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Inner city ministry?


Mrs. Lilac
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We are a suburban family considering a move to an inner-city neighborhood to partner with a church that is ministering there. If anyone on the board has experience living with a young family in the inner city, homeschooling in the city, etc., I would LOVE to hear your feedback. We don't know anyone personally who has made this kind of lifestyle change, and it's a little overwhelming! :)

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My biggest concern in doing something like this is would you have a safe place to live and let your kids play as well as would you have reasonable places to do your shopping and things like that. I have lived in a bad area a time or two and those things are big concerns. We had 3 murders within a mile, a stolen car was found in our apartment complex, drug busts were common and it wasn't safe to walk after dark, I wouldn't move my kid into that type of situation if I could avoid it.

 

Now I have lived in larger cities in areas that didn't have the high crime and that is much more reasonable.

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I've lived in places that could be considered inner-city. Not like, say, inner-city Detroit, where you can't even stand next to a window, but I've lived in a place where I couldn't go out alone after dark without bringing a weapon, and where teens routinely flashed guns and switchblades on public transit. I once had a woman break into my apartment to find a phone to call 911 because she was with a couple of guys out in the street and one of the guys murdered the other one right there in the open. You had to be sure to step over the gutters on certain streets because they were littered with used needles. I lived a block away from this weird public bath place that my dh later told me was something to do with organized crime.

 

I don't have any advice for living with a child there because, well, I just wouldn't do it. Not if you paid me. That sort of environment is not safe for a child, period, and nothing in the world could convince me to bring a child into a place like that. The ONLY way I would ever think about moving to a place like that again is if my dd was grown.

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I used to teach in South Central Los Angeles, so I can give you some info on what my families there dealt with. It was a very scary place. Kids did not play outside after 5, period. Lots of gangs, drugs, prostitution, and violence. We had lots of shootings and a constant police presence. Lots of racism. Lots of poverty. The greatest families I've ever met. The best job I ever had.

 

While I wouldn't move into the neighborhood in which I taught, there are milder places I would live. I would have to come to terms with the fact that my kids would be exposed very early to things that they wouldn't have otherwise- swearing, violence, and sex at a minimum.

 

It could be a very rewarding and enlightening experience though!

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I have known a couple of families do this, including very close friends. It's a noble cause and I know with God all things are possible, but it can be very hard. Sadly, in these cases the move and ministry did some terrible emotional damage to these families/marriages. Here are some considerations:

 

- one family had plywood (2 by 4's) blocking their doors for safety on the inside

- kept a gun in the house

- guard dog

- didn't play outside (unless dad was home, then cautiously)

- cars broken into often

- local libraries are not always someplace you would want to go by yourself

- being around poverty/crime all the time is hard on you emotionally if not used to that kind of thing

- bars on the church windows

- church experience is not the same because inner city problems are not usually surburban problems, no like-minded women/children to socialize with

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I lived in an impoverished, African-American section of a large city for fourteen years. (I am white.) I am short on time, but here are a few general thoughts:

 

--I could not, EVER, allow my children in the front yard alone. I had our back yard fenced with a tall wooden fence (NOT chain-link, which is both climbable and see-through). Even in the back yard I made sure to either keep them in visual range or check on them constantly.

 

--Noise is a serious issue, especially on the weekends. Folks stay up partying until 2-4am, often in MY lawn. They are loud, and we had to clean up their beer bottles the next day. Can you and your children sleep through that? How will you feel if you need to run an errand in the evening and there are a couple guys leaning on your car drinking beer?

 

--We homeschooled. It was fine. They all thought we were weird anyway. Other friends from church homeschooled as well. so we had a lot of support.

 

--We were in a neighborhood that was considered "not that bad." (It was bad though--we had pimps, drug deals, drunkenness, etc. It just wasn't the war zone that neighborhoods further east are.) There were many on our block who are lovely people, and we were and are glad to know them. It was hard enough for me to live in a neighborhood that wasn't "that bad," that was close to a more affluent neighborhood. I could access park district fun and decent shopping and other good resources from the good neighborhood next door. If I hadn't had that easy access to resources, I don't think I could have hung in as long as I did.

 

--I would never advocate that anyone do this without specific support from within the neighborhood. In my case, we were connected to an inner-city church and moved to a place where we knew there would be friends in the neighborhood. It made all the difference.

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--Noise is a serious issue, especially on the weekends. Folks stay up partying until 2-4am, often in MY lawn. They are loud, and we had to clean up their beer bottles the next day. Can you and your children sleep through that? How will you feel if you need to run an errand in the evening and there are a couple guys leaning on your car drinking beer?

