Inner City Diary
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This place was, and always will be, my home
October 28, 2001
I felt a little guilty, but I did it anyway.

Several weeks ago, I was changing a load of laundry and noticed a little piece of folded paper on the dryer. Believing it belonged to one of our teenage boys, I briefly considered leaving it alone.

The note wasn't mine, but I rationalized that it was in “international waters,” not tucked in a pocket or kept in someone's private diary. Checking for witnesses and listening for footsteps, I nervously unfolded the paper.

It turns out the folded paper was a draft homework assignment. It appears students were asked to reflect on a meaningful place from their childhood. As I started reading, it became plain that our son had decided to write about our inner-city neighbourhood.

I paused before starting to read. Nineteen years ago we decided to live where we worked. In every way, we would share in the life, frustrations and hopes of people in the “West End.”

Not everyone thought this was a great idea. Some came straight out and said "That's not a good place to raise kids. It's not safe. The schools and community programs are lousy." Other asked, “Don’t you want to give your kids the best options?"

I know when people talk like that, they mean well, but it still sometimes ticks me off.

The other day I met the delivery guys for a few new appliances in one of the homes totally renovated by our Lazarus Housing project. Parked on Langside, the guys smirked as they unloaded the appliances.

When they got into the house I could tell they were blown away. “Wow,” one of them said. “It’s like this house is in the wrong part of the city! This is beautiful!”

Proud of a job well done, I said, “Thanks.” Inwardly, I was insulted. Did they expect less of us? Did they figure the new owners deserved less? Didn’t they see some of the great people, neat houses, sculpted yards on the street? Why do people just remember the bad stuff?”

I won’t deny that we’ve got some grief in this neighbourhood. We've had break-ins, and our kids have had the occasional scrap at school. But no worse than any other neighborhood. I've heard our kids on the defensive with their suburban, media-malleable friends. “The really bad stuff usually happens to people involved in bad stuff.”

Our church sometimes goes on “prayer-walks” through the neighbourhood. It has become a way for us to keep perspective, to acknowledge our limits and visibly express our hopes. Mostly, we walk and talk. Sometimes we stop and pray for specific things.

The kids still remember one time our small group of adults, youth and infants in strollers stopped to pray in front of a drug house on Maryland. No preaching. No lectures about the evils of drugs - just praying that they would have the guts to do better for themselves and others.

The dealer came out of the house to ask what we were doing. We said we were praying for him and his buddies. He looked at our rag-tag crew and then said to the kids, “Make sure you stay in school, otherwise you might end up like me…”

In my son's folded homework assignment, I read, “If anything, the drug dealers, gang members and the like, contrasted with people who I know are prospering, prove to be a prime example of how not to live.”

Learning to be “streetwise” has taught kids to exegete their surroundings, analyze people and situations, planning possible responses. The occasional fear and excitement of this process is secondary to the skills it develops in them. Their resourcefulness and insight breeds a tough confidence that serves them well in many places.  

There were, and are, risks. But as I read the end of my son’s homework assignment, I knew we made the right choice.

“This place was, and always will be my home. While it hardly provided the serenity, simplicity or the sheer tediousness of country life, I would have it no other way. To each his or her own, I suppose.”

Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Contact info:
New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929
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