It is odd how a motorcycle ride can change your life. But that is what happened for us.
It was early last November. I was having coffee in Southlands, the beautiful shopping development close to the SE Aurora church I had pastored for 26 years. 5 months earlier I had stepped away from that role, knowing that Jesus was calling me to a new chapter but uncertain what it was. At 58, I was healthy and had a lot of energy to serve Jesus. But where?
I finished coffee with a young man, Sumner, who has since married our daughter Daviah. The day was cold and I was on my motorcycle, bundled up in a leather jacket. I felt a nudge to take a ride that would lead me to the urban poverty of East Colfax Avenue.
While I had a lot of options in my mind as to where I might serve, one of them was among the materially poor, something Diane and I had long had in our hearts. I’d like to say we had East Colfax on our heart, but it had been a couple of years since I had been there.
I meandered my way north and west until I caught Colfax Avenue east of I-225. Riding under the overpass at I-225, I saw the massive new hospital development that dominates the landscape, but just a bit beyond that were all the signs of poverty that defines East Colfax Avenue.
As I rode along I saw empty store fronts, ragged motels, new pot shops mixed-in with payday loan and pawn shops, ethnic stores and restaurants, I was gripped by a feeling that surprised me with its intensity. I felt like I had come home.
What do I mean by that? Just that there was something in that diverse, ragged and beautiful (at least to us) environment that seemed like the place we were to come home to. The place we were to next serve Jesus.
We took the time to pray and discern whether that sense of coming home was indeed from Jesus, but ultimately it was clear that we were called to be missionaries to the area. From pastoring a large church in a wealthy part of Aurora, we were to start over with just the two of us in the poorest part of Aurora, the area along East Colfax.
We started a ministry, we call “Jesus on Colfax” with a focus right now on the people who are on the edge of our world; those who live in the motels. Eventually we sensed Jesus calling us to move into one of those motels. That same stretch of Colfax that I rode on my motorcycle last November is now less than 100 feet from the door to our motel room.
My hope in this journal is to tell you the story of life here. Mostly I want to tell you about the people we now live among, stories of their lives and of Jesus’ work in them.
I close my eyes for a few minutes as I write this and see a steady stream of the faces we now know and love. I am surprised by how many of them come to mind. But more, I am surprised by the depth of love I feel towards them.
Just now I find myself thinking about Shanelle and Tony, managers of one of the motels. Both have lived incredibly hard lives. A couple of months ago they discovered, to their surprise, that Shanelle was pregnant with a little boy. Shanelle nearly died during a hard delivery. The boy, Anthony, was born with severe brain damage and died just 10 days later.
Diane and I went to Children’s Hospital and held him, feeling the warmth of his small body against our chest. I was there again just after Anthony passed away and again held his now lifeless body as we shared in the devastation that his parents felt. We got to show them Jesus through our actions and our words and I did a memorial service with 20 or so family and friends in attendance; most of whom live in motels along Colfax.
All that began with a motorcycle ride on a cold day last November, a ride that has taken us to the heart of East Colfax Avenue and into the hearts and lives of people we now serve and love.
It is odd how Jesus leads us.
But also beautiful. . .