The Paved Path

*This post was previously written by a dietitian on 2nd Mile’s core team of volunteers

IMG_0882.jpg

Imagine traveling along a road that suddenly splits in two directions. One path is well-lit, paved, marked with signs, and filled with familiar faces, while the other is more of a trail off-road, overgrown with tall grasses, and a few brave people struggling to find their way. Which path would you choose?

In a lot of ways, the choice is so obvious that it doesn’t require much thought. We are creatures of habit, and when faced with a choice, we will most likely choose the path that is familiar to us. Unfortunately in our Brentwood community, that well-known path is paved with health disparities and food deserts and leads slowly down into a pit of poor health.

Consider the hypothetical case, ‘Mr. Johnson’ who grew up in a low-income minority neighborhood, much like Brentwood. Due to lack of reliable transportation, Mr. Johnson didn’t have access to many fresh foods and grew up eating lots of foods he didn’t have to cook like ramen noodles, hot chips, canned ravioli, corn dogs, and juice from the store around the corner. He watched his three younger siblings after school so he never got involved in sports or physical activity as a kid. Mr. Johnson’s under-resourced school did not require a health class and certainly never offered any cooking classes.

Over time, Mr. Johnson kept moving down this path and these habits led him to gain weight. When he was fifteen, he began working a manual labor job to help make the ends meet. Mr. Johnson continued to work physical jobs that put immense stress on his body and did not provide health insurance. Zoom several years forward and we find Mr. Johnson in the ER for back pain. While he is there, he is diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity and is instructed to follow up with the primary care provider that Mr. Johnson does not have.

Within the next five years Mr. Johnson is able to obtain health insurance and find a primary care physician. However, by this time Mr. Johnson has been untreated for his chronic diseases for years, has had a stroke, suffers from depression, and experiences chronic pain. His new doctor does not have time to answer his questions but instead starts Mr. Johnson on several medications that will cost Mr. Johnson on a monthly basis.

How did Mr. Johnson get here? He simply followed that paved, familiar path ahead of him—something we all might do. But depending on our community, our paved path will look different and not lead to the same place.

In some communities the path is studded with organic foods, gym memberships, youth sports leagues, and preventative healthcare. While other paths are lined with corner stores, fast food, run-down parks, and limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And this is what health disparities look like. These divergent paths highlight the inequalities that exist when members of certain population groups do not benefit from the same health status as other groups.

I am a dietitian who sees the health disparities within Brentwood in a very real way.  ‘Mr. Johnson’ sits down in front of me every day, overwhelmed by the place he has found himself in and the seemingly impossible climb out that is facing him.

How do you exercise when each step hurts your knees? How do you start eating healthy when you have to choose between buying vegetables or buying your medications? How do you get control of health conditions that no one has explained to you? It is overwhelming and heartbreaking and can feel hopeless.

But this is where I remember that we serve a God who redeems our life from the pit and renews our youth like the eagles (Psalm 103:4-5), a God who hears our cry and draws us up from the pit of destruction to set our feet upon a rock (Psalm 40:2), a God whose very Presence holds the power to heal (Luke 5:17). The Power and Presence of God can change an otherwise hopeless situation into a beautiful, flourishing one. The solution to eliminate health disparities is complex, multi-factorial, and challenging. But God is a God of healing and redemption who longs to see the health of Brentwood restored. Let us long for that with Him and move forward in the power of His Spirit to be agents of His healing in Brentwood.

Please pray for flourishing health in our Brentwood community. Pray for large-scale, systemic change so that the path to flourishing health would become the most accessible, easily traveled, and clearly marked path. Pray for knowledge, resources, and empowerment for our community members to travel that path well. And most of all, pray for God’s healing work in our neighborhood. His Presence changes everything.

More Than Just a Week

Every spring 2nd Mile hosts teams of college students from all around the country. These weeks are often a rich time of growth for students as they work and live in our community for a week. During these seven days, we invite people to be a part of what God is doing in and through our neighborhood, and learn about themselves, other people, and ultimately God. 2nd Mile has found that these trips can be incredibly transformative and has shaped the trajectory and careers of many students who have come on the trip.

