I have lived in Houston for about three years now, and it has become home to me. I am in love with the myriad of cultures that live here. They stand out in the various neighborhoods that are somehow pushed together in a way that creates unlikely neighbors out of people from all over the world. I am still enchanted when, even from the outside, I get to watch people celebrating in ways that are different from my own experiences.
Houston is also a significant place in my journey of knowing Yahweh. God has used this place and the people here to teach me to grieve the losses I have accumulated throughout my life. I accepted Jesus and His righteousness into my life at a young age. I learned about discipleship and good works when I was in high school. In Houston, I have been learning about what it means for me to be known by God and to have been created in his image. I also have been learning about shalom, which translates to the wholeness or peace of God.
Shalom is ultimately God’s plan for the world and for individuals. He wants us, through Jesus, to be made whole with community with Him and with each other. When I moved to Houston, I started praying into this vision for my life. However, I quickly realized the multitude of forces that work in opposition to shalom. Bringing justice to these dark places is the goal of Houston Week.
For this reason, I think that understanding the importance of shalom is crucial if we as workmen are to understand our role in Houston week. Justice is a spiritual endeavor, but sometimes it can seem like the acts of service that make up the week are far removed from the spiritual world.
During Houston Week 2017, three areas of brokenness were tackled. To combat generational poverty, one team spent the week hosting various events in the fifth ward, including a block party for families and activities for kids all week. They also did service projects like building a ramp and painting a community center.
Another team spent the week working to establish a presence in a refugee community. They played with kids all week and organized furniture in a warehouse.
I worked with a team that spent the week at Kendleton Farms, a future aftercare facility for survivors of sex trafficking. I spent most of my time doing yard work, but others did a lot of painting, decorating and cleaning.
I think that sometimes we fall prey to the lie that doing ministry work has to look like praying with strangers and vocalizing the Gospel. These endeavors are important. I am not arguing against that.
The point that I want to make is that serving the marginalized and the oppressed might look like preparing a place for them. It might look like never meeting them, but painting their future home. It might look like playing with their children or building them a ramp. Let me be clear – that these tasks are not spiritual in nature is fundamentally untrue. As I worked at the farm during Houston Week, our leaders constantly implored us to pray over the land that we touched. We prayed for the women that might eventually live there, for their children and for their futures. We declared in the name of Jesus that spirits of evil would not make a home there. The work of our hands was dedicated to the Lord.
In turn, I experienced God during Houston Week. During worship and prayer, He showed me some things about myself. To be honest, most of what He made me realize, I did not want to hear. But I am learning to believe that he will withhold no good thing from me (Psalm 84:11).
If I were to summarize what I learned from Houston Week, I would say this – Seeking God sometimes looks like silently getting your hands dirty, and sometimes the best way to walk in freedom is to serve joyfully. I believe that God is faithful to speak if we are faithful to listen and obey.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3
Rebekah Richardson is a student involved with the BSM at the University of Houston.