Moving to the South Side has not been what I expected. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what I expected! It must have been something along the lines of becoming best friends with all our neighbors and having deep conversations with them all the time. So far we’ve only interacted with four neighbors who we’ve really talked to, and even so, the conversations haven’t felt like the “heart to hearts” I was subconsciously anticipating. God has been teaching me a lot through these slow and steady interactions that I believe will help Kris and I better serve in any community we enter.
First off, building community seems like it will take small interactions over a long period of time. Last week in the mail we received a card from a neighbor who we met during the first month of the internship. In her card she thanked us for making an effort to meet our neighbors. She mentioned that people don’t seem to do that very often and that it was nice. Her card was encouraging, and it reiterated the fact that small efforts can make an impact.
Something I’ve learned is that I have a lot to learn from the people that I’m trying to minister to! I went into this internship with the mindset that I have a lot to learn, but it really sunk in last night when a homeless woman served me dinner. I walked into First Christian church to find an adorable baby crawling around the floor while his young mom was preparing dinner for the Family Promise families and me. When we sat down to eat, she shared with us how she stumbled into the church a couple weeks ago and wanted to get involved right away. She also shared her story of how she found herself pregnant on the reservation with a partner who struggled with addictions. She recently moved to Billings when her son was born to find a better life and work towards new goals. I sat in awe and listened to this strong young woman as she confidently shared her story with us. I’ve had a much more privileged life than her, and yet she was the one generously giving to me.
Another neighbor had us over for dinner a couple weeks ago and shared a lot of her experiences in community development. It meant a lot to hear from a woman who has been a part of this community for fifty years and isn’t planning on leaving! We’re going to set up a time soon to talk more about her insights on building community and where a young millennial with a lot of energy like myself could fit into that.
One more interaction that has stood out to me was during the South Side Christmas store with a lady named Theresa. I was amazed at how something as simple as holding presents for her could allow a platform to hear her story. She told me how her daughter suffers from a chronic illness and has a big operation coming up in Seattle. She’s nervous about spending a month in Seattle for the operation because she doesn’t have money to spend on the travel and is nervous about crimes in the Seattle area. I told her I’d be praying for her daughter and exchanged contact information before she left.
Something that has been huge in my learning is how Family Promise has opened my eyes to understand systematic oppression more than ever before. It has helped me approach the underprivileged with a more genuine understanding and empathy. I have placed a lot of stigmas and assumptions on poor communities in the past and am now finally learning how to break them down. Building relationships with these underprivileged friends has been the key to breaking down these stigmas. I’ve also been enjoying getting to know my mentee from Orchard each week! She and I get to jam in the music room after lunchtime. It’s been so fun! My prayer is that God will continue to show me how to both love, serve, and learn from His people on the South Side of Billings.
by Erika Musser
*Names have been changed for privacy.