This post is part of a #BringthePeace series. #BringthePeace is a call to action for individuals and congregations to extend peace in their communities. It is also our prayer inviting God to bring the peace that expands our capacity for empathy, compassion and love that actively seeks to dismantle oppression and violence. To contribute your story, contact KaylaB@mennoniteusa.org.
Andrea Sawyer-Kirksey is the executive director of Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection (DOOR). She has over 20 years of experience as an educator, justice advocate and program development professional. She has created curriculum for youth through undergrad and graduate levels dealing with issues of justice, inequality, racism and poverty. During her time at DOOR, Andrea has challenged all participants to look beyond the surface of the city and individuals to find the richer stories. Andrea is passionate about raising up leaders who will disrupt the status quo. DOOR is a partner of Mennonite Mission Network.
I was born and raised in the beautiful city of Chicago. It has been my home for fifty-two years. This city has been and continues to be a place of peace for me. Some people see Chicago as a place of violence based on the stories they hear in the media, but I know that Chicago is beautifully complicated, with many stories of both successes and struggles. It’s a place where people harm one another as well as show unconditional love to each other.
As a kid, I grew up on a block that was filled with laughter and joy. People looked out for one another. The older folks would correct your behavior if you got out of line. They would also celebrate your good grades with special treats. Our parents played dominos and spades late into the night while eating fried fish and spaghetti, unwinding from a long week at work. Sometimes they would let us join in the games. There were lots of hugs and words of affirmation for us as kids.
Every once in a while, I revisit my old neighborhood. I can still hear the sounds of love and peace. I am flooded with memories. I hear the voice of Miss Mary calling me baby. I can envision Mr. Lee, the corner store owner who let our parents buy the food they needed on credit when they didn’t have the money. I see neighbors sitting on porches talking and laughing with each other. My summer days were filled with hopscotch, double dutch, roller skating and playing hide-and-go-seek.
The organization I lead as the executive director invites people to see the face of God in the city. At DOOR, we share with participants who come to serve and learn that, sometimes, God ‘s face shows up in an unexpected place and way — maybe in the kindness of a stranger taking the time to make sure they are not lost, or in the joy of a child who delights in telling them about their neighborhood. They may find God in a neighborhood protest where people proclaim that no human is illegal, or in an urban garden surrounded by noise, busyness and congestion. Many times when we experience the face of God, we also experience her peace.
Sometimes peace is found amidst deep pain at a midnight vigil for a young person who died way too soon, their life taken by gun violence. In the darkness where the only light is a candle, and the only sounds are soft cries and tears — there in that place, peace can be found. Sometimes peace is felt in the belief that God is present and close to the brokenhearted, or perhaps it’s felt in the embrace of friends and strangers, as they gather to pray for both victim and offender.
In the city of Chicago, we have many agents of peace: churches that provide shelter for families trying to stay together, organizations that practice hospitality and the ministry of presence to the elderly, individuals who provide services that feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Community members bring peace by asking for restorative justice for young people who need guidance and mercy rather than prison time. Some of these community members have spent time in jail themselves and can testify to the damage of a crime and punishment system.
I find peace on my morning run to the lakefront. When I get to the water, I breathe and turn my face to God. I invite her to meet me in both my joy and pain. I don’t push away the pain of my city. Instead, I allow myself to see, name and feel the pain. I pray and ask for God’s peace to wash over the city I love.