 

Ugh, and the broken glass. Where I lived, cheap sandals were definitely not an option unless I wanted to end up missing toes. I remember that, at one point, there was a big to-do and an article in the paper because there was so much broken glass people couldn't walk their dogs anymore.

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We lived in a mostly black, but later mostly undocumented mexican, innercity neighborhood for more than a decade. No one else HSed, to them, HSing was basically the same as playing hooky. For a major city I was amazed so many people had never even heard of homeschooling. We were within driving distance of more affluent neighborhoods/ libraries/ grocery stores/ parks (when we had a working vehicle) and that's the only thing that made it bearable. Noise, bad smells, graffiti, dirty streets (the city doesn't put as much effort into these neighborhoods as middle class ones), gangbangers, "ladies of the night," drug paraphernalia, broken glass, vicious dogs, and local library branches that are hangouts for homeless people (= we got sick as dogs every time we went). The public bathroom at the local library was always sooo disgusting because homeless people would use it to bathe (via the sink) and take care of all their business-- and no one ever cleaned it. The kids don't use "king's english" and often have really bad/ disrespectful attitudes which your kids can pick up. But I'd say it's about 50/50 with some kids being beyond redemption and the other half being pretty sweet. I wouldn't move back to that kind of neighborhood unless I had an amazing support system in place.

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Years ago when I was single, I was a social worker in the inner-city. I didn't live there, though. I can't imagine doing that, with or without a family. How comfortable will you be raising your children around drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, gang members, gun shots, bullet holes in houses, used condoms on the streets, used needles, sirens blaring, and so on? If you are in the wrong house (especially without official ID) during a drug raid, you could be killed, held hostage, or taken into police custody. Who will care for your children then?

 

I had one mom, during a supervised visit (this was her "final straw" visit), show up extremely late, barely interact with her two toddlers, and then THROW them at me when a client (John) came by in the parking lot -- "Here, you take them." It dawned on me -- She's a prostitute. Exotic dancer my foot! I called after her, "If you don't come back and strap these children into their car seats, you will never see them again!" She linked arms with the client and kept on going. She lost her children, but she didn't care in the least. Never even showed up in court.

 

I realize the bondage is great, and deliverance is needed. I do get that. However, it is hard for someone from the outside looking in to fully understand what is truly needed. I was part of an all-black (except me) inner-city church for several years. Sometimes, I was so quiet, people forgot I was there, and they let their "guard" down. I heard a lot, more than I was supposed to hear. I heard what the lovely church ladies really thought about "white people." Then there'd be an "ahem" from Sister So-and-So and the talk would turn more "white." Even the English changed back to Standard, just because I was there in the kitchen peeling carrots for the cole slaw. Sigh. Are you white? You'll always be white in that case, LOL.

 

As I have reflected on my experiences over the years, I think that the solutions for a culture must come from the redeemed members of that culture. So there is a difference in my mind if you are going to "lift up the broken" (e.g., do outreach to prostitutes or drug dealers) or if you are going to "encourage the believers" (teach Bible classes, literacy, ESL). What do you think you will do, once you get there? Something along the lines of teaching English to immigrants, teaching Bible classes to lay workers, doing administrative duties within the church -- that I can see being meaningful for someone from the suburbs to do alongside an existing, healthy, outreaching church with mature leadership. If you plan to reach across more cultural barriers -- that is, if YOU are doing the frontlines evangelistic work in a seriously different culture, reaching out to the unchurched population -- then you are going to have a much harder time (1) understanding what is truly needed for effective, lasting change; (2) feeling effective and valued; (3) fitting in socially and emotionally; (4) managing resources wisely; (5) preventing burnout and crisis overload; and (6) learning from your mistakes, which in that setting could be extremely costly. How do you handle rejection? Hostile rejection? Death threats?

 

I know that when I was doing work with an inner-city population, I was "so white," that many times I didn't even know I was completely clueless. You do learn, though. For example, Grandma was telling me all about her "vacation Bible school" that she did for the the neighborhood kids in her backyard (check backyard: disaster zone, garbage everywhere, no way there's a VBS back there). She seems to have VERY large breasts, strangely lumpy. Many young men drive up in Lexuses and Benzes and BMWs and drop off mysterious paper rolls, which Grandmas stuffs into her bra -- hence, the large lumpiness (it's money rolls). They all go down into the basement and come back up with small brown paper bags (drugs). All throughout the visit, this continues, while her "daughter" and daughter's "boyfriend" are nearly copulating on the sofa in the dark, adjacent living room, while the TV is blaring and three toddlers are watching cartoons. It's a drug house. According to my police officer friend, if I had been there during a raid, I might be in prison.

