I can't say that I was excited to come to Newark, New Jersey. I remember studying the map of the state over the years (I'm a map geek), and not thinking much of it other than noticing the extensive amount of highways noodling across the state. Every time I've come to Newark, all I see is concrete, industry and graffiti. Newark is a hub of transportation and commerce and helps millions in their livelihood, for which I am thankful. However, the implicit message I have always received is "thanks for stopping through and contributing to our economy, but don't expect anything."
My perspective has been altered by the stories and hospitality of others as I attend a training for congregational redevelopment. Yesterday we heard the stories of a Lutheran community in a Brazilian neighborhood in Newark--I was moved by the pastors and their stories of community connection. Newark became not merely a convergence of highways and commerce, but a place of people with stories of faith and life.
Last night my colleagues and I were encouraged to try Portuguese food in Newark. My home area is full of Asian restaurants, so I was excited to find a new cuisine for me. The waiter from Vila Nova do Sol Mar came to pick up my colleagues and I in a van and then proceeded to serve us like we were long lost cousins (they picked us up...are you kidding???). With tubs (not hyperbole) of paella, clams and pork, fresh cheese, bread and gladdened hearts created by conversation and port wine, my cynicism of urban life continued to melt. A massive great uncle of a man, the owner, came and greeted us with love and gratitude with his gestures, squeezing our shoulders like a trainer encourages a beat up boxer.
It's easy to feel beat up in life. It's easy to gloss over the places we fly over and drive past. Authentic hospitality placed faces and lives as part of those places I had no reason to think about. While I have wondered whether I have what it takes to help redevelop a faith community, I thought there was little opportunity to find a place to be fed in a concrete jungle and sea of highways. I was fed because someone picked me up and brought me to the table with friends. I wasn't even looking for it, and the hospitality came to me.
Not only were we merely dropped off at our hotel, but we learned a little more about Newark by our driver. We weren't shuffled off, but we were cared for and reminded that we don't leave alone.
What an example for congregational life. I probably would not have ventured into Newark on my own. I was brought to a table of grace and generosity by someone willing to come get me--to meet me where I was, feed me, love me, send me off with encouragement and remind me I am not alone.
Sounds a lot like Jesus and communion.
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Location:Radar Rd,Newark,United States