From the Liquor Store into the Garden...
When we first discovered the lot where the Compton Community Garden now resides, it was neighborhood blight. It had been trashed and scarred by years of neglect and misuse. As we began to excavate the lot with plans for a new landscape and a new purpose, we had no idea that God was doing a similar work in a life around the corner.
DJ was a 36 year-old man who had grown up in the neighborhood. He’d had a tough childhood, a series of unhealthy and broken relationships, used coping mechanisms of drugs and alcohol. But like most people here, there were many gifts and talents hidden beneath that story. DJ was born bold and ambitious. Gifted with a quick mind and an even quicker tongue, he was able to overcome a lot of his challenges and build a successful career as a mortgage broker. He became a family man with a wife and children.
However, when life hit him, as it does all of us, he was thrown back into old patterns of self-destruction. A combination of the mortgage industry and his marriage both taking a dive devastated him. In the process, he also lost his relationship with his kids. He found himself frequenting the liquor store on a daily basis, which meant that everyday on his way, he walked right past the Compton Community Garden!
For two weeks he would walk past the garden and watch us work. He assumed (naturally) that those of us who were white had to be in law enforcement (why else would we be there?), so in the beginning he intended to stay clear. Eventually, though, his curiosity (and the Holy Spirit) got the best of him, and he walked through the gates.
“What is this garden place?”
“What’s going on here?”
“Why are you people even here?” he wanted to know.
We told him about the mission to provide healthy food, nutrition classes, and gardening plots for the community. We shared with him the vision to create jobs in order to address our community’s desperate need for more employment opportunities. And then we explained that the real reason behind all of it is to honor God and demonstrate His love here in our city.
DJ began to come around regularly. He hung out and was paid for a few small jobs here and there, still checking everything out. And then, suddenly -- he was all in. He started attending a weekly Bible study, rededicated his life to Christ, gave up some of his normal escapes, and started working with us every chance he could get. Slowly, DJ began to heal.
That was several months ago. Yesterday (March 30th) DJ participated in week three of our current cycle of Leadership Development Academy classes. He had lunch with the other interns and three mentors (including me, Mike). He and I have been working on 2 business plans -- he has amazing entrepreneurial dreams, and we have turned those into goals. There is a restaurant across the street from the garden that is now up for sale -- he plans to purchase it with another local mentor, Ralph. (Ralph is a retired businessman and chairman of the Garden Community Board.) DJ has become a leader among our other interns. He has been stepping out and taking initiative in ministry -- he’s been given some significant responsibilities and now is an associate member of our staff team!
What's made all of this possible? DJ is following Jesus!
Each day is a journey for DJ, as he strives to maintain his new commitments. He has replaced his old, unhealthy coping mechanisms with new, life-giving ones. He is praying, encouraging others and growing in Bible study. He is building community around him, and receiving support from others each step of the way.
God has transformed DJ in a powerful way. And He will continue to transform him, as He does with all of us.
This is what discipleship looks like here. It’s a process, an ebb and flow. Every day, and practically everything on the agenda -- even something as simple as a Home Depot run -- is an opportunity to build into someone and care for them. Not everyone moves along as quickly as DJ has. Some folks take years to make the kind of changes DJ is making. But God is faithful and powerful and trustworthy!
(For more stories like this about Metro CDC Compton check out metrocompton.blogspot.com)