This weekend I went to a missions conference here in the NW, which is always inspiring and overwhelming for me, a huge missions nerd. I have been going to this particular conference for 8 years (I might have missed it once or twice). In the beginning I went by myself, a lonely single girl with missionary dreams, wandering the booths and soaking it all in. Now, here I am, lugging a crazy toddler on my hips and stopping to visit with every other person, talking until I feel hoarse and worn out and happy.
The only workshop I made it to was one on relational apartment ministry–moving into apartment complexes for the express purpose of making friends and building the kingdom of God. This is ostensibly what we have trying to do for the past several years. The workshop was inspiring, of course, but I left assessing all the places I have not let my living be incarnational.
It made me think about what kind of neighbor I am. I am the keep-to-myself, pleasantly smiling girl. I have connections to many of the refugees families who live here, and I bend over backwards to talk to them whenever I see them. But everybody else . . . that is a different story. It is much, much easier to not get involved. To only live in the apartments, not to dwell there.
A great example of this is the “work out room” at our complex. I use the quotation marks because it is just a tiny, narrow room stuffed with malfunctioning workout equipment. It is on the third floor, right across from the elevator, with a big window so everybody can see you sweating and huffing. There is one tiny window with a view of the courtyard with half of the blinds stolen off. I have found lots of evidence over the years that makes me think people are doing a lot of stuff in that room, but they certainly aren’t working out.
I used to use the busted up old elliptical machine quite a bit when we first moved in. But I got tired of all the refugee kids spilling in and laughing at me, at the women giving me strange looks, of catching lurking teenage boys staring one too many times. I stopped working out, because I hated interacting with people. The Burmese mom who let her toddler tumble about the room. My Somali friend who wanted to discuss how fat I was as I was sweating away. The dude with the big bushy beard whose apartment reeks of weed who lumbered in to put money on his laundry card. The single mom screaming at her kids who were running down the hallway. I didn’t want to talk to any of them. I just wanted to read my O! magazine and listen to my NPR podcasts and burn a few calories. I wanted to be separate.
I signed up to run my first race in March. It is a 15k, which is just far enough that it is scary, but doable. The weather in Portland has been almost Biblical as of late–snow, sleet, rain rain rain and now some flooding. So I have been forced to take my running indoors, back to the “work out room” where I must interact with people.
For me, it’s such a picture of my prejudice, my tendency to protect my privacy and individuality. It is a symbol of how different I feel that I am.
So here is my small change for the here and now. To use the workout room, and to redeem it. To engage with the neighbors, to use every opportunity for good, to not shrink into myself and my safe barriers (ipods, magazines, culture, closed apartment).
I can be a sweaty mess who still smiles and chooses to engage. This is the decision for even the ridiculous things to be intentional.