What do I know about my city? I mean, what do I really know? Well, let’s see… We have a racetrack, a pretty cool children’s museum and what… a canal?

Um, ok. To be completely honest, I know very little about Indianapolis.

But my ignorance doesn’t extend to just our sightseeing destinations. I also know very little about the people who live downtown, the issues they deal with and the struggles they face every single day.

In my world of video games, manicured lawns and caramel macchiatos, it’s easy to forget that there are families struggling to survive just 40 minutes from my front door. Sure, I’ve seen poverty in India, Ukraine and Kenya, but when was the last time I spared a thought for the urban poor in my own hometown?

The fact is, I can’t remember.

But all that is about to change. As of this past week, I am living downtown for one month. And not in some upscale gentrified neighborhood, either. I’m staying smack in the middle of a struggling community with a first generation immigrant family from Mexico.

I will be exploring urban poverty from the inside, doing police ride-alongs and spending time in our public school system. But most importantly, I will be learning all about the work of Shepherd Community Center, which is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty on the near-East side.

Shepherd Community Center, striving to break the cycle.

Shepherd Community Center, striving to break the cycle.

And what a cycle… In Shepherd’s neighborhood, less than 30% of students graduate High School. Almost a quarter of the population is under the nation’s poverty line, and out of 40,000 zip codes in the U.S., 46201 is 16th in the nation in foreclosure filings.

Parents in this community can’t afford to send their children to private schools. Often working two jobs just to pay the rent, they don’t have the time or energy to adequately care for their kids. Their children grow up, fail school, get minimum wage jobs and eventually have kids of their own.

And the cycle continues.

But Shepherd is here to break that cycle. Through preschool classes, after-school tutoring and summer programs, Shepherd gives the children of this neighborhood a chance to succeed in their education. Through parenting classes, a food pantry and a free medical clinic every Saturday, Shepherd gives parents a chance to properly care for their kids.

Shepherd helps to give kids the education they deserve.

Shepherd helps to give kids the education they deserve.

While I am here, I will be writing about these programs and more. I will be learning from Shepherd’s staff, interviewing families from the community and attempting to discover what God is doing in this place.

It may not be as exotic as eating goat brains in India or living in a slum in Kenya, but living downtown will undoubtedly teach me a ton about the brokenness of this world and the hope that can be found in the Kingdom of God.

By the end of October, I may still get lost trying to find the Indianapolis Zoo, but I can tell you one thing for sure… I’m going to know a lot more about my city!

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Blake Anderson said... 


    October 3rd, 2009 at 1:31 pm  

    I am so excited to hear about our city. I look forward to all the things we will all learn and ways WE can get involved and take true ownership of our neighbors and neighborhoods.

  2. David Byers said... 


    October 3rd, 2009 at 5:36 pm  

    Shepherd is doing great things for the community. I had the opportunity to help make breakfast on saturday mornings this past summer. It was great to get fellow college students to see how our neighbors from the city live and how to break the suburbian bubble in which we live. Plus, it was a blast, and the people in Shepherd Community are great and I recommend volunteering however you can with Shepherd!!

  3. Dave Rod said... 


    October 4th, 2009 at 8:04 pm  

    Looking forward to your reporting Barry. I suspect there are some discomforting truths to come. And, that’s OK. As I said in a previous comment – bring it!

    And…enjoy being with our partners and friends at Shepherd!

  4. Amy Sorrells said... 


    October 5th, 2009 at 12:34 pm  

    “It may not be as exotic . . . ” No, not as exotic. But just as wreck-ing. Just as broken. And just where you will see Him, face to face, in their eyes. Blessings . . .

  5. Jane VanOsdol said... 


    October 7th, 2009 at 9:54 pm  

    So exciting, Barry! I’m convinced that a way to help break the cycle of poverty is to get involved–be a mentor or a friend. As you get to really know a person, he or she will be changed, and so will you.

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