 

Another time, I learned a different lesson: Never assume relationships. A child's mother showed up for a visit with the child's father. I was new, so I naively said to her, "Oh, please, have a seat, right here, next to your husband." She was so OFFENDED! "He not my husband! He my baby daddy! Shit! You think I'd MARRY that? Shit!"

 

Oh, excuse me. I'm so sorry.

 

If I could, I would talk you out of going. I wouldn't say those were wasted years for me, exactly. Just not very effective. Most of those kids I worked with are in prison or dead. One or two made it through to productive adult life. Are you willing to work hard, under dangerous conditions, for a decade, for the possibility of changing (maybe) one life? It's truly discouraging, but it's reality (IME). I don't think you'll get the return-on-investment you might think you will, and I know there's a heavenly reward. I just sincerely believe that the redeemed within a culture are best situated to extend the kingdom of heaven within that culture, and those from outside the culture have much, much further to go to reach an effective place of ministry, if that is even possible. A completely unreached culture, of course, needs a first launch -- a team to establish a beach-head, a church, a viable Christian community. But then the dynamic shifts to leadership and evangelism from within that body of disciples. HTH.

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People who know you IRL will want to support you, especially if they are part of the project. Others will hold their tongues out of tact, or out of respect for any calling from God that any Christian might feel. I'm just a stranger on the internet, therefore in neither category, so I'm going where angels fear to tread:

 

As someone else who has lived in dark places, I'll pray you are called in a different direction while you still have children at home. Your own children are no less deserving of a safe home than any other children in the world, and if their own mother does not ensure that security for them, who will? Does God have a plan for someone to deliver your children from the danger, sadness, and despair that will be their daily experience during their formative years? Will the suffering of your children really be mitigated by the fact that you are there to shine a light in dark places? Or will they mostly notice the dark places, because they are just children?

 

My biggest thanks to God is that He has provided a safe home for my children. When I'm counting my blessings, it's always at the top of my list that my children are safe, fed, clothed, and educated, and not living where they see prostitutes or hear gunfire. I don't take it for granted, not for a single day, because my life story could have totally gone another way. When my children have grown up I can take up other ministries, but as long as my children need me I will remain committed to keeping my own children safe. That's why God gave them me, because I'll do that.

 

On a practical note, some of the places I lived when my children were very little, I noticed that my protection of my children (normal supervision of toddlers!) actually created a barrier between me and the other moms. My children didn't go to the same schools or government programs or play in the same streets. The separation that exists between even suburban homeschooling moms and their neighbors...my, goodness, you might as well have dropped in from another planet if you noticeably protect and deliberately raise your children in some totally non-suburban environments. If your children are not in the scrum at all you will never be one of them. You will be seen as superior, snobby, and there to treat people as projects instead of accepting them for who they are. I've BTDT in the deep hollers of a southern state, in edge-of-city trailer parks, during a very difficult stint in inner city apartments...if you are not willing to hand your children over to the neighborhood, at least a little, and trust God to somehow shield them from what YOU have exposed them to, you will not have much effect. I never was willing to risk my children. Not for lack of faith, but because I knew that God had given them a mother to keep them safe and it was my duty to do so.

 

It is up to you whether you heed the counsel of strangers, and none of our business whether you listen to us or not. But we'd be neglecting our duty toward you, as older women teaching a younger woman, and to your children, if we fail to tell what we have experienced to be the truth.

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Interesting read so far. We're not in a neighborhood quite as bad as discribed here. I do have to be more protective of my kids and it's hard to feel so out of place in your own home. Our city is about half white, with the other half a mix of mostly black and a bi of mexican. But i'm out of place even with the white people. And my kids are out of place with the kids. That part is hard. They pick up some undesirable things, yes, but they also have no true friends or playmates. The people they do play with move eventually (and many times that's a blessing)

 

Growing up in the suburbs didn't prepare me for the racism. I'm used to people at least pretending to want to get along. And black friends, who were few, but genuine. Here, not everyone, but many people are openly racist, on all sides. (except mexican. I don't think I've experienced it from them. Black, white and muslim/arabic though, yes) and it's hard when your kid is the only white kid in the boy scout day camp and he's picked on and bullied because of it and you don't find out until after that the adults didn't do anything to help him. And then it's no wonder he doesn't want to go back, even though his pack was wonderful and treated him just fine.

