Learning to Cross the Troost Avenue Bridge

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At Bear Creek UMC our mission work (called “God’s Hands”) focuses on three areas: Hunger, Homelessness, and “Intentional Encounters with the Other.”  One of our “intentional encounter” ministries has been led by Debby Heimfeld.  Every Thursday, Debby and a handful of volunteers from Bear Creek UMC (Barb Hageman, Vickie Orendorff, Beth Taylor, and Jan Becker) drive down to Tukwila to reach out resettled Afghan families who came to the US under a Special Immigrant Visa. (The husbands worked for the US as interpreters and were under serious threat if they stayed in Afghanistan.) Much of this year’s ministry has been teaching the women English, but as I have listened to our volunteer’s stories, the heart of this ministry has been a heartfelt attempt to build a bridge of understanding between our cultures. 

Unfortunately for me, because of Afghan culture, it is considered appropriate for only women to associate with other women outside the home. As I watched these volunteers pull into our church parking lot after a day of ministry, I must admit that I’ve had more than a twinge of jealousy in my heart.  I’m mission out on something cool!  As Beth Taylor put it: “going to Tukwila every Friday has put more meaning into my life than anything I’ve done in the church this year.  It has given me hope for a world I sometimes give up on.”  

(Just a note, this Fall this ministry will be going through some understandable changes. As Debby Heimfeld noted, “As with anything, going into unchartered territory we bring our schema - our assumptions of what is best based upon what we know from our world. It’s been humbling and challenging to learn the importance of gender roles, cultural, and familial expectations and we’ve had many surprises!”  If you interested in helping with ministry contact our Congregational Assistant, Daniel Walsh at support@bcumc.org and she’ll get you connected.)

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This October, I am encouraging all of us to join in a small group study based upon the book “Unafraid.” I’m very excited about this opportunity to focus together on what it means to live “unafraid” in a world that seems ruled by fear.  As I read this book, I am struck by the fact that the author believes that one of the main ways of overcoming our fear of the other is by starting a ministry of intentional encounter with them!  Hamilton, the author, points out two groups we need to reach out to: Muslims, and folks who live on the other side of what he calls “Troost Avenue.”  (Troost Ave is a street in Kansas City, that has been the symbolic divide between blacks and whites.  At one point in KC’s history, blacks were not legally able to live north of Troost Avenue!) Could it be that Tukwila is on the other side of that line for Woodinville?!

The book shares the amazing commitment of one of Adam Hamilton’s staff who, upon hearing the history of Troost Avenue, immediately sought out a house for his family “on the other side” of Troost Avenue.  Now that’s commitment!

As I contemplate this ministry of intention encounter, I’m wondering how we can include more of us in ministries like this?   Not all of us can travel to Tukwila on a Friday morning.  Not many of us can move to the “other” side of the tracks.  Are there ways we can incorporate this ministry of “intentional encounter” in our daily lives?

This week I’m in Wenatchee for a meeting, and as I headed out I remembered that Janelle, our new office manager, grew up in Wenatchee.  In fact, her parents, who were born in Mexico City, immigrated to Wenatchee when Janelle was a child.  (A cool fact: Janelle’s family were one of the first families to receive a house from Habitat from Humanity in Wenatchee.  Her family has paid that forward by helping many others with their Habitat for Humanity houses!)  As I was contemplating Bear Creek’s “intentional ministry” program, an idea came to my heart: “Why not invite Janelle’s family out to supper while I’m in Wenatchee!”   Two minutes later I was on the phone inviting them to dinner!   

Do you see how this ministry of “intentional encounter” can happen?  If each of us learn to take small steps across that “Troost Avenue” line who knows what might happen! 

So, some questions for you: Where is Troost Avenue for you?  Could you find simple ways to reach across that line with an open hand and heart? What’s one small step you can take with you and your family to walk over this line and extend a hand?

In the next couple of days, we are adding an Intention Encounters page to our website where we can post stories about our adventures.   I can’t wait to hear your stories and the changes these stories make in your life…in our life…as the Bear Creek UMC extends God’s table across the Troost Ave divide!  Thanks for leading the way Debby and friends!

Your friend and pastor, learning to cross that Troost Ave bridge, Brook  

Tim Schaaf