Issues or Relationships?

In New York City, what does homelessness advocacy, church planting, hurricane relief, and the UN have in common? Well, besides each area offering all sorts of complexity, it's people.

Our time in New York was one of the most diverse and rewarding trips I've gotten to be a part of. And while something as complex as addressing social justice, church/church planting, arts/culture, and faith in the marketplace is a tad ambitious for a 10-day trip, there was a common thread throughout our experience that brought some clarity: Within all the issues, we found relationships.

Key to the work of the Coalition for the Homeless was getting to know the people they work with, finding ways to humanize all people in New York despite the unbelievable figures and countless challenges of addressing homelessness (homeless counts are over 52,000 people each night, including over 22,000 kids - most are living in shelters). Without personal relationships across social boundaries, the issue of homelessness remains an issue. Yet for the workers at the coalition, they shared that it's all about the people. Relationships.

David Louw leading Praxis on a neighbourhood tour.
Churches are always attempting to connect the to culture around them and oftentimes New York churches and church plants are seen as exemplary models. For example, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, led by Tim Keller, has planted churches all across New York City and are recognized as a leader in engaging urban culture (we got to hear Tim keller preach one Sunday). We also toured different neighbourhoods with David Louw, pastor and leader with Trinity Grace Church, a movement of parish (i.e. neighbourhood) churches across New York City. We also attended one of their parish churches, Parkslope. Again, while there was much to observe and learn with both churches, it was the stories of peoples’ lives that brought them to life. At-risk youth are finding community in the East Village, even at the expense of immediate success as one church plant seeks to address the needs of their area. Seeing people passionate about their literal neighbours and not just the idea of planting a church was inspiring. Again, relationships.

Our MDS work crew with the homeowner (in the middle)
As I've already written, it was eye-opening to work on houses and help with hurricane recovery on Staten Island. But beyond the houses themselves, it was all about the people. One day while we worked, one homeowner walked through her home, pausing every few feet and exclaiming, "Wow...(tearful pause). Wow...(tearful pause). Wow...(tearful pause)." To hear her story brought our work to life. Rebuilding homes is all about relationships.

In our encounter with the arts, one student remarked on how the theme of storytelling left a strong impression on her. Whether it was paintings and photos at the MOMA, buskers on the subway, or watching Wicked on Broadway, each encounter with art told a story, creatively reflecting the honesty and beauty of human life and longing. Art and storytelling is inherently relational, a bond between the observers, but also the creators and performers. To experience the relationship of art was a pleasure for our group.

The "Freedom Tower"
Just being in New York City and walking amidst the towers of wealth and power forces one to reflect on how faith can even begin to find a home in that marketplace. New York is built on money, so to heed Jesus’ teaching on the matter inevitably raises all sorts of tensions. We were encouraged, however, with one church that is located in one of the more wealthy neighbourhoods, Tribeca. Through their relational connections and simple presence in that area, they are constantly exploring how to faithfully "steward privilege” together as Christians and as a church. Their relationships together and in their community inform their focus and mission. Not surprising, but very encouraging nonetheless, is a church seeking faithfulness in their relationships to their neighbours.  

People keep asking me how my time in New York City was. I’ll be honest, it can be hard to easily summarize. The issues we encountered seem insurmountable. But it’s not hard to remember people. We learned a lot, yes. But we got to know people a lot as well. Learning about issues led to directly to learning about and gaining relationships. The hope in the issues comes from the hope in relationships. This is what I’ll remember most about New York City.

Our Praxis crew!

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