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Ch3-4: Kingdom in the Streets

An example of an older, smaller, and more hidden ministry is a Montessori school for very young children conducted in the basement of the first Jubilee building. Nona Beth Landon, a slender young woman with long braided hair and degrees in music and education, is the founder. For fifteen years she and one of the mothers living in a Jubilee building have been the Pied Pipers for scores of children in the surrounding streets. In time other centers for children, offering tutoring and art programs, opened in the basements of jubilee apartment buildings. Somewhere in the wonder of it all is Family Place, a homelike, drop-in center for young immigrant mothers and their small children. Its wide range of programs includes social services, counseling, support groups and meals. Completing the cluster of missions is Sarah’s Circle, a 36-unit inter-generational housing program with an emphasis on the elderly. Its basement also has a kitchen and dropin center. Long ago we made the discovery that the basements of old apartment houses are the District of Columbia’s richest unexploited real estate.

*Rm. 12:16, Jer.

In the same area, a half-block from where I live, another new mission, Joseph’s House, has opened its doors to homeless men with AIDS. The house takes its name from the biblical Joseph who, despised and hated by his brothers, became the one whom God used to save the entire people of God. David Hilfiker, the doctor and founder, who has moved into the house with his wife and children, wrote: 

We envision Joseph’s House as a place where the ostracized and hated of society are protected, where their hopes and imaginations are nourished. As the years of American domination and plenty come to an end, and American famine is threatened, the culture’s survival is dependent on the visions of those whom it has marginalized. We are hopeful that within this community dreams and visions will be mutually nurtured and offered back to the society.

At a conference where I was talking about this little circle of missions that sustain and support each other, someone spoke up and said, “I’m afraid to come to DC” Another said, “They do call it the murder capital of the world.” Others nodded their heads.

The response was understandable. I know the fragile peace of my own neighborhood, the misery and despair hidden away in the streets we walk every day. Sometimes I am afraid, but more often I am energized by the rich diversity of its people, its hope and vision. “Do you know Adams Morgan?” I asked, thinking I might tell them something about this neighborhood that would change the way they viewed my city.

“Oh yes,” said one, “I was there several years ago when the drunk offered the kneeling Jesus a drink and ended up pouring it on his head.”

I, too, remembered that time. He was referring to Jimilu’s Servant Christ, the bronze figure in front of Christ House. Jesus is barefoot and looks as though he might be wearing jeans. He is holding a basin in one hand; the other is raised in a gesture that invites those sitting on the benches to have their feet washed. To the crazed young man, wearing only shoes and shorts, Jesus must have looked like someone not very different from himself. He gazed at him for a long, long time, as though the power in the sculpted piece had grasped something deep in himself. Later I wondered if he might have thought that the kneeling figure was a beggar, pleading for sustenance. In any case, he finally held the bottle to the mouth of Jesus so that he could drink from it. When Jesus was unresponsive he poured some of the contents on his head. After that he stood back and gave the immovable one a bewildered look. He finally took the bottle from its brown paper bag and placed it carefully in the hand of Jesus. The scene seemed a poignant one to me, and not too different from the story of the widow and her mite.

“So many times,” I told this gathering, “I walk the streets of Adams Morgan and look up to catch in quite different scenes a glimpse of the New Jerusalem coming down out of the skies.” On these streets are spoken the tongues of many lands and still we so often understand what people are saying. Here some of the refugees of the world have found a safe place to lay their heads, cradle their babies, and sell their wares from folding tables and tiny stores. Here the demented can still wander in and out of our shops. Here some places have been made for the young and the old. Here the broken arc received and the sick healed. Here the Gospel is being preached and here, faulted as we are, with our own griefs heavily upon us, we are bold to say God calls us his people and we know that “his name is God-with-them.”*

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