Beauty in the White Slums

This weekend I had the opportunity to go and serve in the downtown area of Columbus.  We took a group of teens for a weekend retreat to go and serve a church in one one of the largest white slums in America. I had done this same retreat a few years ago, but this time around it was different. We spent the day Saturday working around their properties; cleaning houses, painting, raking neighbor’s leaves, addressing envelops and so on. The area was a depressed neighborhood where drug deals and prostitution were a normal everyday thing.

As the day progressed I got to know the woman who oversaw the volunteer portion. I learned of her alcohol addiction at the age of thirteen and her addiction to heroin. How she went to prison for aggravated armed robbery for several years and how she now makes it her mission to help save the lives of those around her in similar situations. It is very eye opening when you step out of your comfort zone and get around people who don’t live like you. Although this was a dangerous neighborhood it really didn’t look that different than mine. There were kids out walking to the corner store, people walking up and down the street, and a lot traffic. It wasn’t this quiet neighborhood tucked in a corner, it was right there in broad daylight.

I was amazed as she chatted with all of the people who walked by. She knew the by name, she was doing life with them. It was heartbreaking as she explained who each person was and what role they played in the neighborhood. Several women (who I would NEVER have dreamed were prostitiues) walked up and down the street, in and out of houses, and in and out of cars. The weren’t in revealing clothing, with lots of makeup, and done up hair. They were completely covered, eyes to the ground. They seemed so empty. The drug dealers passed the house as she chatted them up about dinner and asked about their day. She knew more about these people than I know about my own neighbors. I became very aware of my own reservations to make relationships an get to know the people who walk in and out of my everyday life.

As the day went on a woman who went through the program shared her story. Her story of drugs, alcoholism, abuse, rape, and destruction, and how the words of others helped shape the way she viewed herself. These women have no self worth, they look at themselves and see no value.  In this moment I wondered what my role was. What should I be doing in my life or in the lives of others to help speak self worth into the people who don’t feel like they have any. I realized it isn’t just about the after the fact, overcoming a life of mistakes and damage and mending the broken. It is about preventing it. Teaching my kids to see value in other children. Speaking with respect to the people in my neighborhood and in my life. These women were told from childhood that they were nothing and would amount to nothing. We have that same power over other people, to let them know that they are valuable and that they are worthy.

This weekend I was called out on my own judgement and challenged to see passed the brokenness to see true beauty. After years of alcohol and drug abuse these women weren’t beautiful by societies standards. But as they spoke hope directly into the lives of those around them, their true beauty shined through. Beauty that is real, authentic, and genuine.

We help shape the future of those around us by loving the hopeless and speaking worth into the worthless.

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