Lexington Rescue Mission is the largest evangelical ministry serving homeless and formerly incarcerated people in Lexington, Kentucky, the city where I live. It’s a growing organization working with a growing population. But at the start of last year, things weren’t looking great.
LRM desperately needed a bigger office space. It needed more room to provide clients with career counseling, training, Bible studies, and prayer. Its outreach center, the building where LRM cooked and served meals six days a week, had caught fire and had been sitting closed for months as it underwent repairs.
In April of 2021, the mission hoped to relocate its administrative offices, meeting spaces, and food service to a historic office building. But residents in the surrounding neighborhood protested. They didn’t want LRM’s clients coming around, they said at a city hearing. What if they were dangerous? Or sex offenders? The city rejected the mission’s request to move in.
This year has been kinder. Sort of. The ministry purchased a large office building in a different downtown neighborhood, where it needs no special permission to run its outreach programs or expand its services. Nevertheless, neighbors resisted. They called special meetings and voiced concerns about loitering and litter. One resident threatened to move away if LRM moved in.
Laura Carr, the mission’s executive director, reminded them at a forum that, according to Census data, more than a third of their neighborhood lives in poverty. Many of their neighbors were in fact already LRM’s clients. The goal of the mission “is to create a beautiful community,” Carr said. “And part of the beauty of the community is caring for those who are most vulnerable. That’s what a community is ultimately judged on.”
Our cover story argues that Christians have a unique opportunity, in our difficult housing market, to model for the watching world better kinds of community—not only inside our homes, but also out in the towns and cities where we live. The irresistible beauty of the communities Christians build will not be in how well ensconced are the comfortable, but in how welcomed are the little children and the stranger—and maybe even the millennial renter unable to afford a mortgage down payment.
We should of course prize beauty and safety and mirth. Those are gifts from God. But they are not the criteria Jesus used to cull the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:31–46), and Christians should not settle for a culture that makes them the ultimate aim of the places we call home. As we work to make our dwellings better reflect heaven, may we do the same for our neighborhoods. Litter and loitering and all.
Andy Olsen is print managing editor of Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter @AndyROlsen.
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