Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Back in Kansas City

Months.  I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for months.  We’ve been back in Kansas City since mid-December, living one block north of Independence Avenue and just around the corner from Grace Church of the Nazarene.  I’ve written this blog post many times in my head and even twice on paper but it’s past time to actually post this update.  I’ll give an update on a few different areas to show what life has been like since moving back to Kansas City, USA.

Our Neighborhood
We’re now living in a hundred plus year old house in the “Historic Northeast,” as residents proudly refer to our neighborhood.  It’s a fascinatingly diverse neighborhood.  The houses range from castle-like mansions to boarded up drug houses.  When people immigrate to Kansas City, they usually end up in the Northeast.  For this reason, there are approximately 55 different nationalities represented in our neighborhood.  The different cultures are prominently on display all over the Northeast.  When I subbed at East High School, I heard five different languages being spoken in the hallway before hearing English.  While the Northeast isn’t the roughest part of the city, it still has high crime and poverty rates.  The sirens never stop.  We hear drive-by shootings quite frequently.  While subbing at Northeast Middle School, the kids fearfully told me about white vans that will abduct unsuspecting kids.  Anything left on our front porch is likely to be stolen and many corners are occupied by ladies selling their bodies.  While I’m not scared, I’m often uneasy.  I’m always however, entertained by the colorful characters on Independence Avenue.  While it might seem strange, I’m actually experiencing more culture shock living in Northeast KC than I did living in Palaiseau, France. Our old home in Gardner is about 40 minutes away by car but might as well be across the globe. 

Our Church
We are a part of Grace Church of the Nazarene.  The 90 year old Nazarene congregation is comprised of just a handful of people.  The building however, is used by five other congregations from various places from across the globe.  I enjoy surprising members of the Congolese Congregation by speaking to them in French. 

We haven’t really established a role within the congregation yet, other than being present on Sunday mornings.  I’m not sure what our role will eventually be, but for the time being, we’re trying to support the pastoral family, Joey and Tammy Condon.  Dawson has also become good friends with the Condon’s youngest son. 

We are also a part of a mentoring community from Lees Summit New Beginnings.  It’s a support and training group for people trying to live missionally in their communities.  We have the intention of doing that within our neighborhood, but we haven’t really started it yet. 

Real Estate
After several years of considering it, as a result of hearing of other pastors doing the same thing, I’ve now earned my Real Estate license and have started working out of the Reece Nichols office on the Plaza.  I’m still in the very early stages, but I have signed my first client and held my first couple of Open Houses.  I’m giving Real Estate a shot because the flexibility will allow me to earn some money while doing the ministry things I really enjoy (but don’t get paid for). 

When I left Melcher Elementary in the fall of 2011, I had no idea I’d eventually be back in the school.  It was just one day, but when the opportunity to sub in that school arose, I took the one day job.  The day was a disaster, just like all my other days at Melcher, but it was a bit freeing to be able to go back to the place where I’d experienced my one (and hopefully only) nervous breakdown.  I also had the privilege of catching up with some of the wonderful people who work there.

My first actual day of subbing however, was at Satchel Paige Elementary (or Satchel Rage, as another teacher calls it) a school as out-of-control and impoverished as George Melcher.  In fact, I walked into the front office and saw the nameplate of the same lady who had been my principal at Melcher.  I was horrified at the coincidence of running into her on my first day back.  I fully expected her to give me a cold reception, but I actually received the opposite.  I will say though, that it’s very disappointing that they keep shuffling around such an incompetent principal.  It seems like the poor kids in these inner-city schools aren’t worthy of having someone who knows what they’re doing running their schools.  The principal has recently been fired, though, in the middle of the school year.

In fact, Erin is now doing a long-term sub at that school.  She is a second teacher in a room of 30 unruly and disrespectful third graders.  In another interesting coincidence, the teacher she’s working for is actually a Teach For America Corps Member finishing up her first year.  Erin says she does a great job controlling the class, which allows Erin the opportunity to model skills in giving lessons.  The current principal has come out of retirement to lead the school and appears to be doing a great job.  A good principal really can turn around a chaotic school, as evidenced by another rough school in the district, King-Weeks Elementary.

As I’ve subbed around the KC area (several different districts) I’ve been able to observe first-hand all the different schools in the area; high schools, alternative schools, middle schools and elementary schools.  Center School District is, by far, the best public school district in the city.  It’s so great to see poor African-American kids being able to benefit from a good school district.  It sure would be nice if the other districts could follow Central’s example. 

I’ve also had the chance to catch up with former Melcher teachers who are at different schools in the district.  It’s helped me heal some of those old wounds.  Yes, that experience still kind of stings.  What also still strikes a discordant note every time I experience it is seeing the line of kids entering their schools through  a metal detector.   I understand the need, but if you stop and think about how much schools and prisons resemble each other, it’s quite disturbing.  I’ve also been able to catch up with Melcher kids who are now 8th graders scattered across the district.  I’ll eventually write a full post on what that’s been like. 

Our Future
I’m not sure how everything will develop with this new experience of living in inner-city Kansas City.  We’ve both had some good opportunities come our way and it’s just a matter of sifting through them.  We haven’t started doing much ministry or community involvement yet, but things are starting to open up.  We’re just finishing the process of getting our feet underneath us, as we’ve just landed back in the US, but we’re also beginning to look toward the future.  It should be an interesting journey.

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