Monday, September 05, 2005
Common Ground
Joey's eyes are wide and deep. I see fear and despair in them. Like a deer caught in headlights. More than anything, they appear weary and tired. Like they have not known sleep for sometime.

Joey is two weeks' on the job. Common Ground Ministry was once a thriving ministry in the neighborhood of Over the Rhine in Cinncinnati. In its heyday it provided low-income housing to homeless families or families on the brink of homelessness. It was once a vitally relevant voice in the community. But with five directors in five years, the effort took a faceplant into the broken pavement. The ministry has been officially closed for seven months.

Two weeks ago Joey arrived. He had been commissioned to reopen the doors. He inherited an entire city block of diplated and rotting former apartment buildings. Some are full of hardware supplies covered in cobwebs. But there is no vision. Joey doesn't know whether he's been sent to restart the ministry or to clean up the buildings for selling them out.

A week ago last Thursday, during our week of RA training, the eight of us Asbury RA's visited Joey so that we could do a service project. Somehow Jeff had discovered Common Ground on Google. We arrived just in time for lunch, and we ate in Joey's small office front as he explained to us his story. Josh, Chris and Samantha then took to the outside sidewalk with scrapers and weedkiller to free the cracked sidewalk from the overgrowth. Jeff and Paul followed Joey into some upper apartments to chase out the unwelcome pigeons and board up the windows. There was even some cleaning out the dead, rotting birds as well, so I'm told.

Ben and I volunteered to stay in the office and chisel away broken tile. We decided to lock the door as people streamed by. We didn't realize why there were pedestrians tapping on the window until we realized Joey had taped the bus schedule inside the window. The bus stop is right outside the door. In our three hours there we didn't see a single white person. I'm later told that Over the Rhine is one of the top 10 crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country.

I follow Joey back to his "warehouse" to find a hammer. The door has no handle, just a gaping hole. It is deadbolted, though. I turn the key, put my hand in the hole where a doorknob might have been in a former life and yank. The door creeks open. Only the top hinge is attached to the rusted door. If doors had leprosy, this one did. Steeping inside I find the perfect scenery if I were shooting a horror film. Spotty electricity. Debris everywhere. A room full of nothing but 15 different varieties of sandpaper, thanks to a once-upon-a-time corporate sponsor.

After three hours of joining Joey in redeeming his property from the atrophy of time and neglect, we asked if we could pray for him. I encouraged him that his vision should be driven not by the houses he possesses but by the God he serves. At the end of our time, Joey's eyes were still wide and deep, but they were moist and brimming with emotion.

I hope we can see Joey again and partner with him as he establishes an outpost of the kingdom of God in Over the Rhine.

posted by Peter at 12:29 AM
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