Friday, July 31, 2015

The Art expressing the Heart of Detroit

During our trip we were blessed with visits to some wonderful art in Detroit.  Our first full day we went on a prayer tour through the city.   In the downtown area there are two great sculptures.
First is "The Spirit of Detroit" a seated figure with both hands lifted up.  In one hand is a family group (families are the heart of Detroit) and in the other hand a globe with rays representing the Spirit of God.  Behind the figure is a quote from the Bible:

It includes the seals of the city and the county. A plaque in front of the sculpture bears the inscription, "The artist expresses the concept that God, through the spirit of man is manifested in the family, the noblest human relationship."

The statue's message of God and family were bitter sweet considering that Detroit and its neighbor Flint are the #6 & #5 cities with the most single parent households at over 61%.  All around Detroit we saw boarded up churches with broken stained glass.  Please pray for the families and the churches of Detroit.

The Underground Railroad that brought escaped slaves from the South to freedom often ended their journey in Detroit where it was a short trip across the river to Canada.  This statue on the riverside shows slaves who have made their long journey and are about to cross over.  Some are looking back for the families and friends they left behind in bondage.  Most are looking forward to freedom and a new life - but not in America but a whole other country.  Detroit is 80% African American yet racism is still an ongoing problem.  Pray that we might live up to our ideals as Americans being "land of the free" where we believe "all people are created equal".  

8 Mile Road is just at the city limits of Detroit.  There, like all of Detroit, neighborhoods are very divided between the very poor, the not so bad, and the good blocks.  Sometimes these blocks are side by side and yet the division is obvious even to Iowans.  In the 8 mile neighborhood the city actually built a wall between the worse (black) and the better (white) neighbors.  Called the 8 Mile Wailing Wall, it was built in 1940  it is one foot thick, six feet high and at one time was half a mile long.  in 2006 a group of activists and neighbors came together to paint the wall with images of hope and togetherness.   On the "good" side of the wall is a nice park where we ate our lunch and got to play as well as examine the wall.  It was very touching.  

Pray for Detroits neighborhoods, that residents may see each other as true neighbors and care for one another as Jesus tells us.

The Heidelberg Project
On our last day in Detroit we stopped to walk the two city blocks of art created by students and neighbors and artist Tyree Guyton.   Tyree began to create the art in 1986  as a personal war against the deterioration and blight of his neighborhood.   The space is a place for students to learn about and practice art.  The art is all recycled materials and is also political commentary on the struggle of the community and the city, and the country.  We spent time observing the art and discussing what we saw and how it made us feel.  Kiaya said the art reminded her of "Alice in Wonderland" and that was a good comparison.  At first glance the art is fun and bright and happy.  But then you start to see the sadness, anger and frustration behind the colors.  Its an amazing place, read more about it here.
Pray for joy and faith in the people of Detroit, in the midst of the storm.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CDC: Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corp

Most days we spent half of our days working for the CDC: Central Detroit Christian Community Dev. Corp.   a non-profit, faith-based organization that is bettering Detroit through several innovative projects.  The main project we worked for were the urban gardens connected to the CDC store Peaches n Greens.  Detroit is a food desert - meaning most people do not have access to fresh, healthy foods.  Most people shop for groceries from gas stations and liquor stores (not healthy or fresh food!).
So the CDC has gardens where produce is raised and a store where those foods and packaged food basics can be purchased.  The employees are local residents bringing jobs to the area.  And the gardens become outdoor classroom for kids who come and learn about gardening and raising food.

The Gardens fill places where abandoned homes used to be, filling empty space with usefulness and hope.  We met many wonderful people who were passing  by and admiring the gardens and started up conversations with us.  We met two brothers who were putting in some time at the garden with us.  The younger was always caring for the older as they weeded and watered and picked together.  Their devotion to each other and to the gardens was a sign of Jesus at work!

We did a lot of stuff that was familiar to Iowa kids: weeding, planting, picking, weeding, weeding and weeding.  But it was the place and the purpose that made it unique.  The neighborhoods were rough, nice homes next to boarded up houses and empty lots. 

Also attached to the farm is a fishery where they are farming tilapia to sell.  Coming from the Iowa Great Lakes we have seen fish, but not this kind of fish production.  It was a great learning experience.  

I hope you will join me in praying for the work of the CDC, their staff especially Anthony who worked with us a lot.  And for the neighborhoods they serve.  Read more about urban gardening in Detroit here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Detroit . . . Where God's at work

When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”  -- Mark 2: 7

Why go to Detroit?  Because its the US city with the worst reputation for need and crisis right now in our history.  Detroit is in need, and as the people of God we are called to meet the need.

So the situation in Detroit: 
The population, which peaked at 1.85 million in 1950, has declined to about 700,000, according to U.S. Census data. 
Manufacturing jobs have fallen from about 296,000 in 1950 to fewer than 27,000 in 2011.
Approx 78,000 houses are abandoned. The city is bankrupt so city services like police, firefighters, and ambulances are cut to the minimum.  

We worked with the Center for Student Missions  a group that sets up mission trips for youth groups in major cities all over the USA.  CSM provided a home in a local neighborhood and a host, Maggie, who organized our stay and guided us all through the week.   Our temporary home was two- bedroom/one bathroom on a nice block in a struggling neighborhood just off of Gratiot street.   There were 9 of us, but groups of 28 had stayed in the house before us!
The days generally went like this:
  • Up at 8, breakfast of cereal & pack lunch
  • Morning devotions
  • First worksite of the day
  • picnic lunch at a city park
  • Second worksite of the day
  • dinner  at an ethnic, family-owned restaurant
  • back home for evening review and devotions
  • hang out with neighbors until bedtime

One thing that we did every night (that all of us can do wherever we travel) is eating at family-owned restaurants.  To expand our experience, we ate ethnic food by recent immigrants.  We had:
  • El Salvadorian pupusas (pouches of cheese and meat) and fried plantains
  • Thai pad thai
  • dal (lentil sauce) naan (flat bread) and biriyani (rice) from Bangladesh
  • authentic tacos & tortes from Mexico in Mexicotown

I was so proud of the kids, everyone tried the food and didn't complain.  They mostly liked everything, but some more than others.   It was a great learning experience for us and a way to support family businesses.   And family-owned businesses are the future of Detroit - there may never be one industry that swoops in and "saves" Detroit with a ton of jobs.  But small businesses opened one at a time over the years will create new jobs and build community.
more to come. . . .