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‘If you stay here, stay properly' - How God gave me a heart for my neighbourhood

Revd Dr Deirdre Brower Latz explains how a word from God shifted the way she viewed her local community 

The community I live in – and have lived in for over 14 years now – is typical of a lot of city-places.

Grungy, aspirational, fly-tipped, alive-with-life, a place of integration and segregation. It’s the location of Andrew Graystone’s now-famous mosque-sign: “You are my friends. I will keep you safe while you pray”, and the place of swastikas and EDL graffiti painted on walls of that same mosque. It’s a place where I’ve asked over and again, what does it mean to live Christianly here? What does it mean to be a peace-maker? Where and how can I demonstrate my faith?

I ask that as someone who has struggled to live well where I am. My work is based a few miles away in a very different setting: a leafy, prosperous, calm and peaceful village. My home life and my work life settings seem to contradict one another and as a result, I have often felt conflicted about my role in these two very different places.

A couple of years ago, God and I had a chat. I felt strongly that God was saying, "If you stay here, stay properly". I was being instructed to dwell in this place as if it is of infinite value to God and live in this place as a person of peace.

The week after this conversation, my neighbour - of many years - asked me into her house for a cup of tea. Coincidence? Or had God somehow been preparing the way? 

Shortly afterwards, I went door to door, simply to meet my neighbours. The family in the end house, who get screamed at regularly and have to put up with hearing racist terms I won’t repeat, ushered me in and gave me tea and biscuits. The lady and her sons who scream the racist chants, dropped by with a clipping of a plant I’d admired outside her house. From there we have steadily worked together to reclaim our street for the good of us all.

And it's not rocket science either. We’ve had litter picking, we’ve filled pot-holes together, we’ve scrounged a builder’s fence and created a little green space and are dreaming about planting things some day soon.

We’ve marked deaths and births in the neighbourhood. We've contacted the council about the rats and the fly-tipping. We've been in and out of four houses in our mad scheming to get rid of drugs in the alley and we’ve come together to clear rubbish off our streets.

It feels as if God wants to do a new thing - create a new people, a new mood, a place of peace. And he's done it through a fed-up, despairing and weary individual who said: "If you really want me to be here, I’ll be here properly."

I'm inspired by the Bible's message of reconciliation. Paul says, "And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

I have been a Christian for most of my life, but God continues to stretch me, fill me, and compel me to be an ambassador for Christ. It's about drawing together alongside others and seeking transformation  with energy, longevity, commitment, and simple faithful acts. In doing this, I've learned we can help craft a different direction for a local space. The inner conflict I have struggled with over the years about my role in the places where I find myself, is beginning to melt away, as I seek to follow God’s call. "If you stay here, stay properly."

Revd Dr Deirdre Brower Latz is Principal at Nazarene Theological College, Manchester. 

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