April 2012 - Vol. 59

Andy on the Detroit soccer field holding up an xray of his dislocated elbow
by Andy Jordan

A story
It was early June 2011 and there were 10 of us in the room from 5 different countries having a serious conversation about a shepherd. Jaci began to share about something she had once heard: When a lamb runs away from the flock the shepherd hunts after it to find it. When he does, he brings it back to the flock and breaks its leg. Sounds horrible but the shepherd then carries the lamb until its leg heals. In this way the lamb learns the shepherd’s voice and it knows where it will get food. The lamb doesn’t run away again after that. Seeing how the Lord had broken me away from my family and from many comforts of home since I had moved to Detroit the previous August I found this analogy fascinating. How something costly and painful had yielded such grace in those 9 months. 

10 days later – 2 days before starting what I saw as my biggest and most important job of the year – I lay in a hospital bed with a dislocated elbow. Analogies sometimes don’t make things clear enough. 

An adventure
It excited me to do a gap year. My 5 older brothers had already travelled the world so in August 2010 I broke myself away from the comforts of home and everything that was familiar to me when I was growing up, and left for my adventure. I love Detroit. It has had a place in my heart since I spent a life-changing summer there in 2007 as part of the Detroit Summer Outreach program. I couldn’t wait to get back.

There are many impressions that people have of Detroit. Some are true, some are ill-informed and some are not-so true. The description I use most often is that of Detroit’s train station – a hauntingly beautiful piece of architecture. A sadness surrounds what must have once been a magnificent building. Now, with every window smashed and every entrance boarded up, it stands morose against the south-western skyline. It was in front of this building that I spent many hours last year contemplating the work I was doing and the people I loved, puzzled somewhat by what attracted me to it. Then in spring I understood, as the shoots of green flowered in the broken windows. Man had made it and man had destroyed it. Yet life was here. A shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse. The light shines brighter when its surroundings are darker.

A sinner
The summer of 2010, before I left for Detroit, was a turbulent one, spiritually, for me. On the face of things I had it together. I had just become an ‘affiliate’ with the Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord, and I was wrapping up my service with University Christian Outreach (UCO) in Glasgow and in my local church. I had worked hard on these things as well as investing time in a household and our community, but I was also working long hours on my studies. My studies took priority in my life during those few months, and my prayers became formalities and were often empty. My hunger for God was not there and I gave temptation a window. Within six weeks of finishing university I had fallen into some of the worst sin of my life. I spoke to three different men about it. They roundly agreed that I was a sinner but each in his own way simply directed me to Jesus. I spent a week in July praying and fasting. I read Psalm 51 constantly. 

A loved sinner
So I was grateful to get to Detroit and start again. And it didn’t take long to fall back in love with this city. I worked for Youth-Works Detroit and I lived with the Servants of the Word in their Detroit household. Within these I was given a variety of responsibilities – working on our after-school programs and in the high school youth group, helping run retreats, visiting a homeless shelter and attending alcoholics anonymous meetings at the shelter. After a while I got to make lunches and take them to the homeless people who live in abandoned houses. I was helping  a saintly nun named Sister Judie Ann. I was also lucky enough to clean the Servants of the Word brothers’ house and cook their dinners for them. Although I admit to a hint of sarcasm, cooking became a time where I could quietly consider my life, and it was genuinely an honor to play a not-so-insubstantial role in the days of men for whom I had huge respect. 

I had inherited an iPod from my brother Dave. He had left an audio talk from a priest called Fr Jeff Huard. As I was listening to the talk, Fr. Jeff made a simple remark that struck me. “Were we anticipating this? That day to day, the preparation to make the ordinary very extraordinary is possible because we put love there.” There is a way to tackle the extraordinary problems of a suffering city and quite ordinary people are doing it in Detroit in a quite ordinary way. Ed would smile at every person he met, Doc would say thanks for every meal I cooked. Mark would start a conversation with anyone he came across. Josh was constantly attentive to how people were feeling. Dan and Priscilla would share their food, and Josh and Yvette would share their home. Sister Judie would thank God incessantly for people who gave time and money to help her take sandwiches and clothes to her friends – the “treasures of the street.” All of these men and women spoke directly and indirectly to me of Christ and his love. Kindness and compassion was leading me back. In a city plagued with brokenness, the small extraordinary acts of love whispered healing to the wounded. And were my wounds in any less need of healing? I encountered a culture of love that made it impossible not to do my utmost to reciprocate.

