I grew up in one of the poorest cities in the US. Poverty rate is 43.1%. Roughly one out of every 2.3 residents lives in poverty.
I lived there like a miniature warrior, without fear, focused on fun and forever play. Mom and dad helped me by keeping me busy and distracted from any hardships. My magical neighborhood also helped.
My neighborhood was an enclave of caring parents hosting spare children with ease They imposed rules we respected and dared not cross.
Neighborhood parents were a solid coalition of safety.
So… we played!
We ran under the stars trying to “Kick the Can.” We raced bikes with wild abandon on circle roads.
We gathered in grandma’s field for fierce games of ball. – Hits over the fence (hopefully not hitting the neighbor’s windows) were automatic home runs.
We built forts in the woods. We lobbed crabapple bombs at each other.
We never thought we were deprived.
We were too busy and distracted.
We lived a magical life in our neighborhood.
We grew up there and then, without warning…we all went away.
My parents stayed. The neighborhood changed around them.
A friend once told me my parents are probably the most uncelebrated champions of racial harmony. Other parents fled our changing community. Young folks left for big cities with big dreams.
My parents stayed in a changing neighborhood where they quickly became a beloved minority.
Mom and dad continued neighborly kindness and outdoor conversations. They helped cut grass for those who struggled. They delivered cookies to doorways. They shared flowers from their garden.
New neighbors moved in, some homes were abandoned, but our two homes, my grandparents’ and mine, remained neat and inviting, standing side-by-side with trim lawn and tree-lined backdrop.
For many years, long after their rambunctious children went away, mom and dad hosted reunions. I came back and was married under the big tree shading my grandma’s home.
Then I, too, faded away from my neighborhood.
Daddy followed me in leaving, only his destination was heavenly. He passed into that heavenly place from a bed parked by the window overlooking the long-unused baseball field.
Mama had to leave the neighborhood a few years later. Two homes were too much for a lady in her eighties.
We held an auction to sell the homes. The dismantling and moving of memories was a long hard process. I worked and worked long into the night before the auction.
That night I lay face down in the hallway of the home I loved. The burden of a specific prayer pulled me to the floor. I had a big order for God…a notion which struck me suddenly (as God stuff often does). I prayed fervently for the future of my childhood place.
“God make this a home to missionaries,” I asked through tears,
“Make this a place for a family who cares.”
The day of the auction…God sent missionaries. The missionaries bought both of the homes. Their family moved into what they called our “Anne of Green Gables House.” The little home next door would serve as a base for their ministry.
God is so very good to me.
Last Sunday I went back to my magical neighborhood after almost a year. It was a sweet reunion.
The missionaries and I stood in the yard under my childhood trees. They told me children come from all over to this home to play.
Children bounce balls in a basketball court, run across the grass and find a safe haven there.
I’m filled with joy.
My neighborhood hasn’t changed much.
Little pockets of hope are growing in my old home, thanks to God.
Kids are too busy playing in my yard to notice what they don’t have.
They’re growing up like me…distracted by the magic of the love of a neighborhood…a love inspired by God.
In one of the poorest communities in the country, kids, like me, still play.
That’s a God thing and I am so grateful.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
– Romans 8:28
❤️ If you’d like to help missionaries in my home town, check out the website http://www.cacesl.org or search East St. Louis Christian Activity Center…another place of hope in a special neighborhood. ❤️