One of the things that many people dread, myself included, is going into the community and randomly talking to people, especially about Jesus. So, we have started going into the community and mostly listening, and talking about what is going on in the community, and sometimes talking about Jesus.
We are located in Richfield, a first-tier suburb of Minneapolis. At the end of this post you can read some demographic data about Richfield that I put together for a paper I wrote a little over a year ago during my last year of Seminary.
We have gone into our community in many different ways and we continue to experiment with this. We have spoken with school and government officials–me individually and with people from Tapestry. We have asked how they view Richfield in terms of what is going well and what some of the challenges are. We have asked them how we might partner with our community. Even when the conversations started out with some hesitancy and doubt, we have been able to ease apprehensions about our mission and who we are.
I have hired, very part-time, a Mexican woman who has a lot of experience with community organizing and who knows this community well. Last week and yesterday, we decided to take some lemonade and cookies and go to bus stop shelters, and then a nearby corner near an apartment complex where we noticed a lot of people pass by, and talk with people. I have to say, it has actually been fun. Yes, you read that correctly–fun!
So far, some people have politely declined our offer of lemonade and cookies, but surprisingly, most people have stopped and engaged in conversation with us. We have met people who have just moved into the neighborhood and people who have lived here a few years. Here are some other things we have heard:
- One young lady we met attends Normandale Community College (http://www.normandale.edu/) and has become much more competent with Math because of a very support instructor. This same young lady said she was bullied in high school because she was different (part of her hair was purple and red) and because she wasn’t athletic. She was very happy to talk with us at the bus stop. Go figure.
- Another gentleman was just passing by. Sometimes I’m like the dentist and I asked a question just as he was biting into his cookie. He told us he was going to visit his mother who is not very happy about living and being cared for in a facility nearby.
- We learned from another young woman that she only goes to church on Easter and that her mom makes her feel guilty about that. (We also learned about good cell phone plans).
- We spoke with a woman who lives in Richfield but attends a latin@ “Christian” church (“Christian” as opposed to “Catholic” in Spanish–often refers to Pentecostal or Evangelical churches) in Minneapolis that has grown so much they have had to add a service. The biggest problem she has seen in the complex where she lives is the selling and consuming of drugs. She was surprised that a pastor would actually be the one to go into the community and talk to the people and, as she said, “look for souls because people need Christ in their lives even if they don’t know it.” She thought usually pastors are so busy inside their offices in their churches that they don’t have time to be outside the church walls and into community. Pastors, is this true of us?
We learned much by speaking with our neighbors. I learned that once I get over the initial trepidation of going out into the community with the goal of listening and meeting people, they often open up about things that are really important to them. I learned that they wonder, too, about this white woman pastor who goes out into the community and listens to people. Hopefully we are starting conversations that can continue in some way. The more we can be out in our neighborhood, the more we will get to know each other. The more we get to know each other, the more stories we will hear. The more stories we hear, the stronger our relationships will be. I believe God is at work in this, and it’s scary and it’s exciting and, yes, it’s fun!
Demographics: Richfield is a first-tier suburb located just south of Minneapolis. It is one of the more diverse cities in the State of Minnesota. Though Minnesota as a whole reports a White population composing 86% of the total, Richfield, with a population of 35,375, reports approximately 73% white, according to 2010 census data. Also, while Hispanics/Latinos compose 4.6% of the population of the State of Minnesota, Hispanics/Latinos make up more than 18% of Richfield’s total population. There is a mix of residential homes, most built in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as senior housing, rental units and businesses. Best Buy is the largest employer in Richfield though there are many businesses in the city, such as at the shops at The Hub and the Shops at Lyndale. The school system has also acknowledged the diversity of its population and the significant number of Hispanic/Latinos in the community. Richfield Dual Language School opened in 2007 and teaches classes in English and Spanish to elementary students so they will be bilingual and bicultural. This type of program recognizes the value of being literate in both the native and the second (or more) language as well as the fact that there are so many children in this community who speak Spanish in their homes. This is the first suburban Dual language immersion school in Minnesota.
 I will address these terms in a future post.
 American Fact Finder. US Census Bureau. Accessed 12/7/2013. http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml#none