One of my favorite parts of being the Neighborhood Engagement Coordinator is the fact that in some ways, my job can be different every day. I get to choose my own adventure. Mondays are typically my “admin days,” but for the rest of my time, I get to focus on building partnerships in the community, mapping out the organizations and activities already at work throughout South Atlanta.
Whenever I make a new connection, I always aim to lay the groundwork for mutual relationship and cross-pollination. I want to know as many of the workers and entities in the area. Hopefully, our relationship, our face-to-face connections, will enable us knowing each other, talking and serving each other rather than replicating efforts or stepping on each others’ toes.
I see neighborhood engagement as getting better at seeing both people and communities. Much of my role involves observing and making connections. I have space to do just that, and I try to do it with God. I’ve noticed that when I expect God’s presence, my perspective shifts. On Tuesdays, I have time set aside specifically to be out in the neighborhood in South Atlanta, paying special attention to letting God’s presence interrupt my schedule.
One day, God did just that. In the car, I heard God say to me, “I want you to see.” Behind the wheel, I kept driving until I found myself in a neighborhood adjacent to South Atlanta. Suddenly, as I rolled down the street, I saw a woman. She walked into the middle of the street, turned, faced away from me, and walked slowly down the middle of the street in the lane I was driving in.
My driving slowed as I followed her, not wanting to pass or get too close. “Just look at her,” God said.
At first, I resisted, telling God I couldn’t see anything but her back, that I didn’t know who she was or anything about her life. In this thought stream, though, the realization that I did not know her, but I could see her, sank in. As my gaze lingered, nearly idling behind her down the street, I thought “I don’t know her story. I don’t even know who was the last person who asked her how her day is going.”
God replied, “I want you to feel my heart for her.”
My eyes filled with tears. I realized that I had been feeling tense, afraid. No one knew where I was, I didn’t have my GPS, and the neighborhood I was in felt scary and unknown to me. Yet here was a brown and beautiful woman, walking in front of me. She had a name and a story. She had dignity; I had dignity. And we had both received it from a greater source. In that moment, I felt the desire for more of God’s kingdom, more celebration of all people’s gifts, more acknowledgement of the dignity of this woman’s story as she walked before me.
This desire comes from God’s heart. In my time partnering with communities as they face distress, I’ve heard God say before, “I want you to see what excites me, what saddens me, what infuriates me.” God doesn’t just want to manage our brokenness or our community’s struggles; God wants to address root issues to bring forth a more glorious work.
At FCS, I’m trying each day to respond to this call to hear God’s heart and praying that all of us as a staff would believe and experience more deeply each day that God is present and powerful, that the work we do is ultimately God’s work. We want to see what God sees and then partner with Him, and each other, to bring more of what He dreams He’ll see.