 

My thoughts are kinda just flowing. I don't think I could do worse than here, as others describe. We've had drug houses, theft, homeless, ect. But much milder. Even so, it does get you down. When you save and budget and buy things to have them stolen again and again, it can make you wonder why you try. When people steal things you would have given freely, it's sad. But there's plenty of opportunity to be a light and uplift a drpressed area.

 

Oh, and for homeschooling, no one ever gives you a hard time. They all understand- they don't want to go to these schools either.

 

I'm tired. I don't know that I have a point. Just some things to think about.

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when i did inner city ministry, i worked there. my children and i lived in a more peaceful neighbourhood three miles away. it was close enough, but far enough, iykwim.

 

i wouldn't move my children there. ever.

 

i saw my role as coming alongside the folks who lived there, being an advocate when asked, helping out when asked, and helping set up systems so that folks had a better chance of survival.

(eg. one pyschiatric outpatient lived alone, frequently forgot meds, etc.... but had breakfast at the same cafe each morning. we arranged for the cafe owner to have the morning meds there, and to give them each morning, with her blessing. then we found out where she had lunch, and dinner..... a few months of regular meds offered her the chance to change her life, and she did.).

 

in order to be the most use to them, and to God, i needed to do simple things like sleep. i needed to know that my kids were safe in a house with a babysitter when i was on the streets.

 

change has to come from within; what we can do is use our gifts and skills to help that along as asked.

 

fwiw,

ann

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I truly, truly appreciate each and every response. Some of you were very blunt, and I love that! :) I'm not someone who likes to be told what I want to hear- I so appreciate when people are honest with me and willing to say the hard things.

 

To add a little more illumination, and address some of the issues raised in the comments- the city we are considering is Detroit. We are a white family, and the area is 90%+ African-American. (Which, for us is not at all a problem, but my understanding is that white people are often not very welcome.) We are definitely not just moving in and hoping to find some ministry opportunities- we are looking at partnering with an established ministry that has a strong neighborhood presence, including lots of their people living in the neighborhood, and they would support and train us. (Many of their people are also white suburban families who have relocated to this area.) We are feeling a strong call to this particular place, but of course we want to do what is best for our children.

 

I am going to print out and mull over everything you all have posted, and share it with my husband. Can't thank you enough for your input! Of course, further comments are welcome! :)

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People who know you IRL will want to support you, especially if they are part of the project. Others will hold their tongues out of tact, or out of respect for any calling from God that any Christian might feel. I'm just a stranger on the internet, therefore in neither category, so I'm going where angels fear to tread:

 

As someone else who has lived in dark places, I'll pray you are called in a different direction while you still have children at home. Your own children are no less deserving of a safe home than any other children in the world, and if their own mother does not ensure that security for them, who will? Does God have a plan for someone to deliver your children from the danger, sadness, and despair that will be their daily experience during their formative years? Will the suffering of your children really be mitigated by the fact that you are there to shine a light in dark places? Or will they mostly notice the dark places, because they are just children?

 

My biggest thanks to God is that He has provided a safe home for my children. When I'm counting my blessings, it's always at the top of my list that my children are safe, fed, clothed, and educated, and not living where they see prostitutes or hear gunfire. I don't take it for granted, not for a single day, because my life story could have totally gone another way. When my children have grown up I can take up other ministries, but as long as my children need me I will remain committed to keeping my own children safe. That's why God gave them me, because I'll do that.

 

On a practical note, some of the places I lived when my children were very little, I noticed that my protection of my children (normal supervision of toddlers!) actually created a barrier between me and the other moms. My children didn't go to the same schools or government programs or play in the same streets. The separation that exists between even suburban homeschooling moms and their neighbors...my, goodness, you might as well have dropped in from another planet if you noticeably protect and deliberately raise your children in some totally non-suburban environments. If your children are not in the scrum at all you will never be one of them. You will be seen as superior, snobby, and there to treat people as projects instead of accepting them for who they are. I've BTDT in the deep hollers of a southern state, in edge-of-city trailer parks, during a very difficult stint in inner city apartments...if you are not willing to hand your children over to the neighborhood, at least a little, and trust God to somehow shield them from what YOU have exposed them to, you will not have much effect. I never was willing to risk my children. Not for lack of faith, but because I knew that God had given them a mother to keep them safe and it was my duty to do so.

 

It is up to you whether you heed the counsel of strangers, and none of our business whether you listen to us or not. But we'd be neglecting our duty toward you, as older women teaching a younger woman, and to your children, if we fail to tell what we have experienced to be the truth.

