Choosing downtown

Taylor Hubbard

Taylor Hubbard

By Taylor Hubbard
Special Contributor

“Downtown” is a complicated word. While the spelling and definition are simple and well-known, the word “downtown” is complicated because of what it has come to represent for many people: urban areas with higher crime, visible poverty and racial divides; business epicenters that the working class commutes into and out of daily.

So when my husband and I shared with our family that we would be purchasing our next house in downtown Little Rock, we were prepared for a little skepticism, misinformation and all-around wariness of our departure from the suburbs.

Our decision to move seemed like a natural progression. We spend a huge chunk of our time downtown since my husband works at First United Methodist Church. We frequent the restaurants and shops here. Above all, we are drawn to the history of an area that played such a vital role in the historic civil rights movement.

As we looked for a place to call home, we focused on the south side of I-630. We drove around pointing out houses we loved, houses we would love to restore, houses that could be “the one.” We began to learn about the community and familiarize ourselves with the general climate of the area.

Our block is wonderful—neighbors who look out for one another. Living a stone’s throw from Arkansas Baptist College, we see and hear the ABC marching band as they practice. We hear helicopters overhead as they take off and land at Children’s Hospital. While we describe the Central High Historic District as “up and coming,” people not familiar with the area may more bluntly describe our neighborhood as “the ‘hood.”

Awareness

Despite the negatives, one of the biggest draws for us to move into this area is our ability to see it as a mission field—but not in the sense that we moved in to be saviors of the neighborhood and its residents. It’s hard for us to compartmentalize our Christian identity. “Christ Follower” is as deeply ingrained in our DNA as our hair or eye color, so it makes sense for us to be in an area where we can share Christ’s love and understanding in hopes of building stronger communities.

Step 5 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan: Look Like the Neighborhood

Step 5 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan: Look Like the Neighborhood

We are not here to convert, not here to build membership numbers or to confuse the business of the church with the love of Christ. No; we are here to consciously be. To be aware of what is going on around us. To be mindful that we may be an example of a strong, loving family unit. To be in a position to love our neighbors unconditionally and build relationships that bridge racial and socioeconomic divides. To fully witness and participate in the realities of living “downtown.” Immersion.

We are painfully aware of cultural differences in our neighborhood that we may not understand. We believe that living here helps us take steps toward better understanding.

Convicting moment

One afternoon while walking our dog, we went by the park, an afterschool hangout for teenagers in the area. As I approached the corner and saw a group of guys standing around the sidewalk, my first thought was to go another direction. I realized that I am not as immune to stereotyping as I thought I was; despite working with youth for the last six years, I feared this group of teenagers. Instead of turning the other way, I asked myself a simple yet challenging question: Would I be fearful if I were walking past a group of white teens? I knew in my heart the answer was no.

As I got closer to the group, I could see their young faces. They were kids. As we walked by, all of the teens said hello and waved or nodded, and one said how much he liked my dog.

The encounter was brief but convicting. I had come close to letting fear override an opportunity to be in community. I now walk this route with our dog often. We’ve built understanding, and we interact regularly.

My steadfast belief that we moved downtown for a purpose helps me work through the tough spots. These experiences push and challenge us. They also affirm that we are on the right path to building the Kingdom here.

I once heard a mentor of mine say he wanted to “take that territory for Jesus before the devil had a chance to strengthen his grip.” At the time, I was taken aback by his brashness, but now, I get it. The enemy can be seen in families broken by drugs, crime and violence, and the systems that perpetuate such things. The enemy can also come from within, through fear of the unknown, stereotyping and misunderstanding. But bringing in the Kingdom, even in seemingly small ways, can have a powerful and positive effect.

Being in relationship with our neighbors, treating everyone equally, stepping out of our comfort zone to learn names, listening to stories, giving the benefit of the doubt, not judging… these acts bring the love and light of Christ to our mission field of downtown. It’s not showy; it’s not loud or widely advertised. It can be difficult, and often confusing. However, our love for this place and our neighbors is genuine and heartfelt, and it’s absolutely incredible to see the face of Jesus in every single person we encounter.

Hubbard, a marketing consultant, is a member of First UMC Little Rock.