A family
During my summer in Detroit in 2007 I had worked with 2 brothers named Antoine and Deshawn. It happened that their younger sister, Sequoya, had been involved in our Youth-Works program. Sarah, who was in charge of the girls youth group, had been working with Sequoya. So in 2010 I began to join Sarah in visiting the home of these kids and their mom. It was so good to see them again after more than 3 years absence and the first night was hilarious. I looked up photos on my facebook of our team in 2007 and the next photo happened to be myself at a wedding wearing a kilt. This drew some extremely personal questions about what I wear with a kilt, which I dutifully refused to answer. We had quite a laugh about a number of subjects. The mother, Robin, does not have much of a filter for words. We stayed for nearly two hours. The next time we went we started to talk, for a short time, about some real issues that the family faced. Then the next time we talked in more detail about these. Soon we began to visit precisely because there was something we all needed to talk about. If you were to list serious issues that a family might face your list would probably be shorter than the list of issues that this family had encountered. I developed a very close relationship with Deshawn and I began to take him out for lunch now and again. 

An aside
There is a tendency of the devil to create cycles. Cycles where one sin breeds another and that one breeds another, until this sin returns to the original sin. Cycles where hopeless situations breed hopeless people. And we expect them too. But Christian hope is hope that the sun will rise. The devil plans to shut out this hope so that we remain in darkness, remain in the night. He is the thief that comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10a). Yet the Son rising is a game-changer. It defines Christians and it defines the battle we fight. For he lives and that life is the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. 

To return to last June
I sat in the Coney Island restaurant at 11am on Friday with Deshawn and with my arm in a sling 6 days after dislocating it. There was fibreglass in front of the cash register to prevent armed robberies, there were four men in a car in the parking lot smoking dope and I was definitely the only white kid in sight. Deshawn unloaded his most challenging stories, yet and I guess what I did was try to play the Dad. My cry went up to God. It was almost more than I could bear. Where were the comforts of home? Where were the simple pleasures I once enjoyed, and could I even go back to them after all this? The simple fact, however, was that I had the chance to be a man who stood by Deshawn shoulder to shoulder when no-one else was standing with him. We ate and then returned to the house to try and sort things out with his mom. This conversation turned into a shouting match, though and I left arranging to meet Deshawn next week, thoroughly unconvinced that I had been of any help. As I drove away I just pleaded with God to break the cycle that Deshawn was caught in and I asked, not for the first time that week, why I had to break my arm now. No answer.

I worked throughout the summer on our Street Team Leadership Program. I led one of the crews and after a few weeks of working, I think I understood something of God’s hand in it. Due to my dislocated arm, I physically couldn’t lead by example, which changed my style. Women came to drive for my crew, which pierced my pride. And I had to try writing with my left hand, which made me feel like I was 5 years old again. Yet there has been no other 6 weeks of my life where I have had more important conversations. I was able to be present to people and I became more observant of other people’s needs than I have ever been. God used me in ways I would never have forseen. The guys on my crew respected me and they talked to me about personal stuff in their lives. I wished I could have played basketball with them but this was how God had it, and if I hadn’t have dislocated my elbow then they would never have nicknamed me “Andycapped.” If it had just been for this, then it would have been enough for me, or it would have been more than I really deserved. But on Monday 25th July Ed Conlin played a song called “Purify My Heart” during our household morning prayer time. When Ed sings out in prayer, he often gets inspired to sing charismatically in the Spirit – singing in the gift of tongues and letting God form the words. I began to sing out the words “purify me heart, cleanse me from my sin, wash me from my iniquity.” I then realized I had slipped into singing the 51st psalm and so I picked up my psalm book and turned to it and sang it word for word. 

