In the two weeks that I have spent living and serving in North Philly, I have been so deeply blessed and yet deeply challenged as well.
Our medical team has already spent many hours in Kensington and the surrounding area knocking on doors and meeting people on the street, providing both health screens and, much more importantly, the gospel. This has been fulfilling work, but not without adversity.
Working in areas like needle park and the street corners sheltered by the El (a train in the city), I have come face to face with not only the opioid epidemic in North Philadelphia, but also countless other kinds of suffering.
I can’t stop thinking about one conversation I had with a young woman in her early twenties. Even with an untrained eye, it was clear she was sick and needed help. She was underweight, showed the scares of self-harm, and couldn’t stop shaking. As my partner and I talked with her, a tear welled up in her eyes as she intimately shared how she didn’t want to live like this. She wanted to escape the pain and addiction but said, “No one even cares if I live or die”. She desperately needed the unconditional love of Jesus.
Truly, in North Philly, the shackles of addiction, abuse, suffering, and hopelessness seem to abound beyond reason and yet, I have found that there is a paradoxical beauty here. In the open brokenness there is an openness to the gospel. Even in the moments I have felt the most helpless and powerless to offer any comfort or solution, the gospel has been my stronghold. The people here seem to know this well. There is a strong awareness of the need for hope and an even stronger yearning for the hope that God can make all things new through the work of Jesus Christ.
In the place where dealers can sell openly on street corners and addicts feel no need to hide in alleys to get high, there is immeasurable hospitality and humility to welcome in outsiders. There is an appetite for truth here. I truly believe that we who are wealthy and we who have the luxury of hiding our brokenness have so much to learn from these people.
How foolish it is to think that I could offer them anything more than the hope that is found in Christ. I just pray that I have the same sense of urgency when the world around me is deceptively clean.
– Sam Heath