I could do about it. Perkins provided a blueprint for ordinary people to move into urban neighborhoods to partner with communities in bringing holistic transformation.
I had never heard of Christian Community Development before, but the idea of moving closer to those on the margins in our U.S. urban cities seemed to fit with the Jesus I saw in the gospels and the Jesus I had committed my life to following. My wife and I had a two year conversation over meals, on long car rides, in between classes and waiting tables, trying to imagine what our lives might look like to live in solidarity with a community experiencing concentrated poverty and historic injustice in the city. We didn’t really know what it would look like but we felt like we needed to be in the city as much, if not more, than the city needed us.
After weighing opportunities and options, we decided to go to Chicago with Mission Year, an organization calling people to live a lifestyle of faith and justice in the city. It lined up with our values and gave us a platform to enter into the lives of those in the community in a posture of humility and mutuality. We were invited by amazing neighbors and community leaders to join in with the great work of God happening in the city and we fell in love. We found outlets to use our gifts in the community and, in Howard Thurman’s words, we came alive.