 

I love what Tibbie says here, because I was thinking a little more last night about what I posted. It sounded so dismal, as though a suburban person can't be effective in inner-city/poverty ministry. I don't believe that. We can demonstrate what love is, and some people will see it best through us. I was trying to say that I think we can be most effective in certain roles, but I like the way Tibbie puts it better. I think she's saying that motherhood is its own calling, and we should be faithful to it. In other words, first consider the role you already have -- you are a mother.

 

We can live out life in seasons. For me, since I was single so long (37.5 years), there was a long season of ministry involving risks I would not now take with three young children, or even myself, now that I am their mother. But I believe the day will come when my daughters will be beautifully raised, in peace-filled homes of their own, and in my heart I know that then I will wade back in to the Sea of Need. Probably not in the inner-city, though that's possible. I've also lived and done ministry among rural people, and that's where I think I'll end up. Or in Burkina Faso (smile). We have wonderful friends there, we might go bother them, LOL. Dear Pasteur wants to quietly write a book in his old age. Should we let him? Nooooooo...... He showed up on our doorstep, so now we get to show up on his.

 

I don't know your numbers -- how old you are, how old your children are, whether you will always have one or more of them with you (a possibility with Teddy?), how well they sleep at night, how well they adapt to changes and chaotic situations. My instincts are telling me that you would be well-advised to reconsider doing inner-city ministry until such time as your important work as a mother is firmly established in the lives of your precious children.

 

BTW, I have an older and twinnies, too. Aren't twins a hoot?

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I truly, truly appreciate each and every response. Some of you were very blunt, and I love that! :) I'm not someone who likes to be told what I want to hear- I so appreciate when people are honest with me and willing to say the hard things.

 

To add a little more illumination, and address some of the issues raised in the comments- the city we are considering is Detroit. We are a white family, and the area is 90%+ African-American. (Which, for us is not at all a problem, but my understanding is that white people are often not very welcome.) We are definitely not just moving in and hoping to find some ministry opportunities- we are looking at partnering with an established ministry that has a strong neighborhood presence, including lots of their people living in the neighborhood, and they would support and train us. (Many of their people are also white suburban families who have relocated to this area.) We are feeling a strong call to this particular place, but of course we want to do what is best for our children.

 

I am going to print out and mull over everything you all have posted, and share it with my husband. Can't thank you enough for your input! Of course, further comments are welcome! :)

 

This sounds similar to what we did. The fact that you have support going in is a good thing.

 

Don't rely too much on the training. Many missionaries find two things: One, that once in the field training is minimal because everyone is too busy doing the ministry they are there to do; and two, that the day-to-day reality is not really covered in the training (even if the powers that be think it is). It's just hard to teach a person how to live and breathe and move in an environment--much of that comes just from experience.

 

We found African-American culture quite welcoming and friendly, though as another poster said, we were/are in many ways always white, and so there is always a divide. The church with which we were associated was specific and intentional in addressing that (openly, verbally, with wonderful discussions and prayer) so we had some rich, meaningful friendships within our church. It's something that should be discussed within the church, but is far more difficult to discuss in the neighborhood itself.

 

We also found that the differences between us and our neighbors had a lot more to do with monetary wealth and education than with color (though color is also a factor).

 

I am happy to answer any questions you have about your move, and will try not to be too negative about the hardships that were there. We bring them up because those things ARE hard, and it's best to count the cost carefully before jumping in. As hard as those things were for us, though, we had a good experience in our neighborhood. We made friends, mostly with children on the block and their parents. We did experience theft, and there was violence on our block, but we were never personally touched by the violence. It was hard work keeping my children safe, but somehow they did stay safe, and have happy memories of our time there. I also know several families who raised their children from start to finish there, and as adults these kids are functioning, happy people. Unfortunately, I also personally know kids who are very bitter about their city experience, and one who committed suicide. Both realities exist. It can work, but needs to be carefully considered.

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Are you in MI now? we're in the area. If you want to talk detsils, you can pm me.

 

I served a few months in New Orleans when i was in college. It is a little different as part of a respected, established ministry. The center I worked in had done good in the community for about 50 years. It was respected and appreciated by many in the community. This kind of put a barrier around us as there were people in the community looking out for us even though we didn't know them or even know they were doing it. People would see us on the street and tell us as much. (we were white and young, so they assumed we were a part of the mission) I felt a bit safer because of this. (though we were still wise and cautious)

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Just wanted to echo what others have said. Living and working in the inner city are two different things No matter how comfortable you feel working there, it is simply not the same as living there with young kids.

