This year my birthday was on a perfectly sunny, summer Sunday. After a lazy morning, complete with cake leftover from the night before as breakfast, I sat myself down in my backyard with a good book. The moment was picturesque. Not a cloud in the sky, the sound my neighbors’ kids playing with their dog, and the slight tinge of smoke that I could only assume was coming from a nearby barbecue. I was so engrossed in my book that I didn’t notice that the smoke was getting thicker and thicker every second. It wasn’t until about five minutes later that I lifted my head because I heard yelling coming from the street behind my yard. I couldn’t see a foot in front of my face because the smoke was so thick.
Without thinking I bolted over the fence and started running towards the commotion. A crowd began to gather around the smoking house. In a moment of pure adrenaline, four of us, complete strangers, looked at each other and wordlessly decided what needed to be done. After making sure someone was calling 911, we broke down the front door, ran in, and began yelling for anyone in the house. By God’s grace, the house was empty other than the dog who made it out safely.
This all happened while I was living in Steubenville this summer getting trained by Dirty Vagabond Ministries to open a new mission location in Sharpsburg, PA with my missionary partner, Shannon. After my adrenaline evened out in adoration later that day, it became clear what God was trying to tell me through the experience. I had always wondered what I would do in an emergency, but when the time came, there was no moment to reflect on heroic virtues or to run through scenarios or to get wrapped up in anxiety. It was an event of pure urgency that demanded a response. Fight or flight.
This urgency is what drives the Dirty Vagabond missionaries. It's no secret that our world is in trouble. Hatred, wars, poverty, broken families, and indifference don’t only ravage nations overseas, but our own neighborhoods. In a real way, our neighbors' house is burning down, and very possibly our own house is burning down with it. The constant bombardment of brokenness in the world has made us numb. Doing inner-city ministry, the brokenness that we all try to hide comes quickly to the surface, both in those we work with and within ourselves.
Shannon and I have just begun to enter into the lives of the community of Sharpsburg. We’ve been having a great time getting to know and hanging out with teens. We’ve brought them to Breakout (weekly outreach night) over at the Garfield Underground which has gotten them excited about starting Breakout in Sharpsburg. I’ve worked out with the guys at the local free Christian gym complete with a big sign that says, “MALE GENDER ONLY,” and Shannon has brought girls to McDonald’s to hang out and spent an afternoon chatting and doing nails at the Underground.
God has immensely blessed us during the past two and a half months starting our new site. We spent the first two weeks wandering Sharpsburg thinking there were no teens to meet but were surprised by grace when God sent countless teens our way. We went from 0 kids to having over 20 teens whose numbers we have that we are in regular contact with, and every time we go out to hang out by the basketball courts when the buses drop off teens from school, we encounter dozens of teens that we’ve never seen before. But even in this honeymoon phase, the brokenness is evident. The broken families, the addiction, and the hunger, physical and spiritual, are present among the joy that these teens bring us.
What do we say in the face of such evil? How can we even begin to find solutions to this problem? The “good news” of our faith is we already have an answer to the world’s brokenness, and that answer is the person of Jesus. He is “the Way” to heal a broken world. He is “the Truth” in a society that has given way to relativism. He is “the Life” in a culture of death. The world needs Jesus. These teens need Jesus. Our neighbors need Jesus. Our families need Jesus.
We need Jesus. The spreading of the Gospel is every bit as urgent as a burning building. Evangelization isn’t the responsibility of a few that we think are “trained" to do it. People who run into burning buildings aren’t always firefighters. They are people who love their neighbors. I’ve only been a missionary with Dirty Vagabond for a few months, but the love that Dirty Vagabond has for teens and the desire that every employee and missionary has to share the Gospel is infectious. But you don’t have to be a missionary to share in that love. By becoming a mission partner with Dirty Vagabond, you can enter the brokenness we face in a very real way. God has called you by name and has uniquely given you the gifts to bring Jesus to your neighbors, your co-workers, and your family, and by partnering with Dirty Vagabond you can help bring Jesus to teens in the inner city.
-Ryan Ackerman, Missionary in Sharpsburg, PA (Diocese of Pittsburgh)