Minneapolis Trip : Bringing the Sanctuary to the Streets
Two years ago I went on a personal silent retreat at a monastery two hours south of Phoenix. I spent two nights there in quiet contemplation, admiring the beauty of nature and leaning into solitude. I was in awe of the sincerity of the sisters who lived there, keeping their vows of night and day prayer and worship. God was in that place. I saw him in the wildflowers and the sunsets and in the simple songs, prayers, and smiles of the nuns who lived there.
I went to be a soul before God – not a mom, not a wife, not a daughter. Just a human loved by the Father. My worth not dictated by what I could produce. My identity not shaped by those around me. That trip changed me. I’ve always been drawn to monasticism – passionate, fervent lives set apart solely for faith. Safety and integrity in its reclusiveness. That summer I went into the sanctuary of God’s house.
Two years later I found myself bringing the sanctuary to the streets of Minneapolis. I experienced a small picture of taking the holy, intimate beauty of God’s presence and placing it on the dirty asphalt of a poor neighborhood ravaged by violence, burning, and looting. This had to be a picture of Jesus’s heart – coming down from heaven’s perfection to intimately live among us in our humanity.
I don’t quite have the right words to explain all my thoughts from this trip. As a mother of two small children, leaving for two nights is hard enough, let alone traveling in a world of Covid-19 and entering a city torn apart by anger and pain. We arrived less than a month after George Floyd’s murder, the death that added fire to a movement as he uttered his last words, “I can’t breathe”.
I also admit that I do not have the understanding to fully engage and comprehend the Black Lives Matter movement. Although I am biracial, I mostly grew up being treated as white. I’ve known privilege, wealth, opportunities and education. I come to the conversation about systemic racial injustice unable to contribute anything new. But I do offer a listening ear to learn and a heart to repent. I come open handed.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe that all people regardless of race or ethnicity have inherent value and should be treated with love, kindness and respect. This is what I am teaching my children. I long for them to grow up in a world that has been healed of racism and the pain caused by it. Although fear and insecurity plagued me, I knew I had to go on this trip – not just for me, but for my kids. To show them that caring means action. Faith means obedience. And love means sacrifice.
My dear friend Laura called me a week prior to this trip, informing me that 24-7 Prayer had been asked by a local Christian community to come and facilitate a week of prayer. This local community called Source was already serving in the Powderhorn neighborhood – providing food and services to those in need. The prayer tent would be located off of Lake St. just a few blocks north of the intersection where George was killed. Most buildings on the street had been looted, burned, or abandoned in light of all the rioting that had occurred. Laura asked if I would come for any amount of time to help her.
After much prayer with my husband Luke, the Lord highlighted Psalm 27:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?…
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock…
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.”.
I felt led to go. God’s goodness was waiting for me in Minneapolis
As I stepped onto that plane on Friday afternoon, I was just a soul before God again. I could contribute nothing to the process other than being myself and saying yes to His call. I wasn’t just a mother, a daughter, or a wife. I was one little person offering a YES to engage with this issue.
I was blessed to spend time on the front end with Laura, catching up and seeing the city. Upon arriving, I was reminded how large cities are and that there are so many people living in Minneapolis who may never care or connect around the issues that have caught the eye of the world.
I saw too the power of news media, painting grim pictures of nonstop violence. Although I experienced darkness there, I also saw light and kindness and hope. Simple things such a convenience store owner staying open late, to help provide food for people in the neighborhood where most stores had shut down. Or God’s divine safety in a stranger who said with a smile, “I’ll protect you” to Laura as gun shots were heard just up the street. God was already working in Minneapolis. I was there to join him, not the other way around.
Saturday afternoon we spent seven hours setting up a prayer space within a 2000 square foot tent, creating stations and areas for people to pray and respond to God. Many stations were centered around justice and racism and allowing space for repentance and healing.
Although long and tiresome, at the end I looked around to see we had set up the sanctuary of God right there – in a K-Mart parking lot with homeless people coming by to look in and ask for food… near the murals painted over the abandoned shopping center where people came to beautify the broken. Some might say that offering a place for prayer is useless in light of all that had happened. Yet it seemed to me that a place where hearts could heal in God’s presence might be exactly what the neighborhood needed.
Prayer kicked off that evening as a group of black college students came in, saying they were actually headed to a barbecue but felt led instead to come to the tent. Others from the 24-7 Prayer community joined. A young man led worship for the night, sharing his testimony that God has saved him from life a drug addiction. He was there believing and hoping to see more of God’s healing power in the community. Prayers and songs rang out in that tent that evening, a simple sanctuary to meet with God. Night and day prayer was about to fill the week, with outreach and worship events in the evenings.
Late that night, Laura and I drove around trying to find food for dinner – an almost impossible task at 9pm since most restaurants in the area closed early for safety. After several unsuccessful attempts, we decided instead to go straight to the memorial site for George Floyd at the intersection of Chicago Ave and 38th St.
