Today was our last day at Mercy Hill Church and it was truly a whirlwind. After a short briefing and a devo led by Kaitlin, we were led on a journey through the heart of Phoenix—downtown—to see and experience what God is doing. To understand the bigger picture is a story that would take far too long to tell, but there are problems here, as in most major cities, with gentrification, racial tensions and poverty in the middle of urban renewal, hipster paradise and untold wealth. And in the middle of it all God is still at work in amazing ways.
Our first stop of the day was a community garden where we worked for only a few minutes, but there heard from Ryan Thurman. Ryan is a “missionary” (probably not the right word) with A2J—Apprenticeship to Jesus. His work centers on helping connect people to the Gospel by being missional, taking the time to address real physical and emotional needs people have to be part of a community through a lifestyle that seeks to benefit the local neighborhood. Thus the community garden, although his ministry extends well beyond that.
It was also at the garden where we met Jeff Skeens. Jeff works for CityServe, the host organization for HopeFest. Although HopeFest is not an overtly Christian event, you’d be hard pressed to prove that its not given the sheer volume of service and assistance that it provides to the thousands who will benefit. Jeff sees it as a way to not only help people who need it, but build intentional relationships with people who might seem more qualified to be givers than receivers. An example of this would be found in a really dedicated woman we were privileged to work with this week as we folded clothes. She donates hundreds of hours, seems entirely upbeat and happy all the time, but has no other discernible connection to Christ… except that she’s now connected to solid believers who want to share more with her than just serving the poor. The Gospel is so much more than that!
Beyond those ministries we were able to also learn about “pop-up church,” a concept requiring the use of Adaptable Reuse of Temporary Space (ARTS). Basically, what the believers spearheading that are doing is holding mobile church services with no permanent building. Church without walls! It may challenge the traditional definition of what many call “church,” but there is no question that this movement is moving people toward Christ who would otherwise be ignoring Him completely.
There was more, including a stop at C.A.S.E., Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy (an immigrant advocacy group at heart), which is being led by a former atheist who challenged our understanding of what it means to love all people in our nation, even (especially?) those who have been marginalized by a system designed to punish people who aren’t born into it. While we were there the director confided his recent return to faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that had been abandoned for years, but was recently reborn as he worked with church leaders like Jeff (above) who were willing to see and address the same needs he has given his life to meeting.
Finally, we closed the week with a Cactus League baseball game. Royals versus the Padres at Peoria Sports Complex. Of course the Royals won! Did you really need to ask?