Twenty-five years ago, Kit Danley decided the inner city was where God was calling her, so she moved to the barrios in downtown Phoenix to start an organization called Neighborhood Ministries that would minister to the poor.
One of the visions the people working with Danley had was to create a safe place where transient teenage girls could call home. That home is called Hope House, and it’s where I chose to intern for the summer. During the summer, the girls from the house taught me what it meant to live in the inner city. Each of them suffered from some combination of anxiety attacks, depression, anger, bipolar and numerous other emotional and mental issues. They taught me that being homeless is more than not having a roof over your head.
The Hope House girls were only a small part of my experience there. Kids Club was one of the biggest programs put on each year. Summer after summer hundreds of kids from all over the neighborhood come to the church for two weeks of crazy fun and Bible lessons. The first time I met Maria, Patricia, Enrique and Columba they were playing one night in the dumpster near the church, pulling out treasures from the trash to build a “house.” They were barefoot and dirty, and the littlest one smelled of urine. They were skeptical but drawn to us as we played with them in the parking lot. I later learned there were eight kids; their mom was only sometimes in the picture.
The longer I spent with them, the more I saw how starved they were for affection. I began to realize that the poverty they lived in was not just physical. Not being loved was what hurt these kids more than not having clean clothes or shoes. As they came to the church day after day throughout the summer, with their wrinkled clothes and grimy faces, I realized that this place was safe for them. The church was a place where they could come and be loved.
The Neighborhood church runs out of a renovated warehouse. The service is in both English and Spanish, each minister taking 10-minute turns to speak. At the end of each service, prayer requests are taken—everything from “Jesus, help my husband make it across the border safely” to “Jesus, help my mom stop doing drugs” to “Jesus, be with my brother, who was shot in a gang fight last night.” The rawness and reality of the life that happens there is startling to someone who has never known such hardship. Nothing can be covered up. Luke 4:18–19 is a scripture Danley has held on to for the last 25 years. “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (TNIV). Before I came to the inner city I had read this verse many times, but in hearing it spoken so often I didn’t hear the importance, the joyful message this is to the single mom in poverty, the homeless or the illegal immigrant.
That summer changed how I viewed life—it opened my eyes and showed me the beauty and simplicity of the Gospel. I had never really understood before what Mother Teresa meant when she said, “The greatest poverty is not being loved.” I had never grasped what it meant to look at life and see no hope, no love. To see that you’re at it alone, completely and totally by yourself. The hope that Neighborhood Ministries brings to so many isn’t that they can fix all the problems in the dark streets of the inner city. In the words of one of the Hope House girls, it’s simply “feeling that people care about you.”