Included in the Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond, VA is the largest public housing project between Baltimore and Atlanta: Gilpin Court. Recently, as I was passing out flyers for a community event with my friend Tim Cole, executive director of STEP (one of our community partners) in Gilpin, I was in prayer. I was asking God to show me the TRUE Gilpin court–both the good and the bad.
I knew the stats: the average income of Gilpin is $7,000 per year. 97% percent of households are headed by single mothers. I knew the facts: the children know to lay on the floor when they hear gunshots. Kids grow up knowing violence. By the time they reach age 7, a vast majority have experienced some sort of trauma. Many experience symptoms of PTSD similar to Iraq War combat veterans. Many of the teens resort to selling drugs to support their families. Still, I prayed, “God show me the real Gilpin.”
As I walked from apartment to apartment the distinct smell of marijuana smoke lingered in the air. Beer cans, liquor bottles, and cigarette butts littered the ground and the stairways. Gang graffiti- 3 pointed crowns, 6 pointed stars and “Murda Gang” were tagged on a few buildings. Cars with bullet holes and broken-in windows were parked along the curb. On one street, both curbs were filled with men and women drinking and smoking.
And yet, I saw hope. Groups of kids gathered around 3 police officers mounted on horseback. I could hear them laughing and joking. It was a beautiful thing to see young boys having positive interactions with the police. Other youngsters were preparing for football practice. I saw freedom. A father was building sand castles and pushing his kids on the swings in the park while they smiled and giggled. STEP had just moved its offices into the Calhoun Community Center and they planned to continue there after school reading program, job skill training, and many other programs to empower and strengthen the community.
“Hope and freedom” – That’s what I kept hearing God say. “Freedom and hope.” Hope because of freedom and freedom because of hope. And both because of Jesus. Hope for a better future and the freedom to pursue it. Freedom from addiction and the hope to be free. Freedom from violence and gangs. Hope that a better way is possible. Hope that the bonds of oppression can and will be broken. Freedom from the old, deep wounds of racism, poverty, and injustice passed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years. Hope that poverty and its effects are not genetic and the next generation can rise up, against the odds, reach for more and find freedom.
That is the heart pumping in this body called CityReach Church Richmond. Hope and freedom. Hope that UNLIKELY people, in an OVERLOOKED place, can and WILL find the FREEDOM in JESUS to do EXTRAORDINARY things. We have hope and believe in the next
generation of this community. We will invest in and empower young people to hope for more and to fight for that hope. We will inspire leaders from within the community to rise up and declare hope and freedom for their peers.
And we will always go into these messy, overlooked places and choose to see the good. We will search for and find THE ONE who is far from God. We will point a community filled with hopelessness to the Author of Hope, one precious soul at a time. We will declare with boldness that freedom–both physical and spiritual–is coming and hope is possible. Gilpin Court, there is beauty coming in exchange for your ashes.
GOOD THINGS COME FROM GILPIN COURT. GOOD THINGS ARE COMING TO GILPIN COURT. HOPE AND FREEDOM. FREEDOM AND HOPE.