Hear from two students and their experiences while in Jacksonville:

fullsizeoutput_24ad.jpeg

Gabe

My name is Gabe Ernst, and I participated on a mission trip through 2nd Mile Ministries with a group of students from Asbury University.  This was my first time coming to Jacksonville, so I enjoyed getting to know the community.  Some of my highlights during the week included helping in the 1st grade classroom at Brentwood Elementary School, participating in the two:fiftytwo after-school program with 2nd Mile, and forming relationships with the adults and kids of the Brentwood community. I enjoyed staying in a host home in the neighborhood we served.  This helped me understand how people live and go about daily life in a more urban context. Being able to work with 2nd Mile Ministries was a wonderful experience, and I hope to come back again to serve the community and also let the community teach and bless me!

IMG_5771.JPG

Emily

My experience serving with 2nd Mile Ministries in Jacksonville, Florida was super impactful and one that I will always remember. I learned so much about the urban community of Jacksonville in the short time our team was there, and I have grown to understand and appreciate urban communities as a whole. Immersing myself in such an unfamiliar culture really opened my eyes to what God wants to do within the community, and it was such a privilege to be there in the midst of it.

Working with the kids at Brentwood Elementary was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. I could see the stories behind their precious faces and developed compassion for them. It was such a joy to interact with them, be seen as a role model to them, and help move them forward as they fulfill what God has planned for their lives. It was also a great experience working in the community garden and being a part of street beautification. It was so impactful to see the difference that our team made in Jacksonville in just a week. I loved being able to have meaningful conversations with those in the community and hear their stories. It was amazing to be a part of something that will greatly impact the kingdom of God.





2nd Mile 101 - The Blueprint

DSC_7461.jpg

This is the fourth in a series of four posts entitled 2nd Mile 101. We hope these writings can help answer the questions of who 2nd Mile is and why we do what we do the way we do it.

2nd Mile is seeking a God-sized goal: wholistic transformation. In order to pursue this it is essential that we know who we are as 2nd Mile as well as who we are not. To do this we have a several core values that inform our actions, approach, and ministry.

First, 2nd Mile operates with a specific neighborhood focus. We seek to be for and present in the Brentwood neighborhood, which is defined by Main Street on the east, Interstate 95 on the west, 12th Street on the south, and Tallulah Avenue on the north. This is not to say, we will never minister or serve outside of our pre-determined boundaries, but it is to say that we know we cannot be everywhere at once and if our geography grows too large the deconcentration of our efforts lead to diluted and lessened impact.

Within the Brentwood neighborhood, our next key approach centers on always seeking a tangible presence. You cannot know or be known without being present. Because of this 2nd Mile requires all staff and encourages volunteers to make their home in the Brentwood community. A large part of the activity and ministry of 2nd Mile takes place not at youth programs on our turf, but happens as we know and seek out our neighbors, as we serve in local schools, play at the local park, and support local businesses. Doing so develops empathy, affection, and connection to the Brentwood community. Tangible presence means that 2nd Mile  is joining together to make the victories and challenges faced by Brentwood our victories and challenges as well.

Building from this presence, 2nd Mile knows that comprehensive transformation is not possible by our efforts alone. So, where others already doing great work in their own areas of expertise we seek out collaborative partnerships. It is our desire to work together with others with whom we share common goals for the Brentwood neighborhood. This means partnerships with churches, schools, non-profits, city agencies, and businesses that encourage mutual flourishing for all parties, but most of all for Brentwood.

There are two divergent approaches to community development work. One is for outsiders to come into a neighborhood and say, “Here is what we have to bring to the table for you.” The other looks to a community and says, “What are the strengths and resources that already exist here that we can join alongside in?” 2nd Mile Ministries rejects the former and embraces that latter, which is called assets based community development (ABCD). Since there are so many great individuals, skills, and resources already available in Brentwood, we make it our goal to listen to and work with the community. ABCD is something I do with you, not that I do to you and 2nd Mile highly values this approach.

Finally, and tying all the elements together, 2nd Mile’s final core value is leadership development. Oftentimes, under-resourced communities are marked by two mindsets, one of fatalistic nihilism that fails to hope and sees the neighborhood as corrupt to the core, or one of escapism that villainizes the neighborhood and makes the goal to "get out and never look back". As a result of this dynamic, few people are equipped to be positive leaders and role models from and for the community, and the ones that may be best qualified often leave while vowing never to return. 2nd Mile seeks to offer a third way. A path that declares that our students were made for purpose and that unique purpose includes using and developing their gifts and abilities so that they can be the change agents who transform their own neighborhood. This means that all of 2nd Mile’s efforts set out to raise up and develop students into leaders and disciples who will lead Brentwood to flourishing.

