When I lived in Tacoma, back in the day, Hilltop was one of those areas that us white folks didn’t venture into for leisure and if we did have to drive through, we always rolled up the windows and locked the doors. Seriously, your car might get jacked if you didn’t. It was notorious for gang violence and it was hit hard by the crack epidemic. It was a shame because there was/is so much diversity in this historic area. The houses are lovely, classic craftsman homes, and it was prime location sitting at the top of the hill before you ebbed into downtown.
Tacoma has seen a huge transformation in the past 15 or so years. People have begun to invest in real estate, jobs and giving the city a bit of an aesthetic facelift. Even Hilltop has had a renissance lately and a lot of working class families have rushed into to scoop up cheaper real estate in order to drive some of the crime out. The locals have also had enough! They have formed watch committies and chased a lot of the crime away. Yet….here’s where the Bonjours enter the picture… there seems to be a lot of work to be done.
We were searching for a house before Christmas and found this lovely craftsman in the Hilltop area. I am aware of the area’s reputation but I have heard and seen for myself the changes. Still, we moved into our new home, the one we tend to grow old in, and already we’ve been hit by the reality of where we live. We didn’t really anticipate urban ministy as we moved here. In fact we’ve been in full time ministry for about 15 years only to take a break from it around two years ago. Now we’re finding ourselves thrust right back in and without warning. We didn’t really have time to prep emotionally for what we are getting into so some of these adjustments feel a bit like whip lash.
The third day after we had keys in hand we noticed someone had tried to kick our back door in. Thankfully the latch caught it. Two days later I was calling the cops on our next door neighbors who were shouting, physically fighting and throwing furniture out the back door. I normally won’t call the poe-poe just because it doesn’t really build community in the same way that face to face confrontation does, but I don’t know these crazies yet and I was NOT going to go over and ask if they wouldn’t mind keeping the noise to a light hush. Cops came and hauled off two people out of the six that are all crammed into that tiny house. Then today someone came to take photos of our house for our homeowners insurance (nice lady) and she informed us that they are keeping a dog (pit bull puppy) locked in a windowless shed. She called animal control to have them come and haul the dog away. I told her to let them know it wasn’t us just in case they feel the need to get even with the person who snitched on them. Another day in the hood.
Matt and I have always wanted to do urban ministry, for whatever reason. He’s had an interest in urban planning and I’ve wanted to do more to empower low income families (start a community garden, for example). When we bought our house we weren’t searching for it with that in mind. We sort of wanted a place of rest and beauty. It’s becoming a place of beauty with every new coat of paint but having all of these troubles with our neighborhood has brought up a lot of my classic inner struggle, fear! It’s brought a lot of fears to the surface about raising a family in a rough area, about being home with kids and without Matt while he’s at work, getting our car jacked in the middle of the night, getting our home broken into (that’s the biggest one for me- this area has a high theft rate). It’s a work that we weren’t anticipating when we moved but it’s one that we are thrust into. There’s no turning back. We have the home, we love the home. We want to be committed to the area and seeing it change. That’s the only way anything changes, when people love and invest into their own community.
We left full time ministry two years ago. We stopped traveling around the world with our kids and working with the poor and the marginalized. I haven’t taught college age kids or high school students on the validity of the gospel in over two years. My time working with short terms missions ended in 2009. We moved to Hilltop one week ago where we have been placed into the most striking and raw mission field where we get to raise a family and see a neighborhood changed. So begins our life building a community. I’m sure more colourful stories will follow so stay tuned.