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On my first World Next Door trip to the slums of South Africa, I remember driving past luxurious mansions and opulent suburbs. I marveled at how those people could live with so much when only minutes away people scraped a living in mud houses with tin roofs.
I wondered if I would be any different. If I had been born into wealth and power there, with racial injustice and an HIV/AIDS epidemic down the street, would I choose to ignore it as well? Or would I dive in and engage it?
I never expected I would have the chance to find out.
Coming to Shepherd Community Center, I have witnessed a poverty I never knew existed. Located on the near-east side of Indianapolis, it’s only minutes away from my home.
Here, people struggle to access to healthy food. Grocery trips are measured in hours, not minutes. Without healthy food, the biggest killers are not gangs or crime, they’re heart disease and diabetes.
With health insurance being the exception, not the rule, these things can strike young.
I’ve seen homeless camps, miniature tent cities, under bridges and in woods. I thought these only existed in developing countries.
I’ve learned that having a house doesn’t mean your problems are over, either. I’ve visited homes that are cramped, decaying, infested, cold in the winter and boiling in the summer. I met a mother who was rationing her electricity to buy food this month.
Despite these great injustices, I’ve found hope as well. I’ve been overwhelmed by the scope and the depth of what Shepherd Community is doing.
They’re bringing food to the homeless, but not just food. They’re providing a community based in scripture and hope and love of God.
Shepherd has its own school, and provides healthy meals for each and every student. But these meals do more than feed, they are an expression of love and care for every child no matter how much money they have or what kind of family they come from.
In their after school programs, they feed the wider community. They offer classes on cooking and nutrition, helping to train the next generation in habits that can save their lives.
There’s even a food Co-Op and a greenhouse. Empowering community members young and old to grow and collectively purchase fresh produce.
The list goes on and on. For every injustice I could find, I found Shepherd as well, offering hope and love.
I didn’t know how I would feel about discovering poverty minutes away from my home. How I would react when I discovered my economy and my habits contribute to this system of injustice, or at the very least, aren’t doing much to break it.
Guilt? Anger? Shame?
No. Sadness. Then inspiration.
It is sad to realize how many are suffering from preventable causes. It is heartbreaking to see firsthand how people are aching for education and access to healthy food only miles from the suburbs – one of the most well-educated and well-connected people groups on the planet.
But it’s inspiring as well. It’s inspiring to realize that, unlike so many great injustices, a cure is within our grasp. I don’t have to hope people will give up their homes and fly overseas to fight something. I don’t have to wish and wait for another culture to change, knowing I am powerless to change it myself.
Because the people I’m hoping for just have to drive twenty minutes, and the culture I’m hoping to change is my own.
How am I going to react? I’m getting involved. I may have discovered that injustice is much closer than I ever imagined, but at Shepherd, hope is never far away.
How a 13-minute bus ride ruined my day and re-started my mission.
Breakfast looks beautiful after a day using food stamps.
I never expected Indianapolis to resemble a South African slum.
A disease I never knew existed and a people I had never been taught to love.
Where do all those donations go?
I’ve never felt this broken about an injustice, or this hopeful.
About the Author: Brad Miller is a year-long fellow with WND. A student of Psychology, Biology, and Theatre, he's worked as an actor, teacher, balloon artist and last-minute fill-in guy for any number of projects. He loves camping and tinkering with broken and discarded things. Brad's passion in life is to unleash the potential in others.