By focusing on these five key values, 2nd Mile is able to make sure every activity pushes us towards our end goal, that we would see the Gospel renew lives and communities so they are transformed in every way.

 

 

 

2nd Mile 101 - The Cathedral

DSC_7571.jpg

This is the third in a series of four posts entitled 2nd Mile 101. Our mission is to seek to see the Gospel renew lives and communities so they are transformed in every way. We hope these writings can help answer the questions of who 2nd Mile is and why we do what we do the way we do it.

Imagine you are walking along some railroad tracks (for safety’s sake, hopefully not on them) when you see parked up ahead the unmistakable look, feel, and sound of the circus coming to town. There’s the lurch of the tent being raised. There’s the buzz of a gawking, excited crowd. There’s oversized footprints of clowns (bringing a tinge of fear). And, the whole neighborhood has come out to take in this spectacle.

By noon the next day, elephants are stomping, trapeze are flying, and popcorn is being flung in the air with glee. Everyone who could fit in the door has a great time. And they go home talking about the sights they saw with good-natured excitement.

Then after maybe another show or two, the tent is disassembled, the railcars are loaded back up, the clowns leave (or did they hide in your basement?). And the circus rolls away.

Perhaps to come back next year. Or possibly not.

And within 24 hours the kids are complaining about being bored and how nothing ever happens here.

And within a week or two the trampled and trudged upon grass has regrown at the former circus site and there exists not a single trace that it was ever there, save some select, fading memories.

Unfortunately, this circus tent mentality is the way that many American Christians view ministry in communities like Brentwood. Roll into the neighborhood with resources the local community can’t possibly match. Spend a few hours or a weekend playing hopscotch and maybe sneaking a Bible verse in here or there. Be sure to get some photos of “our” kids with “those” kids and head back across the bridge before nightfall. And within a week or less, those who were ministered to at best have forgotten the experience and at worst feel like they were victims of “drive-by love”, who were used to teach someone else about the “least of these”.

But, imagine instead a different kind of edifice than this tent. Imagine a soaring cathedral, perhaps like one of those built in Europe centuries ago. Imagine towers and domes that rise far above any kite (or tent). Places of worship built by the combined efforts of thousands of laborers, skilled and unskilled, over decades or even many generations. Imagine the craftsman who spends his whole life making tiles that will fill an atrium, knowing full well that it won’t be until his grandson is of age that an artist will be needed to paint the ceiling.

Close your eyes and picture a majestic structure that is built to stand for centuries, maybe even millenia. A majestic structure that is built for the glory of God, so that one day, hundreds of years later people will walk into this cathedral and stand in awe at the wonder of God and the handiwork of his beloved creatures.

But all of this . . . is just a building. Brick and mortar without breath nor life.

Imagine how much greater the glory that goes to our God when a community, a neighborhood, or a people are so transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what He has done for them that an entire directional segment of town radiates the glory of God.

Imagine a different city where when people hear Pearl Street on the news they think not of crime or yet another school transformation plan, but instead rejoice and know that this is a neighborhood where a tremendously redemptive God is doing a great work among a people that He cherishes and they are joining Him in it.

This second approach, the cathedral, is what 2nd Mile has set out to do since its inception. The goal is accomplished a lot slower than with putting up a circus tent. The results come at a trickle and sometimes you even need to strain and squint your eyes to see them coming around the bend, but the results glorify God for eternity.

Veterans of Christian community development work, who have had their blood, sweat, and tears in their communities for decades, are vocal about the fifteen year rule. They say, “If you are going to start a ministry in an under-resourced community, do yourself a favor and don’t expect to see any tangible results for at least 15 years. 

They say this because communities like Brentwood didn’t get turned upside down overnight, so they aren’t going to be transformed any quicker. They say this because if the organization is started by community outsiders (as they so often are, but that a whole different blog post), those who are investing must take time, must take years to devote themselves to listening to the community and being transformed themselves before their service begins to sharpen. They say it because it takes time to build up trust and good will in any environment if you want it to last for the long-haul.

So, at 2nd Mile, we take a long-term approach. We start with students as young as five years old and follow them up to adulthood. We move into the neighborhood (or remain in the neighborhood) and listen to what our neighbors have to teach us. We say “I’m sorry” when either our heart or our actions begin to edge towards a circus tent.