“Fill me with joy and gladness;
Let the bones which you have broken rejoice.”
  - Psalm 51:8
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I could barely contain shouting out “I knew it was you that broke it!” It was clear, the Lord had brought me back to him. The shepherd had carried me back to the flock. I pieced together the journey he had taken me on since the previous July when I had earnestly prayed this psalm. I began to notice all the places that the Lord spoke to me of being a shepherd (a prayer I wrote in 2005, Psalm 23, Isaiah 40:11, John 10:11, and a song one of my brothers wrote, the mosaic of the shepherd in my church that I loved, the painting in our living room in Detroit, and through Jaci’s story and my dislocated arm). The shepherd’s voice was undeniable in it all. I knew where I would find food, and because he took me back to Psalm 51 I knew that he had heard my prayers the previous summer. I knew I was forgiven. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.

So with one week left before I returned home, I stood amazed by the love the Father had shown me as he brought me back to himself. But the Lord wasn’t finished with me. 

Friday the 29th July
Josh, the director of Youth-Works Detroit, told a story from the second book of Samuel. The Philistines had taken Bethlehem and David was thirsty. “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem.” Three mighty men break through enemy lines just to get him this drink. David is in awe of their sacrifice and declares himself unworthy of it. As Josh talked, tears began to well up in my eyes. The last time I had heard this passage was one week before I had come to Detroit. My brother Steve had shared it as a sense for me just after a prayer time. With tears rolling down his face he told me that I was going to the city that Jesus loved. When I tried to read it over I couldn’t find the passage and so with the busy-ness of leaving for a year, the next time I heard it was at the end of my gap year. I realised that in that year I had fought behind enemy lines. I had stood in the middle of the devil’s cycles and Christ had been with me. 

That afternoon I got a call to say Deshawn was at our office looking for me. This was strange and I was troubled as to what it might mean. I went immediately and found him bruised and battered. Fighting within his family had reached its peak, and tensions had finally boiled over. We chatted and we prayed and we agreed that this was breaking point and he had to finally step up and be a man. He had to take responsibility now. And so Deshawn prayed “Jesus I’m broken and I need you to fix me, ‘cause I can’t do it.” A prayer from the heart: A plea to the Father he longed to know. I believe God always answers that prayer and in hindsight I believe I will see the fruit in Deshawn’s life. But at that moment I cried “Why God? Why now? Four days before I go home?” 

An answer
I couldn’t have dealt with this hurt until I had been healed. And the physical healing explained the inner healing God was working. God didn’t need me to fight for him in Detroit but he asked me to. And it was fighting behind enemy lines that showed me who was carrying me and where I would find food and that was what healed me. So when another wounded person cried out to God I could be there with him. We stood shoulder to shoulder. His cry – My cry. I think I will finish with an excerpt from something I wrote when I came home to Glasgow in August:

“The battle was never mine anyway. It was the Lord’s but he asked me to fight for him, and I did. And after the laughs and after the tears, it all came down to me standing before the Lord with a glass of water offering it back to him. Broken by what it had cost me. ‘Here it is Lord, it’s not much but it’s what you asked of me.’

“The Lord said ’Thank you.’”

Words of a man who loved me. Words of a man delighted to have me in his army. Words of a man who took nails for me. All I could think was “I’m not worthy to fight for you but you have placed me behind enemy lines and honored me. But all glory and honor is yours. What a privilege it was to fight for you. My King. My Captain. My Lord.

“You increased my faith and you spoke long of hope. But at the end, it was all to say this – I love you.

“My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Andy (center) with Deshawn (2nd from left) and his family - Antoine, Sequoya, 
their mom Robin, and Sarah Nilles.

> See related Kairos Media music video of Chris Parrish and Andy Jordan from Youthworks Detroit 
performing a song for the 2011 YES retreat.
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