Ragtag Courage

The word “instigate” means “to bring about, as by incitement or urging; to urge on to some drastic or inadvisable action.” Sounds sinister, doesn’t it? Mischievous, troublemaker, inciter of drastic action—Jesus was accused of being an instigator. After all, his band of twelve ragamuffins were wreaking havoc in their region. Whole neighborhoods were changing. Some said the kingdom was near. Others said they needed to shut up.

There is a similar ragtag group of people in an inner-city Phoenix neighborhood, called Neighborhood Ministries. Their mission is to be the presence of Jesus Christ, sharing his life-transforming hope, love, and power among the distressed families of urban Phoenix, and to ignite their passion for God and His Kingdom.

My husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary tonight, a few weeks early, with dinner at a cottage nestled under the pines. Kids Club, a program of Neighborhood Ministries, also celebrated a 30-year anniversary this summer with the theme “Quest for the Kingdom.”

I remember the first Kid’s Club in the park. The next year, my husband Barry and I were assigned to Neighborhood for some “practical experience.” We were in our early 20s, newly married, freshly graduated from Bible college, and eager to “get to the field” in South America. Essentially, we were given to Neighborhood Ministries so we could “grow up.”

Thirty years later, we are still growing up and still at Neighborhood. We left for a while to get better. As a PK and MK pair (preacher’s kid and missionary’s kid), we thought we had to go away to get better. We had never seen church leadership own their stuff and work it out with vulnerability in community. So, when God birthed my story into my consciousness in 1998, I pulled back to go to counseling for a bit.

I have been back for fifteen years now, still broken and still in counseling, but deeply rooted in my story. Aware of my own narrative, I have permission to enter the stories of others. I used to think their stories were different than mine. My churchy childhood years looked squeaky clean. But it was not so different after all. Hiddenness and abuse, violence and hypocrisy were just dressed up differently in my world.

Now I come armed with only a bold prayer that asks God for eyes to see. I see the third generation now in a neighborhood that is changing. I ask for ears to hear. I hear stories of pain, of violence that slips into a bedroom at night. I ask God for courage…courage to stay present…to keep seeing and hearing.

It matters. This crazy work, instigated over 30 years ago in one distressed neighborhood in Phoenix, matters for one family, one clan. We chose to step up and foster, then adopt, two kids in one clan. The redemption of their stories is now touching the third generation, and it’s touching the redemptive narrative of my family’s and my story.

The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to her from far away, saying,
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Jeremiah 31:2-3

These verses birthed a vision. They were given while I spent an autumn on bed rest. The vision was of a house where those who survived could find grace. This was a community house in a neighborhood in Phoenix, a home for my midwifery practice. I envisioned a safe space for women to share their stories, for their bodies to be cared for with dignity and respect. I saw a space for dreaming together, for groups and gardens, healing and bees. There would be tears and prayers, swearing and laughter.

One place.

One group’s response to what Jesus might want to instigate in one immigrant neighborhood in one city.

One person, instigating a crazy idea.

He is still at it, you know. He is still instigating.

Jesus doesn’t fit well in a box.
He might not even be welcome in a typical church. But he instigates courage.


To see.

To hear.

To be present.

Joanna Wilder is a midwife, a mama, and a keeper of her-story. She has a passion for community development, and walking with women. She is learning how much she doesn’t know. Read more of her writing here.