To the outside eye looking at the North Philly community, I can see why brokenness so often comes to mind.
Broken. The word has plagued my mind for the past few weeks. And it became an ironic reality when my computer actually broke this afternoon and I lost my previous blog to the cloud. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so maybe this was an opportunity to write about a new topic. So given my mind’s contemplation of the word “broken” over the past few weeks, and my computer’s state, I decided to focus my new post on “brokenness,” or lack thereof, as you’ll read later.
Before I even started SMI, I remember one of my friends explaining that her time at SMI brought new meaning to her idea of brokenness. She felt broken by her experience, and through this, grew closer to God. And over the past few weeks, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the word, “broken,” used. To the outside eye looking at the North Philly community, I can see why brokenness so often comes to mind. This community is rife with broken homes, drugs, violence, and killings.
However, despite the conflict in this area, there is a sense of community that I have never seen elsewhere.
This is a neighborhood where the manager of the corner store gives a free sandwich to a starving teenager, where people spend countless hours on their porches getting close to their neighbors, and where nearly everyone’s first prayer request is not for themselves, but for their family. Even after the short period of time living in North Philly, I already feel a sense of home here. I have been amazed by how many people have welcomed us strangers in scrubs into their homes, sharing their stories and treating us as guests. There is a unity here that can’t be found elsewhere, so a part of me wants to argue that this community is far from broken despite its struggles.
Through Christ, we are the opposite, having a reason to hope despite our inadequacy and despite the corruption of the world.
Which brings me to my next point about the word “broken.”
I feel like this word has become a Christian buzz word. Yet I am not sure I entirely agree with its common use and meaning. I have heard Christians describe all humans as broken. We are all sinners, falling short of the glory of God. We all have our shortcomings, our moments of suffering and pain. But I’m not sure if this makes us broken per se, at least by the English definitions of the word. One definition is “despairing, having given up all hope.” By this definition, I would argue that God gives us reason to be unbroken. Through Christ, we are the opposite, having a reason to hope despite our inadequacy and despite the corruption of the world.
I have heard others say that experiences have made them feel “broken.” They describe this brokenness as something that brings them closer to God, compelling them to act. But brokenness literally means “damaged and no longer in working order.” If we are broken, how can we make change or show God’s love to others? Again, I would argue that suffering, pain, and weakness all foster a degree of unbrokenness, where God empowers us to a working order. As the Bible says, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We may feel weakened and humbled by experiences, but I don’t believe we are broken by them. God uses our weakness and vulnerability to glorify His name and further His kingdom. Through God, we are functional and useful, far from broken. (…Now if only my computer could get some of the Holy Spirit!).
Through God, we are functional and useful, far from broken.
Over the past few weeks, my eyes were opened to a degree of hardship and suffering that I had never previously seen firsthand.
Each person in North Philly has a unique story and some were open enough to share a page or two with me.
I was heartbroken by the homeless 22-year-old boy who had no family and hadn’t eaten in days, by the homeless 16-year-old girl who was likely pregnant and had no way of caring for her baby-to-come, by the depressed mother who spent all her time and efforts taking care of her 5 children and didn’t feel she had the time to take care of herself, by the scared wife suffering from domestic abuse, and by so many other stories within the neighborhood, told and untold. In many of these heartbreaking situations, I felt a sense of helplessness. I could only provide medical recommendations, referrals, and prayer; it never felt like enough.
But when I took the focus away from my helplessness and instead thought about my fellow team members’ interactions throughout SMI, I saw how God was using us to provide greater things, even if in small quantities: hope, love, faith, joy, compassion, a listening ear… The list goes on as I recall the other students, interpreters, and faculty on my team, and the impact they had on those we met. While I wish that we could have helped more and hope that we do more in the future, I believe that God used SMI to plant seeds of faith and hope in the community.
Jesus Christ gives us a reason for our hope. And through Him, I believe we are unbroken.