“If I could find my way back home, where would I go?” – Ryan Adams
I often lose myself in the lyrics of my favorite musicians. I suppose connecting with the artist makes me feel less alone. About four months ago, I arrived back in Omaha after going on an epic month vacation to with my father that landed us in Alaska followed by spending five months in Kampala, Uganda on a missions trip . It’s fair to say that that returning to Omaha has some of the loneliest and most difficult months of my adult life. I found myself clinging to the likes of Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago”, Elliot Smith’s “From a Basement on a Hill”, and Ryan Adam’s “29” upon returning from Uganda. I think enjoying any of those albums should be part of the DSM-IV’s criteria for determining if you are clinically depressed. Ha.
In the past ten years of my life, I’ve lived in 11 different places. Staying somewhere between 1 month and 1.5 years in each of the 11 different places I lived, I’ve found my life most stabilized by the relationships that I form along the way.
So, you think with all experience I have moving around, I’d adjust well coming back to Omaha from Uganda. Not so much. As I mentioned before, returning to Omaha was incredibly painful. After five amazing months of ministry with street children in Kampala, I found myself lost in Omaha. Lost without a home church. And lost without a permanent place to live (living back at mother’s house isn’t the most ideal option for a 24 year old with a brother and sister in high school). I was grieving so much loss from my time in Uganda. I remember asking my friends in Uganda to pray for me upon my return to The States for two specific things: 1) A place to live when I get back, 2) Find a church that I really want to be a part of.
I should know after six years of being a follower of Christ, that God can and does exceed my expectations. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” So, I shouldn’t be wildly surprised that my prayer was answered when I found myself get connected to Simple Free Church and along with that find a place to live (Andy’s 6 plex mentioned in previous blog posts) in the neighborhood that Simple Free is focused in. Yet, I was still blown away by God’s faithfulness.
God had answered my prayers! And He did it so wonderfully, He combined both of my requests with one major answer. I’ve only lived in the 6 plex at the corner of Park Ave of Leavenworth for about a month and I have attended Simple Free for a couple months, so I’m just getting my feet wet with this new community. The ABOUT SIMPLE FREE section states, “Our goal is to give most of what our people Tithe to those in need– focusing on the widows and fatherless and disabled and poor in our neighborhood.” and “We want to provide accountability to each other to walk the talk, and to be involved in others lives and to also maintain a healthy personal spiritual life.” I’m thrilled to be around a group of fellow believers who are intentionally living and loving the Park Ave and Gifford Park neighborhoods who are also concerned about my spiritual life.
Finding purpose upon returning to Omaha was so necessary for me. I find enjoyment in my job as a social worker in Omaha, working with kids with mental health issues and behavior problems, but I’ve also found myself connected to the Body of Christ here in Park Ave and Gifford Park. I grew up in Millard/West Omaha/Gretna, so living in the Park Ave neighborhood is quite different for me (even though I have lived in Bamako, Mali and Kampala, Uganda). I’ve spent my first month living here absorbing the dynamics of my new neighborhood. Being white, I’ve found myself in the minority of a mostly Hispanic neighborhood. A humbling experience for me. I’ve also seen prostitutes walking down my street and the exotic dancers walking into the next door strip club to my apartment. Park Ave is well known for its drug deals as well as one client of mine at work dubbed it “crack heaven”. And the other night, I saw a man passed out across the street from my apartment. To be fair, there’s a lot of beauty in this neighborhood as well as I’ve seen the smiles of children playing soccer in the alley behind my home and really come to appreciate walking over to Avanza (a Hispanic grocery store) and hearing Mexican tunes on the speakers as I shop for my groceries.
I’m confident God is at work here and I’m confident that there is real redemption taking place though Jesus in my new community. It’s really a joy to join Simple Free Church (and come alongside established groups such the PAC House or Renew Omaha) to love this neighborhood. I’ve begun the steps of considering if God is calling me to long term ministry in Kampala, Uganda as my heart seems more at home there than anywhere I’ve lived. But, I also know God has me right at home here on Park Ave. Loving Jesus and loving others is what I desire to do, wherever I live. And for the year(s) ahead, I look forward to see what God has in store for this neighborhood and what little part I can play in it.