On September 7, 2016, Diane and I moved into Room 36 at the Ranger Motel, one of the 25ish ratty motels lining East Colfax Avenue. No doubt, the craziest venture of our lives; and, one of the most beautiful. Diane triggered the idea. We knew Jesus was calling us to invest our next ministry chapter amid the brokenness of East Colfax, especially among the homeless and motel-dwellers.
For us, driving in from the burbs to pastor among the poor seemed too distant, too disconnected, maybe even wrong.House-hunting led to dead-ends. Ironically, we were too poor to live among the poor! One day Diane casually mentioned, “Maybe we should move into the motels for a year. We would be in the middle of our people.” Kiddingly, she added, “You could even write a book about it to generate income.” Move into a motel? Crazy! Live in the middle of drugs, prostitution, poverty, mental illness, addiction and filth? Who in their right mind with a real choice would do that? Most here are desperate to get out.
Crazy, yes, but sometimes following Jesus is crazy. Diane’s casual comment was a thunderbolt from Jesus, one that steered us to where I now sit and write. Closing my eyes, I remember the first few days—I was extremely sick with “The Motel Flu.” We weren’t sure we could make living here work; it was that bad. We cleaned and scrubbed, but it wasn’t until we replaced the carpet and painted (4 months in) that the two of us start feeling healthy.There were other adjustments—the constant sounds of sirens, the sea of brokenness, craziness and despair all around, the fighting, the noise, the filth. We’d been seeing this already in our motel work, but now it was 24/7. So different than our peaceful home in the same city, but worlds apart.
After a year here, with so many stories, memories and lessons, one thing stands out:We love where we live and are crystal clear that this crazy idea was and is Jesus’ best for us. Why? Because living here we are close to our people, our friends, the flock Jesus has given us. As best we can, we share their life, loving and being loved by them. That crazy decision became a doorway to great relational beauty. Next week I will tell you more about our year here, but for today, I want to underscore a great truth about Jesus, a truth that made possible all we receive from Him.
Jesus Himself moved into a crappy neighborhood. John says, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The phrase literally means He “pitched His tent among us.” Isn’t that fabulous? Jesus left the beauty of heaven to come camping on earth. He chose a back-water place to start a 33 year camping trip and an obscure village to grow up in. At times, He camped among the normal, perhaps even the powerful. But often He pitched His tent among the poorest of the poor.It’s crazy. Who in their right mind would make those choices? Well, Jesus did. Why? To be with His people, crazy choices birthing beautiful love for each of us.
More fully than ever, Diane and I know this truth: It is hard, maybe even impossible, to love well from a distance. Love works best up close, seeing people’s faces, rubbing shoulders with them, hearing their stories, loving them as they are, becoming friends. Jesus lived that truth.We are not Jesus. We come here flawed, sinful and broken, but in our own way we try to walk the road Jesus walked. We all need to do the same. Be clear where Jesus has called you! Pitch your tent there and get to work loving your neighbors.
For us, our tent is pitched at the Ranger, Room 36, smack in the middle of the motels we work in. Don’t overestimate what we are doing—we are here about 2/3’s of the time. We still go back some to our home in the burbs. We want to enjoy our active family life in SE Aurora. Time away allows us to stay healthy enough to keep serving our flock. But Room 36, our camping spot on East Colfax, has also become our home. Next week I will tell you more about our year here. But for now, I want to thank all of you who are sharing this journey with us, praying for us, supporting us. The journey has been and is crazy and beautiful. It continues…