What is the church? Is it a building? Is it a gathering on a Sunday? Is it where a couple of people meet to talk over coffee or a couple praying before they start their day? Is it 300 people coming together on a Saturday to paint 10 houses, give Bibles to the families they have helped, clean up some neighborhood alleys and then eat lunch in a local park? I will admit that the type of church God is birthing through New City – Barrio Nuevo is not your typical church. God is teaching me about what it means to be Kingdom minded and seeing the church as both many and one.
Over the last 5 months I have been dreaming and planning for the Barrio Nuevo Painting Blitz. I have two special friends Jeremy and James who have helped over the last year do small scale painting projects where we will do one or two homes with any where from 30-60 volunteers. We have gotten our supplies through a couple of generous friends that have a heart for the inner city. We have found our homes to paint through word of mouth and just walking the neighborhoods. We schemed together why not do something much bigger just before Thanksgiving. Why not attempt to gather hundreds to volunteer and then do a lunch event in the park with music and outreach for kids.
Little did I understand the amount of work that would be required and the amount of trust that would be required to get key leaders to plan ahead and follow through? I have a side of me that is hyper organized and another side of me that says just trust the Lord. How do you just trust the Lord for food for 400? I know that Jesus tested his disciples to see what they would do with the crowd of 5,000 plus. The incredible miracle that day was a young boy had a basket with a few fish and loaves. Jesus blessed the food and it fed everyone. Much in a similar fashion Jesus used a teen whose mom worked at Safeway to get the majority of the food. I did panic a few times because everything came together the night before. (What if Safeway decides to say no and we have to buy all of this food on the day of the Blitz and speed hundreds of dollars.)
I was truly impressed with how God raised up a group of people who stepped up to do the real work like cooking the food, serve the food, come out the week before to prep all 10 houses, purchase lots of ladders and the list could go on and on. I really didn’t think at first that we would 300 volunteers but more like 150-200. As the day approached and I had groups come out of the woodwork I prayed for another house. I didn’t want all these people to show up and not have enough work to do. Amazingly one of the families we were helping calls the Monday before the event and asked if we could paint a friend’s house which is a block away. This ended up providing work for 35 people. I am humbled by the fact that a Christian Band from Southern Cal drove out on their own dime, rented a trailer and played for two hours for free. As I talked to the band the leader said they would love to come out again.
I had the privilege of being able to step back and watch all of this happen before my eyes. I had 7 leaders oversee the houses and then 2 special leaders oversee those leaders. I drove around with a couple of my teens that were my picture crew that took video and pics of the Blitz as it unfolded. I think back to how Jesus chose twelve disciples not 20, 100 or 1000 to be his hands, feet and mouth in the world. It was through these twelve that the world has experienced a revolution. As I spoke to the group gathered for the lunch at Hermoso Park it was both humbling and exciting to see the Kingdom expand in my neighborhood. I was so jazzed to see the people we have been helping and loving come and respond. I talked to an older lady and her son, who wouldn’t win any awards for how they dress, that commented on how incredible it was that people would come from CAL and the larger Phoenix area to help them. I met a couple of the homeless in our neighborhood and under resourced people who were touched by what happened.
I know that painting a house or feeding a person isn’t going to solve their personal ills. Yet, I do know as we engage the community and cast a vision of helping a neighbor and building community spirit that it is beginning to happen. I am thrilled to see a group of youth and teens choose to help and get dirty instead of just hanging out and causing trouble. I see these kid’s parents wondering about why they have gotten involved and now see many of them coming around to see that church is more than a building or saying that you are a this or a that.
The Sunday after this amazing event we had a small turnout for New City at Night. I think we had 30 people. This even more showed the power of God to work through a few to accomplish a lot. Someone who had just started coming and helping got into some serious trouble that will see him do some jail time. I reflected on the words of a fellow pastor who does mercy church in Chicago that it takes years to see things happen. Then I reflected on the fact that it has just been 1.5 years since we started and something is starting to happen.
Yeah, I still have to do the dirty work. I was fortunate to have a large group collect all of the equipment and deliver it to my house after the blitz. It still took a group of my teens a couple of hours to collect all of the painting buckets and trash. It took us another hour to clean my truck, get something to eat and admit that it had been a long but wonderful day. I know going to sleep that night I was encouraged to see that God plus 1 has always been a majority. The gospel is going out both through the actions of a few and the words of Jesus being spoken through his servants. Now I am ready for a little vacation before Thanksgiving.