A New Vision of the Motor City

Last week, I was privileged enough to be able to participate in the Disciples-sponsored Peace Week of Motown Mission, an ecumenical urban volunteer work camp based in downtown Detroit, Michigan. When I told people I was going to be visiting Detroit this summer, I was often met with worried looks and such offerings as, “Oh, please be careful!” or “Why would you want to go there?” Though I had never been to Detroit before, I had researched a little of the city’s troubling past – a rapidly declining population, very high crime rates, and the infamous 8 Mile Wall which separates the suburbs from the city. I was excited to be helping out, but a little worried about what I might encounter.

One day, one of the middle school boys from the church with whom I was working pointed at the car in the driveway of the woman whom we were helping and said knowingly, “That’s a Cadillac XTS. I know how much those cost. Why are we in this neighborhood if they have such nice cars?” I took this as a teaching opportunity. “Look at the house next door. It’s completely falling apart and it’s abandoned.” He looked over, a little surprised. “These neighborhoods are full of people in a lot of different situations. I know it’s hard not to, but we didn’t come here to judge,” I reminded the young boy. “We are simply here to help and improve this city.” I was trying to remind the group, and myself, that just because someone has a nice car or a nice house doesn’t mean that they’ve had an easy life, or that they aren’t struggling in any way.

The people we helped were extremely kind and thankful, offering us cold bottles of water, chips, and other snacks throughout the day. Many of them were very touched by our volunteerism and asked us several questions about church and Motown Mission. It was through this experience that I was truly reminded of the simple fact that every person has a story – and all of our stories are varied and important. It is unfair to rob people of their unique stories by stereotyping, judging, or holding prejudices. If we are truly followers of a radically accepting and loving Christ, we must be able to approach those who are different from us and actually be invested in learning their stories.

One of my favorite quotes from Mahatma Gandhi reads, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Motown Mission is changing lives, both of the recipients and the volunteers working in the city. My week in Detroit was exhausting both physically and emotionally, but I left feeling recharged and invigorated, knowing that I had made a difference in someone’s life. I hope to come back with a youth group someday and continue the great work that God is doing there!

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