 

Others have given you details - strangers, drugs, guns, and bad influences abound, even in places like parks and libraries.

 

You can never, ever, let your children out of your sight, and even then you will need strategies like code words that demand immediate obedience, used when you sense a situation/person is unstable and you want to make a quick exit or have your kids take specific actions. As an example, can your spectrum kid leave a toy store in an unanticipated instant, without explanation besides mom using a code word, quickly and silently, without calling attention to your family, if you see a situation about to get scary/dangerous? In my experience, this kind of situation can and does arise without warning, and can happen several times a month. Police activity, angry people, intoxicated people, crazy people, people with weapons, crazy angry intoxicated people with weapons. Your kids have to be prepared for all of it.

 

I would not, not, not live in the inner city if I had kids the ages of yours, and most especially with a kid on the spectrum.

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I don't provide a ministry, and I am not living in the urban setting.

 

But a significant percentage of my clients are from the type of settings described in this thread. I don't know how to say this, other than bluntly -

 

The persons in those settings don't want a white middle class Christian coming in to save, help, guide, assist, evangelize, or "minister" to them.

 

If you want to help those settings (and there is plent of help needed), research the area and the existing organizations that work from the inside and give that organization help.

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Well, that was blunt, all right. :) I have to say that paints us as being rather clueless and condescending. I certainly am not trying to save anyone, and I'm not planning to swoop in from the suburbs once a week and look down my nose at people while I try to evangelize them. We would be partnering with a ministry that is well established in the neighborhood, and our intention is to be good neighbors and love people to the best of our ability, and serve the ministry as they need with service projects and activities that benefit the neighborhood. We agree that neighborhoods have to be changed from the inside out, which is why we want to live life and work in the neighborhood, as opposed to treating it like a glorified good-deeds project that we can dabble in.

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Well, that was blunt, all right. :) I have to say that paints us as being rather clueless and condescending.

 

I agree with Joanne. Also, I don't think you're exactly clueless, but I do wonder if you've vastly underestimated the risks of living in inner-city Detroit. Like I said in my previous post, there are places there where it's dangerous to stand by a window. Kids have died for just that reason- standing by a window, hit by a stray bullet. Heck, that happens in parts of Minneapolis here in MN, and Minneapolis isn't anywhere near as bad as parts of Detroit.

 

I truly don't want to insult you, but I think it would be irresponsible of you, as a parent, to knowingly bring your children into that kind of situation just because you want to work with that specific ministry. You need to place the safety of your children ahead of your evangelistic desires.

 

Seriously, just don't do it.

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We don't know anyone personally who has made this kind of lifestyle change, and it's a little overwhelming! :)

 

It would be wise to speak to the families who are already working with this particular ministry. The ladies here have given you some great things to consider, which should help you to formulate some questions and discussion topics to bring up with the ministry folks.

 

To add a little more illumination, and address some of the issues raised in the comments- the city we are considering is Detroit. We are a white family, and the area is 90%+ African-American. (Which, for us is not at all a problem, but my understanding is that white people are often not very welcome.) We are definitely not just moving in and hoping to find some ministry opportunities- we are looking at partnering with an established ministry that has a strong neighborhood presence, including lots of their people living in the neighborhood, and they would support and train us. (Many of their people are also white suburban families who have relocated to this area.)

 

At some point this influx can become gentrification, which brings all kinds of issues, pro and con, along with it. And it will be tempting to socialize with those who are more like you. Again, something to discuss with those in the ministry.

 

And <speaking gently> race gets ever so much more complex when you live in the inner city, especially if you and your fellow ministry families are culturally (education, values, finances, resources) very, very different than your different-race neighbors. Discuss, discuss, discuss.

 

I do have one autistic child, and one bipolar child. That may be a big factor to consider.

 

Who will be caring for your children while you are doing ministry work? Will they be with you? If so, will you be comfortable having them interact with those who may be unstable, intoxicated, or otherwise have issues that suburban moms generally don't like to expose their children to? If they are not with you, how will you find someone to do child care who can handle your children's issues and meet your general qualifications (not using, not mentally ill, educated enough to handle emergencies well)?

 

Well, that was blunt, all right. :) I have to say that paints us as being rather clueless and condescending. I certainly am not trying to save anyone, and I'm not planning to swoop in from the suburbs once a week and look down my nose at people while I try to evangelize them. We would be partnering with a ministry that is well established in the neighborhood, and our intention is to be good neighbors and love people to the best of our ability, and serve the ministry as they need with service projects and activities that benefit the neighborhood. We agree that neighborhoods have to be changed from the inside out, which is why we want to live life and work in the neighborhood, as opposed to treating it like a glorified good-deeds project that we can dabble in.

