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I have lived in Washington DC for nearly 17 years. In a town where others who share my ethnic and socio-economic background come to build their careers staying 2-4 years, my tenure is nothing short of unusual. Some would even say it's counter-cultural.
So why do I stay? In short, it is because of my commitment to my church family, their commitment to me, and our collective commitment to our city. I am a part of Grace DC, a church with a vision for loving the city of Washington. We are striving to serve the city in tangible ways, extending God's grace and mercy, believing He can transform lives.
For some friends and I, this mission led us to volunteer at one of the local nursing homes. Stoddard Nursing Home is home to elderly and sometimes ailing black seniors, most African Americans and a few Jamaicans. Our times at Stodard have included visiting with residents, playing bingo, doing crafts, painting nails, and singing.
On one visit, we provided entertainment by singing hymns for the residents. In our clear young voices, we sang songs like "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" and "Trust and Obey" in our measured Presbyterian style. They listened politely, quietly nodding their heads. When we were done, I gave a short speech about how much we enjoyed coming and, thinking how our singing must have really lifted their spirits, that we'd be glad to prepare more songs for next time.
"I love to praise His name," said Esther, one of the liveliest ladies.
Assuming she was merely making a statement, I smiled and responded, "So do we." At which point Esther busted out in a loud vibrant alto voice the gospel tune "I Love to Praise His Name." Her fellow residents joined in with a resounding chorus "I LOVE TO PRAISE HIS HOLY NAME!" They came alive, clapping their hands, pounding their feet, singing with exuberance, showing more fire than those 40 years their juniors.
My friends and I were astonished and embarrassed. We were facing the cultural divide between ourselves and those we were serving. We began to understand how little we had actually entered into their world, understood their needs and their culture. Having not even left the city limits, it was an important yet surprising lesson. We were better served by our elderly friends that day than they were served by us.
I am learning that mission really does start at my doorstep and continues to the ends of the earth. Loving my neighbor begins at home, and even there it can be a cross-cultural experience!