I have been picking up trash from the same block for two years with the same small group of people. We have seen volunteers come and go, been shaken by a pandemic, and pulled wet and dissolving garbage from street curbs every week for over two years.
Yet, when we show up, we smile. We have become regulars on this little block. Every city has a block just like it- a place where people caution you against living and talk about it as simply a problem to be solved. A place surrounded by empty talk, a place where people don’t stay, a place where people rarely linger.
This is the place where I have been called to. The people I do this work with know what it’s like to come from overlooked places. We have all come from places where we have been dismissed, overlooked, or written off. God saw us. We choose to see others in the same way. When your life has been radically altered by the appearance of grace, you don’t underestimate the presence of God in the little things.
There are days we wonder if it’s making a difference at all, when the needs feel too overwhelming, and the action seems too small. Does it even matter? Does anyone even care?
On those days we remind ourselves that for communities like these, establishing trust is paramount. Our consistency is doing something. It’s showing we are dependable. We don’t get to make claims on people’s time or attention without first giving of ourselves. We are taking the time to get to know both the community and the need, and to become a part of it. As we get to know them, they also get to know us.
There have been many people who have attempted to come in and play hero, only to walk away dejected when the people have no interest in being saved. The world does not become an easier place just because you have decided to change it. While the needs are pressing, it’s not just the way we help, but how we help that means everything.
We swing low in humility in the ways we show up and serve, knowing that the places we bend low are the places where God loves to show up. After all, He is the God who swung low into humanity, who became like us in order to save us.
We show up hoping that our small, insignificant actions might be a glimpse of God’s heart, knowing that God’s heart is a place where purpose prevails, where dignity is affirmed, where brokenness is restored.
If seeing trash everyday on their lawn and in their streets is a testament to how little others care, will picking it up show them how much God does? If people write off this part of town as a problem, but we instead speak into its potential, will they hear the way God speaks over them? If others treat this street as a place to avoid, will our showing up remind them that God is present.
You see, our dreams for our community are numerous, but the process is showing up one week after another. Embedded deep in the grit of the perseverance it takes to keep going, I find the grace of what it means to love. It comes in the slow work of being present. This is the unglamorous, hard work of creating change.
Today we are simply picking up trash, but we see the glory breakthrough in small ways. In the thank yous that are thrown out as people walk to their cars in the morning, in the names we are learning as we show up week after week, in the people we are praying over, and in the conversations we have. They are everyday conversations where they tell us about their children, their pets, what happened the day before when we weren’t there, and sometimes about the churches they went to and the new ones they are looking for. God is present in this community.
Right now, it might look small. Right now, we might long to help in bigger ways and make a bigger impact, so we can see them grab hold of everything that God has made available to them. We long to see our city restored one community at a time.
We know when communities are restored people get the resources they need in order to thrive. Whether it’s their practical resources like access to fresh fruits and vegetables or rental assistance to help them pay their rent, or deeper spiritual resources, like a sense of community or a connection to deep purpose, when people have what they need, they are able to live more fulfilled, joyful lives. These are simple things that are available and would make the most difference, but also the things they don’t have yet.
We know it’s possible, but it also seems so far away. That longing often fills me with a sense of frustration. Why does no one seem to care, God? Why do people so often choose to quit and judge rather than participate in the work of restoration? This frustration drives me to my knees as I cry out for God’s help, yet it also drives me to keep showing up.
Yes, our hearts ache to make a bigger impact, and we know that one day we will. Until that time, we continue to work in these small, seemingly insignificant days, keeping our eyes fixed on all that God can do. We might doubt, is it possible for love to break through? We don’t always know, but we will keep showing up in the meantime.
Jazmine White was born and raised in the Bay Area to a Sicilian Immigrant mother and African American father. She has spent the last eight years volunteering in her local church and working in non profit. Her passion is to see people in her community thrive, and to enjoy good books, good food, and the company of good people along the way.
This entry is part of our blog series, “Longing: Advent for Faithful Activists”. Advent, which means “coming”, is a season where we acknowledge that things are not as they should be. We are promised that this beautiful creation of which we are a part of will be restored. In the meantime, there is the chaos we experience. It reminds us that God’s Kingdom is now but not yet. Chasing Justice will be guiding our community through this Advent season with the following weekly resources:
- Sunday Instagram Lives inviting us into the week’s themes and lighting of the candle.
- Five-day weekly devotionals exclusive to Patreon with reflections, practices, and songs.
- Instagram posts for sharing your journey with friends.
- Guest blogs by BIPOC authors who will guide us as faithful activists.
The views and opinions expressed on the Chasing Justice Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chasing Justice. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.