 

I can see what you are trying to say. Do be aware, though, that, perhaps without realizing it, you are drawing a line between you (people who are there to do ministry) and them (those to whom you will be ministering). This is not the same as working with neighbor-peers to improve a neighborhood you share. There is a certain amount of "swooping in" in what you're describing. If you are going to do this job well, you have to be aware that even if you live there, you are still, culturally, educationally, and resource-wise, different than your potential neighbors. And you are there because you think it will benefit them if they can learn to be more like you. There are pros and cons to that, but you're going to have to lean into that truth if you are to succeed. It is naive to think otherwise.

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Well, that was blunt, all right. :) I have to say that paints us as being rather clueless and condescending. I certainly am not trying to save anyone, and I'm not planning to swoop in from the suburbs once a week and look down my nose at people while I try to evangelize them. We would be partnering with a ministry that is well established in the neighborhood, and our intention is to be good neighbors and love people to the best of our ability, and serve the ministry as they need with service projects and activities that benefit the neighborhood. We agree that neighborhoods have to be changed from the inside out, which is why we want to live life and work in the neighborhood, as opposed to treating it like a glorified good-deeds project that we can dabble in.

 

 

 

They don't want you there. You don't belong, you aren't a good fit, it isn't healthy or appropriate for you OR them.

 

I do well with my clients, in part because we meet on neutral territory. It's not their space; it's not mine.

 

I would, even with the best of intentions, be a cumbersome, unwelcome intrusion in their space. I would be out of place, awkward, and my very presence would communication an *expectation* and tone. They would resent me, they would not welcome my assumption that some white, middle aged suburban chick considered them a project.

 

It WOULD be condescending for me to live there. It would be condescending for you to live there, too, unless you are from there.

 

Yes, the words are blunt. But they speak to the truth as they would see it.

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... Like I said in my previous post, there are places there where it's dangerous to stand by a window. ..

 

Yes, this. You might have to have your kids go quickly/immediately to the middle-most room in the house, and stay there, when weapons are around, to minimize their risk of being hit, should the weapons be used. You will not want to scare them, yet they will have to take these things seriously.

 

We are not trying to scare you. We are speaking truth as we have lived it.

We are not talking about rare, unlikely scenarios. We are talking about everyday life.

Some folks can do this work and do it well. But it's not for everyone.

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Mrs. Lilac:

 

Other's have written honestly about what it's like to live in inner cities. We live in a so-so part of the city. We have good friends and acquaintances doing ministry and raising families in the inner city. And their experiences echo what others have written above. I don't have much to add. But perhaps I can suggest to you a book written by the wife of my former pastor. It is called "A Thousand Ressurections" by Maria Garriott. http://www.athousandresurrections.com/

 

The Garriotts moved to inner city Baltimore to start a church, with a focus on racial reconciliation through the gospel. The book is a poignant account of their years in Baltimore. You might also be particularly interested in their experiences raising five kids during the decades that they were there - there were plenty of challenges, and well, the kids had their various struggles and pains. I think you might benefit from reading the book. The struggles and pains are real. So is the grace. But Garriott does not let the grace sugar coat the pains and the trials that came.

 

Hope this helps.

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I grew up in inner city Detroit. My dad and stepmother still live there. I attended the public schools from k-9th grade and my mother taught in the public school system for 30+ years while my dad teaches at the university. Our family attended a downtown church. We lived in a "nice area" but it was very rough even back then (murders, drug deals, muggings, rape, extreme poverty nearby, you name it.) It was very tough, at times, being one of the few white kids and I was exposed to some hard things but I survived and even got a decent education.

 

I will say that I'm shocked by the decline every time I go home, especially after living in other major cities like Boston. It is much, much worse in Detroit now across the board. There was no way in the world that I would move back there with a young family. If Detroit was as it existed even during my childhood ... maybe. As it stands today? No way.

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I don't have living in an inner city experience, but do have autistic son experience. We have to be very, very careful about what he sees and who he is around here in suburbia because of his inability to think through social situations. We've had several instances of kids telling him to do bad things and him just doing them, giving no thought to the consequences--because he doesn't understand consequences. He is extremely non-compliant. I tested him just the other day: I shouted loudly like there was something horrible happening for everyone to get up on the couch immediately. His little brother did so, DS1 just looked at me and asked why. He questions everything and loudly. He would not do well at all in scenarios mentioned above and would in fact create an additional danger to us. There is simply no way that I would consider inner city ministry an appropriate environment for children in general, an especially not special needs children. At this point in my life, my ministry IS my children. They are what God has given me to work on in this world. Once I'm done with them, I'll have time to do other things that might alter my life in ways that aren't appropriate at this time. During this time I can volunteer my time and talents in ways that don't come with such a high risk to my life or theirs. I agree with everyone else, please consider the costs to your children and how you might fulfill your need to be helpful in ways that won't put such a burden on your children.

