April 2012 - Vol. 59
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.
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.
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.
To return to last
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;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
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?”
“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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