As I exited I-95 into the bowels of the inner city, I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive. The buildup to this Saturday had been quite extensive (at least in my mind). Several friends and FCA board members had told me that this was the worst neighborhood in the entire city of Philadelphia. In this area ravaged by poverty, people seem to have no money, yet they find a way to get a hold of drugs. Prostitutes roam the street corners and crime abounds. The neighborhood is fighting to hold on, yet most steer clear altogether. If you've seen the Rocky movies, then you've seen this place. This is Kensington.
So why would this 23 year old white boy, bred in a polar opposite world, be going into this place instead of away from it?
"This is where Jesus would be."
Yes, this was technically part of my job that I was asked to participate in. FCA was invited to represent our ministry at a block party in Kensington, hosted by Rock Ministries. There was a live band, blow-up castles and obstacle courses, classic summer food, and several boxing exhibitions. We brought a few basketball hoops and free FCA Gear as yet another way to love on these people. You could make the argument that I was obligated to be there, yet it didn't feel that way at all. I was so excited, yet equally nervous as I stepped out into a place unlike anywhere I had ever been.
No sooner than we had our sign set up, a man walked up to me and immediately inquired about our ministry. As we started talking, he began to tell me his story. He was a home grown, Kensington product that experienced many of the struggles that the majority of its residents do. He turned his life around and, by the grace of God, is now a member of the congregation at Rock Ministries. He told me to turn around and as we looked out over the chain link fence, he echoed all of the negative things that I had already heard. But he folded his arms, and said with a sigh...
"But this is where Jesus would be."
I'm ashamed to say that I can't even remember this man's name, but his words are burned into my brain. After being asked why He ate with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mark 2). What kind of "good news" do our lives exemplify if we disregard these people as unsettling statistics and avoid them like the plague? These are human beings, made in the perfect image of the triune God who have beautiful little babies and families and dreams. But they live among streets that are overflowing with destructive behaviors and lifestyles. They need to experience a gospel whose pre-eminence is love.
It was so encouraging to walk along that street and see the sign for Rock Ministries. They are providing outlets for juveniles at risk to box, grapple, and even learn skills like music or art. Buddy, Paul, and all of the other staff there are the face of Jesus to those who badly need to know Him. They have traded comfort and security to get in the trenches in an area starving for hope.
What a privilege to be a part of it for an afternoon. I can't imagine I'll be able to stay away for long.