2nd Mile 101 - The Cathedral


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.