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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why I'm Living in Durham & Other Ways God is Funny

I wrote this on Thursday, August 2. It sounds a little bit more dramatic than it actually was. Looking back on it now, the situation was undeniably unnerving, but in a way it was also comical. I mean this was my first day in Durham. God most definitely has a sense of humor in drilling things into my stubborn, measly brain. 

Today is my first official day living in Durham. As I write this, I’m sitting on my floor trapped inside my house because I can’t leave. Nor can my roommates come. Why, you ask? Oh, ya know, just because there’s a police blockade and they’re trying to get a criminal peacefully out of his house, which is 4 or 5 houses down from mine. I have repeatedly heard them on the bullhorn: “This is the police. Please come out of your house unarmed with your hands up. We are not leaving.”
I don’t tell you this to get sympathy votes or to share a “cool” story, I tell you this to explain the context in which I’m living. For the next two-ish years, I’m living in North East Central Durham – a part of Durham that’s not exactly the most “safe.”
So, why in the world did I put myself here? Great question. One I’m kind of asking myself right about now if I’m honest. Then I remember what God’s been teaching me the past year.
Last summer I did a two-month discipleship program with my church called The City Project. It consisted of three portions: a domestic mission trip to NYC, 5ish weeks in Durham, and an international mission trip. Long story short, my least favorite part was the time I spent in North East Central Durham (NECD). I had no clue how to engage people in an urban and under resourced context. The more time I spent there, the more agitated and overwhelmed I became. I quickly realized spending five hours with kids two days a week wasn’t going to engage or more importantly change the cycle of violence and hopelessness they lived in.
Growing up, I thought people who lived in areas like NECD just needed to get off welfare and do something. Ya know, take some pride in themselves rather than taking from taxpayers’ pockets. Last summer, through the help of some people a heck of a lot wiser than myself, I realized that all those systematic problems were just symptoms of a greater issue: spiritual brokenness.
The people in NECD don’t need to get jobs and get off welfare (although I’m not knockin’ that); they need to encounter something much more powerful than government agencies or presidential edicts – they need to encounter Jesus.
So why am I living in NECD? To live out the gospel and, broken as I am, hopefully help people encounter Jesus. He isn’t some mysterious ghost floating around to be captured. He is alive and powerful and working in Durham. He was at work before we got here. Now, as a team of 16, we are meeting Jesus in NECD and partaking and helping in what is already happening here.
Sure, there are lots of reasons not to live here (jobs, safety, having to commute to school, and the list goes on…), but that’s kind of the point. It’s not comfortable or socially acceptable, but then again neither is the gospel. Jesus coming down from his throne in heaven wasn’t at all comfortable, but he graciously did it, taking the form of a servant, dying on the cross for our sins, and victoriously rising from the dead, thus proving his divinity.
God has been teaching me lots about true provision and safety, especially today, and I look forward to how he’s going to work in the coming years in my own heart and in our community. I’m not coming from a suburban context to an urban one because I lots to offer or because I’m trying to “fix” something. I’m living in NECD to be an organic part of the community and, by God’s grace, live out the gospel.


  1. Great post. We are excited for what GoUrban can do to join what God is already doing in NECD. - Jen THompson

    1. Thanks, Jen! We are excited too!

  2. When I met John his Granny lived in that part of Durham. We were always very cautious as we drove those streets with our small kiddos. It was not uncommon to see prostitutes and drug exchanges right out in the open. I always struggle when I pray for safety for my children b/c I also want them to be used and sometimes those two ideas do battle. I will pray for your protection Liz. I am so proud of your decision to be obedient to God's calling.

  3. This is awesome, Liz. As dangerous of a prayer it is, I'm praying God will use you phenomenally!