And we lay brick after brick building up Brentwood, the community of people, to positively radiate God’s glory for all of eternity.

2nd Mile 101 - The Story

DSC_6843.jpg

This is the second in a series of four posts entitled 2nd Mile 101. Our mission is to seek to see the Gospel renew lives and communities so they are transformed in every way. We hope these writings can help answer the questions of who 2nd Mile is and why we do what we do the way we do it.

To understand the existence and mission of 2nd Mile Ministries one needs to go all the way back to the beginning. No, not to 2004 when Articles of Incorporation were filed. No, not to the 1960s when a series of social, political, and economic forces combined to entrench poverty in the Brentwood community. No, not to some other flashpoint in American history. We must go all the way back to the very beginning. To Genesis chapter 1.

In the beginning, God created all things and he created them in relationship. One helpful way to conceptualize this is to picture the biblical Adam and the relationships he encountered. Adam was in relationship with God, with Eve (and eventually other people), with creation, and in a relationship with his own self through his thoughts and emotions. Further, as time went on and the population expanded, humanity came to be in relationship with systems and structures such as education, religion, government, financial, and so forth.

And in the beginning, all of these relationships were good. In fact, as the author narrates the creation the word “good” is used six times with the final proclamation as God looks his work over that it is “very good”. The Hebrew Bible concept of shalom describes this initial state or as Tim Keller puts it: “God created all things to be in a beautiful, harmonious, interdependent, knitted, webbed relationship to one another . . . This interwovenness is what the Bible calls shalom, or harmonious peace.”

In the beginning, all things stood right. All things flourished. And there was no such thing as poverty. But, the interconnected state of shalom did not remain. Soon, shalom was vandalized and all of these relationships began the break down.

Adam’s intimacy with God was replaced with fear. A breakdown of relationship.

Adam’s knit relationship with his wife became blame-shifting and accusation. A breakdown of relationship.

Adam’s peaceful relationship with work, the garden, and creation became one of toil, frustration, and danger. A breakdown of relationship.

Adam’s previously undisturbed inner life became fraught with shame. A breakdown of relationship.

And these relationships have continued to erode. Our world is marked by a profound sense of brokenness. People are separated from God. Family and neighbor relationships bare the more visible marks of discord like in-fighting, separation, and betrayal, but also the more subtle sins like gossip or the cold shoulder. Similar breakings mark our relationships with creation, work, self, and systems. Nothing works the way that it ought to. A sense of exile pervades the universe, even in good times, we feel that all these things just aren’t what they could or should be.

And all of this brings us closer to why 2nd Mile exists. We need to understand this vandalism of shalom if we are to ever understand how it can be undone. For the reality is that, yes, Brentwood, the community where 2nd Mile labors, is faced by poverty, but when properly situated we must understand that all of creation is faced with poverty. The material poverty of a community like Brentwood is just one element of a much greater breakdown of the way things ought to be. If our eyes are really opened, there is no place on this earth we can go and not see evidence of how these relationships have been broken and damaged.

But, the story does not end there, this is the good news and this is why 2nd Mile exists. For in Colossians 1:19-20 a path forward is announced:

“For God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

In Christ, God is reconciling all things and all relationships, back to himself. Our relationship with God is to be healed. Our horizontal relationship to one another is to be healed. Our relationship with creation, with self, and even one day, our broken systems are all to be healed. And how has he done this work? By the cross. The same cross that secured God’s people eternal life and a personal relationship with our God is the cross that promises to bring about healing in all of the brokenness of the Fall. In the cross, there is a promise that whatever ails Brentwood and every other community has a remedy.

Further still, Jesus has commanded his followers to be a part of this mission. As He commanded us to pray for his Kingdom to come, so too, He has equipped every person who trusts in Christ to be an agent of transformation and proclaimer of the Victory of the Cross in every space they inhabit. Grander still, He has promised that the flourishing state of shalom, where God makes his dwelling with men and He is making all things new, is where our final home will be.

Therefore, being people who are called by and who know how the story ends, we are privileged to be able to live into this narrative even today. Though the complete fulfillment of shalom will not take place immediately, we, as citizens of heaven, can start living as agents of redemption even now. 2nd Mile’s work in the life of our community is just one example of making this future Kingdom visible today

There are many stories that must be understood to explain an organization like 2nd Mile, but we must start with entering into the grand narrative into which every other story fits.