In the fall of 2013, I moved into a predominantly African American neighborhood in Rochester, NY. I had just gotten divorced and moved there with my two boys (ages 7 and 9). The following spring we were inundated with teenage boys who started playing basketball in our driveway. Not knowing how to stop them from coming when we weren’t around, I decided to get to know them. “Tell me your life story,” was my request. And they did. This led to shared meals, card games, cookie baking, applesauce making, Christmas dinner together, and even five of these teenage boys dressing up as shepherds and wise men for our church’s Christmas Eve service.
By spring of 2016, I was tired. The neighborhood was beginning to wear on me and my children. Our house had been broken into several times. My younger son was scared of the neighborhood and wanted to move. Gun violence had come too close for comfort. The loud music, the fights, the drugs, and the large groups of guys hanging out in front of our house were too much. One evening, I was sitting in the living room as chaos erupted outside. I decided I was done. I don’t have to do this anymore, I told myself. In fact, I can’t do this another year. I started looking for a house in the suburbs.
Right around this time, I began the Forge residency. Our learnings, action prompts, and journaling prompts were about context. I was challenged to consider that perhaps God had brought us to our neighborhood for a purpose; that it wasn’t a coincidence or simply because of cheap housing that we were here. The relationships I had been building for years mattered. I began again to look for simple opportunities to connect with people. I bought chairs for my front porch, instead of sitting out back all the time. Also, instead of hurrying inside after my daily runs, I stopped to talk with the neighbors.
Forge challenged me and equipped me to just demonstrate and proclaim the reign of God in my little neighborhood with those I was rubbing shoulders with. The Forge Residency also helped me to connect my actions with my faith when asked why I was doing certain things like - letting teenagers in my house, or helping someone move, making birthday cakes for the neighborhood kids. Through Forge I found language that felt sincere. For example, when I started sharing my car with my neighbor so she could get her grandson to school every day, I told her, “Life isn’t supposed to be hard for some and easy for others. There shouldn’t be barriers for your grandson to get to school. That’s not the world that God desires. Sharing my car is one tiny way to try to set things right.”
Forge gave me renewed passion for my neighborhood. Even though it’s hard at times, I have been profoundly changed by the relationships and experiences I’ve had here. Just as much as I want to bring value to the community, the community has also brought so much value to me. I will press on. Who knows what God will do next!
- Chrissie Walls, Rochester, NY