We knew the area had become a sort of mecca for people to come and pay their respects to George and the Black Lives Matter movement. Preachers came most nights to share the gospel and baptize people. Yet upon arrival, I was fearful. There were loud fireworks going off, darkness shadowing the street, homeless people in makeshift tents, and large groups of African Americans blaring music and shouting. The smell of marijuana was thick in the air. I later wondered if I felt unsafe because the media had painted such a grim picture. Or perhaps something deeper was happening in me – could it be that I had my own judgments for people of color? Or maybe it was because I was experiencing what it was like to be the ethnic minority for once.
As we walked closer, we looked down and saw a list of names of black people who had been killed, written in chalk along the pavement. A speaker was blaring rap and r&b from the gas station across the street. Stacks upon stacks of flowers, some dried and some fresh piled in every corner of the intersection. Signs, posters, stuffed animals, candles, murals, art pieces and even a garden filled the street. In the middle, a roundabout with an architectural structure showing a black fist raised, a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. Even at 10:30 at night, people of all colors and ages, were coming to bring flowers, to stop, cry, pray, or take pictures with the murals. Two white haired old ladies, dressed in pressed blouses and pants, stopped to talk with some young African American boys. I don’t know what they talked about, but I could see there was respect and kindness in the exchange.
The gravity of the moment hit. Here we were, standing on what will surely be a historic site. I imagine my children telling my grandkids, “Your grandma was there, she stood on that same ground where Floyd died. She went there to pray that like in the words of Amos 5:24, for ‘justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream through our nation.’
As I stared and walked and read, the overwhelming emotions of the place filled me. Agonizing pain. Rage and anger. Mourning. Grief. Hopelessness. And yet this place of despair was being swallowed up in beauty – flowers, art and a sacredness to come lament together – regardless of the color of your skin. It was holy ground. George’s blood cried out from the ground, crying for someone to see. That intersection, crowned with beauty, was proof that the world saw. God saw. He was present in that place, tending to the memorial. Keeping it clean through the hands of the local community. Keeping it hallowed through the hearts of many coming to stand in solidarity.
One particular sign caught my attention among all the posters. It was small, written on cardboard in black marker. But the words broke my heart, and I cry whenever I think about them:
“You cried out ‘Mamma’
So we came.
We heard you love.
Rest in power George Floyd”
Along with “I can’t breathe”, one of George’s last words was a call for his momma. As a mother with a young son, I stood there thinking about what it would be like to have my child unjustly murdered. I stood there representing all mamas who would come running when their baby cried out. I thought of Mary the mother of Jesus, present as her baby boy was unjustly murdered on the cross, at the hands of wicked men. I felt such loss.
On another sign further down, someone wrote:
“From: a Black Mama
To: White Mamas
Claim Floyd as your Son
Mothers are the first teachers, they must teach their children to love and have respect for all human beings, even if their hair is wooly and they have dark skin”
I am too young to be George’s mother, but I did want to reach out and claim him as my own. The color of his skin made no difference. He was a child of God, made in God’s image. Beautiful. No different than my own son, he was born and grew up with laughter and hopes and dreams. And yet his story was also very different than my son’s because he grew up poor and stuck in a broken system.
“Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,
walk away from the baby she bore?
But even if mothers forget,
I’d never forget you—never.
Look, I’ve written your names on the backs of my hands.” Isaiah 49:15-18
God had no forgotten George Floyd. Nor Breonna Taylor, nor Ahmaud Arbury. Nor so many others. The list of names is countless, but not a single one is unseen.
I left Minneapolis early the next morning, raw and vulnerable. Empty yet full. On the way to the airport I watched the sunrise over the city skyline, fresh mercy for a new day. Much of my travel time was spent journaling and crying. My 48 hours in Minneapolis was brief, and yet it left a deep impact on my life. Questions brought to the surface by stepping into another’s world. I have no answers to the issues of police brutality, of racial inequality, or systemic injustice. I do not hate police officers. I do not hate people of color. And yet hate seems to be the common thread that has been poisoning our nation and our world. The short answer is that man is wicked and there can be no true hope and healing until God brings the healing.
And yet, God’s plan A is the church – to be the hands and feet of Jesus to love and serve and repent and forgive. It seems to me that there is a completed picture in bringing the holy sanctuary to the broken streets. The austerity and beauty of radical living for God needs to be lived out in the context of the hurting world we reside in. Are we willing to be uncomfortable? To step out of cathedrals to enter K-Mart parking lots?
Our first step is simply to say YES to engaging in this issue. To listen. To wait. To cry. To pray. The journey ahead is long. I don’t know how to heal a nation’s pain, but I am reminded that God does. So I turn to Him and say YES to how He leads. I turn to my black and brown brothers and sisters and say YES to walking with them and standing by them – not just for this moment in time but for the rest of my life. And I turn to my children and I say YES, black lives matter. May we never forget. And may the challenging work of change begin in our own homes and hearts first.