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We live in the inner city in DC... though our neighborhood has changed a great deal since we moved here... it's hard to know what is really meant by "inner city." Our neighborhood sees a good bit of crime and we have witnessed a few scary incidents - when we first moved in, there was a man shot in front of our house and most recently a man was beaten for sport in front of our house - but these incidents have thankfully been mostly rare. Our neighborhood is also now home to some upscale businesses and parts have gentrified completely - we can walk to things like Target and Panera as well as chic-chic local pizza and coffeeshops. When we moved here, there was still a lot of open drug dealing and more gang activity. That's mostly gone underground now and the face of the neighborhood has changed. My kids do play in the yard alone, they go to the park alone, they walk up to get ice cream alone. We don't have bars on the windows - we took them off the one window they were on when we moved in. And we removed the chain link fencing as well.

 

We do go into other parts of our city that are "worse" but I have never been anywhere where I felt we needed to be afraid on the level that people are expressing here. There are absolutely places like that in this country, but how many such places is a matter of perception in large part. I would not be willing to move somewhere where I felt afraid to go outside or let my children go outside. Nor would I move somewhere if I could not be a part of the neighborhood culture. We chose our neighborhood because it was diverse in many different ways and we felt we could live here and raise a family. If you move somewhere where you are unable to let your kids play freely and you can't really participate in the life of the neighborhood because of safety concerns, I don't think that would be a particularly good ministry.

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I have no experience living in the city, but I do have a relationship with a really excellent inner city ministry, so I just want to throw a few things out there to think about.

 

First, I think that separation that Joanne is speaking of can only be overcome by a commitment to stay long term. When you hear of truly effective missionary work, it comes in 2 forms. People who support locals, train them, and then leave, or people who move in and stay, no matter what. Those people who stay never lose their outsider status, but after many years, when the locals can see that despite trials and hardships they won't be chased off, they can earn some credibility. So, I think you need to ask yourself if you're willing to live in that environment for the next 5, 8, 10+ years BEFORE you can even really begin to minister to the locals. Because they don't have a choice. They KNOW if a bullet sails through their window and kills their child, they will stay. But would you? When they look at you, they know that you have an escape route. If things get bad enough, you'll pull out. And because you can leave, and they can't, there is a barrier. The only outsiders that can break that barrier are the ones who prove their commitment to the neighborhood and people.

 

The ministry I've worked with is called Urban Impact in New Orleans. It's a ministry of Castle Rock Church. Now, that's an inner city ministry with a clear mission and understanding of the neighborhood. The ministry you're connected with might be, too. (On a side note, the people you should really be talking to about this are the families who have already lived in Detroit and worked with this ministry for a few years. They can tell you what to expect better than anyone here. Even better would be to talk to someone who has moved out of the ministry,) UI has a lot of facets to the ministry, but I'll just hit on a couple of them. They run a summer camp and recruit youth groups to come run them. They tell you straight up that you're not going to change lives or save souls in your week there. Your job is to create a warm memory for the kids, so that when they're older, the feelings that they will associate with the church (which is filled with locals) will be good ones. The camp is run by interns, half of which are locals, and the church has a robust youth group (led by locals). I think UI is a good example of an inner city ministry who uses non-local missionaries, without alienating themselves from the indigent community.

 

So all that to say, I would research the ministry that you are considering joining and find out what their overarching philosophy is, its historical health and effectiveness, and what specific role your family might play in that. Best wishes to you in your decision!

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The OP is talking about an area similar to Anacostia where one is sometimes hard pressed to find even a grocery store that will operate there. Like other urban areas DC certainly has it's crime and probably worse than in some places but for the most part even the formerly iffy areas from 20 years ago like Columbia Heights/Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill/Eastern Market are now generally considered safe because they've been gentrified and revitalized or mostly so.

 

 

But this is what I mean about perceptions. When we first had kids - we had two nannies turn us down because they felt our neighborhood wasn't safe enough and that was not that long ago - obviously we felt differently, but perceptions. Inner city is just a confusing term to me. There are two "inner city" ministries that I know up within walking distance of my home.

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