“Leah! Come look at this,” she shouted from the other room. I looked around where I stood there in the tattered, worn and dreary space. We were upstairs in the old two-story building where our friends were starting an Eleos Coffee House.
Though the main floor where coffee and fellowship would be looked fantastic, the upstairs apartment space was in a disheartening state. The paint was coming off in chipped slates, made of toxic lead. The floors were stripped and they bowed due to water damage and neglect. The old frames of the ceiling and walls were exposed. Dust danced in the daylight casting shadows on broken glass and rusty nails. The place was in desperate need of TLC, and we were there to clear out wood, glass and other forgotten or random objects.
I carefully made my way to where Sierra’s voice echoed. Immideately upon entry to the tiny space, a window with bars encasing it caught my eye. She was pointing to something that rested against the windowpane, tucked behind the rusted and tired bars.
There in the window sat a bird, perched on a branch with different shades of green leaves and flowers surrounding it. The bird looked very regal, staring off and to the left as if he were posing for us. He was encased in a flimsy frame that was discolored and worn, with a decorative emerald green striping pattern outlining the piece. The art itself was made entirely of feathers.
I knelt down and took a few photographs of this unique beauty that was oddly placed, being surrounded by cobwebs, rust and remnants of what had once been.
My heart sank as it suddenly became clear to me that whomever had been hulled up in this space had tried their best to make it somewhat of a home. “Squatters”, as they were called, left behind this and a few other possessions before abruptly leaving for whatever reason.
Detroit, Michigan. It was a place I had honestly never really thought much about before the trip. I vaguely recall random tidbits about the crime and desperate state of the city, but I never truly knew or understood.
Never once did I think that there could be such desperation in my own backyard. Nor did I explore in order to see for myself, not because I didn’t want to but because it had just never occured to me.
Driving from the airport to where we would be staying with a couple from Abundant Life who had moved there previously, my eyes scanned my surroundings… and my breath caught in my throat.
I have never seen so many buildings crumbling and abandoned, overgrown and forgotten.
As we walked the streets of Detroit, we passed many houses that were beyond repair. What surprised me was how entire streets could look this way, void of life save for the plants and animals wondering around… There would also be streets lined with absolutely gorgeous homes, the architecture stunning and still in great shape. The home we stayed in was beautiful.
There were many streets that would have beautiful homes like this, with abandoned homes speckled in between.
The people of Detroit surprised me even more than their surroundings. While we walked the streets, going house to house passing out flyers for the carnival we would be throwing, we met all kinds of folks. The kids I passed would be so respectful towards me, replying with, “Yes ma’am! ” after asking them a question. People would be gathered on their steps or porches, talking as we walked up. They would stop and smile, shake our hands, and strike up a conversation with us. It didn’t matter our skin color or that we weren’t from around there. We were welcomed and accepted.
They were so excited about the carnival and what Eleos Coffee House was doing in their community. Many expressed their sadness about the state of their city, having lived through the booming ages and now seeing businesses being boarded up and homes deteriorating as people leave. A city that once had such promise and was made to house millions now stands in ruins, diaregarded and undervalued… forgotten. The school systems and even the school buildings themselves not nearly adequate enough to provide their kids what they need. The businesses that are left make people feel less than, with thick glass prohibiting human contact.
It was completely different from what life is here in Missouri. For example, when a church goes through certain neighborhoods here, people close their blinds, lock their doors, and pretend not to be home. Most wouldn’t dare answer the door. We don’t live behind bulletproof glass. If there are issues with our school buildings, people jump to fix it. No children here would go without a gymnasium due to water damage completely warping the floor. No children here would go without school books and proper learning standards.
It’s as if they’ve been given up on.
300 people came to the carnival that week. Different individuals thanked us and couldn’t stop smiling. Some told me that this was their first carnival, which at the time seemed strange. When we see carnivals, we experience thrill rides, gobs of games and prizes, shows, booths with random merchandise, and delicious (and unhealthy) foods.
Our little carnival had a dunk tank, face painting, a few games, a bouncy house and food. It was no where near as extravagant as the things we usually see. However…
They loved it.
So many people kept asking, “Why? Why here? Why us?”
My answer always went back to God. His heart hurts for the broken. And Detroit is in a very broken state. I hugged many necks and shook many hands that day, both the frail and the supple. Many expressed their excitement and gratitude, and I made sure they knew just how much God loved them. He hasn’t forgotten them. In some cases, those who had sorrow in their eyes suddenly lit up and overflowed with tears of mixed emotions. In others, I saw the hope in their expression.
God is working in this country. It may not be as noticeable to some, but I see it. I’ve experienced it.
Even amongst all these crumbling buildings amd desperate situations, there would be snippits of beauty… which reminds me of God’s love. There will be hardship in this life, in which pain and suffering will be the norm. But God reminds us that we have hope in Him:
“… Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT
I have found that even in the midst of pain, He is there. He has never once left us to our own devices. He hears our prayers and cries. He sees the suffering and it grieves Him. He never wished for such suffering for any of us…. but because sin entered the world, we will struggle. Not by God’s doing, but our own.
There is such tragedy and suffering in today’s world, and many are wondering where God is in all this mess. Famine, rape, mass shootings, sex trafficking, slavery, injustices and pain surround many cities and countires. Terror and maddness seem to reign rather than love and sanity.
Despite the pain and suffering, there are moments of bliss. Newborns being held in their mother’s arms, the parents bawling together after having tried for well-over ten years to have children. Moments of kindness strewn through the hatred, like people dressed as angels guarding the funerals of the young men and women shot down in cold blood in Orlando from Westboro protestors. A black young man stopping a white police officer on the street just to pray with him. A Christian woman walking into a mosque in Kansas with sweets for the women, showing love and acceptance rather than hatred and fear.
I see the brokenness surrounding me, and my heart breaks. I may only be one voice among a sea of many others, but I believe my generation and those behind me can be the change we so desperately need.
Do not let your age stop you. Do not let the judgements of others keep you from getting out there and loving others. This world needs more individuals who are willing to go out on a limb and be there for someone, regardless of ethnicity or upbringing.
We are all human. We all have heartache and many of us have suffered through so much in this life. The thing we need to know is that we are not alone. There are so many individuals surrounding us, strangers and passerby, that are going through something. Even those who seem to have it all together have a struggle they deal with. So many around me in my life currently share some of my same struggles! And because I have opened up about my story, conversations have occured and change is happening. Hope is happening.
I want to keep caring, loving and serving those around me. Too often, we forget just how human we are, and we stuff our emotions and refuse to reach out. You are not a burden! Nor am I. We need to wake up and be there for one another in these tough times.
The things that have been happening in the past two weeks keep reminding me: this house is not our home. We are merely passing through, and we need to take care of our temporary homestead and neighbors while we are here for the time given to us. Life passes by quicker than we’d imagine…. Let’s make each moment count.