I walked up to the red, worn, disheveled doors. I could see in my mind‘s eye what their splendor must have been back when they were new and resources were available for their up keep. As I reached for the handle and gave it a pull, I realized immediately that the door was weighty and slightly jammed. Upon further inspection, I could see that the two gothic styled doors were not aligned with one another and needed a little fiddling with to open. As I planned my next, more intentional pull on the handle, it became very clear that this door wasn’t opening under my strength…it was far too heavy. Just then, someone who was obviously familiar with the doors, walked up, with seemingly no resistance and opened them with pure ease.
As I entered the sanctuary, I was overcome with it’s dampness and a smell like that of old tattered shoes. We were greeted warmly and somewhat inquisitively as we sat down in the uncomfortable wooden pew. I looked around and saw the exquisite stained glass windows and how badly they needed to be cleaned; how the water damage over the years covered much of the walls and how the carpet had so many holes worn into it that it looked like a mosaic on the floor. “This church needs some love,” I thought to myself. But I knew, since we were sitting in an inter city church, that any money for maintenance and repairs was simply unattainable.
The service began and there were no pipe organs or guitars or even a background track. It was just a few women sharing one microphone singing God’s praises accapella. The use of hymnals were non existent. If you knew God, you knew the words or at least hummed along as you soaked in the acoustics of the hallowed voices. There were only a hand full of bibles, most of which were torn on their covers or had their bindings so broken in that they no longer stood upright in the pew slots. But this, somehow, seemed appropriate because, again, if you knew God, you knew His Word. And if you didn’t, that was ok, too, as an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper would be given to you with the scripture pertaining to the day’s sermon on it. The parishioners were sparse (thanks to Covid) and the echoes were loud because of it, but the sermon was invigorating, the Pastor infectious and the presence of The Lord palpable.
The service was simple…pure…and purposeful.
The whole reason I was there was to tag along with my man who was shooting a documentary about Detroit and was interviewing the Pastor after service. My son had joined us, as well, to help carry and set up equipment. As we were about to head to the car to start grabbing the gear, the Pastor invited us back to the “After Party”.
“After Party,” I pondered. “What kind of party could this be with such few people here?“ We politely accepted and followed him through a gloomy narrow hallway into what once was the old gym. As we walked in, there sat 20 + young people at a long table in a dimly lit room with only the gray sky’s of Michigan filtering light in through the windows. The oldest age around that table couldn’t have been more than 25 years old.
“Now, listen,” the Pastor turned and announced specifically to us. “I want you to get an idea of the power in this room. These, right here, are the leaders. They’re doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. Unbelievable things. They all got their own tragic stories. Stories that you couldn’t even barely stomach. Yet, they’re out here changing the world. Ain’t nobody, no where gonna stop them either cause they know nothings impossible with God.“ Then he asked each one of them to introduce themselves and give a one minute synopsis of what they’re currently doing to change the climate of their neighborhoods.
And so it began. Thirty minutes of the 3 of us with our mouths on the floor. They were real estate agents, financial investors, social workers, clothing line designers, food and beverage owners, radio hosts, mental health advocates, graphic designers and the list goes on. And they hadn't gone to college to acquire these skills. They simply came together believing that EVERYTHING is possible because God is in EVERY thing. They ARE going to reclaim their streets back and show that there IS another way to live. That being a product of generational abuse, addiction, gun violence, sex exploitation, homelessness and fear does not have to be the future for them or for their beloved city of Detroit.
So far, they own and have renovated $48 million worth of real estate in their communities. Yep, $48 million. They provide free Wi-Fi from strategically placed houses in their neighborhoods. They are not only cleaning up these properties and their surrounding areas, but are also residing in them, as well. They are changing the cultural attitude on the streets and are bringing hope that not only change, but also success are 100% tangible. They are organizing marches to advocate for those who need attention brought to their situations. They are fighting to get financial education classes in the schools to teach teens about money and investing for the future. They help those who have been sex trafficked to reintegrate back into society. Seriously, I could keep going for another 5 paragraphs. And did I mention, they’re all under the age of 25!
When the dissertation of greatness was done, we walked out to the parking lot in a daze, almost in a kind of shock, like we had been hit with a stun gun. We managed to falter through the interview and then, packed up the cameras along with our humility and proceeded to grab a bite to eat. When we walked into the restaurant, the 3 of us just sat there in silence. That run down, dilapidated church held more passion, inspiration, and power in it’s inner walls than an entire mega-church congregation in ‘the burbs’. We were completely overwhelmed by what we had just experienced. It was so heavy in it’s goodness that we honestly didn’t know what to say. It was indescribable. These 'kids' were the manifested beauty of the holiness of God. The light they exuded was so powerful it was blinding and we knew that we had just witnessed a realm of heaven here on earth. But that’s God’s Glory…it’s what it looks like…it’s how it feels. We could actually touch it as we stood there around that table of hope.
However, here’s the thing about God’s glory. It’s heavy. It’s so heavy that you must be exceptionally strong to carry it….otherwise, it will crush you. And there is only one way to become strong enough to hold it. And that way is through your adversity, your difficulty, your hardships. Your suffering provides you with the tools to grow strong; to become capable of the responsibility and pressure that is expected and required in sustaining God’s Majesty. Tools like wisdom, compassion, love, trust, humbleness and faith; all things that build your spiritual muscles. Clearly, these young people were God’s Heavy Weight Champions. God will not release the weight of HIS presence before you are ready...before you understand HIS love in allowing your suffering. It is how HE builds your character. And these young people understood that and now, were walking in the possibility of what HIS Glory brings.
Upon my return home, I was still processing the experience of the day’s events. It soon became very clear to me that God was inviting me into the gym. HE was showing me that like those heavy red doors, if I want to be able to open them and have the strength to carry HIS glory, I need to allow HIM to be my personal trainer. Behind those heavy red doors, I realized that I, too, want to be one of God’s Heavy Weight Champions and that the pain during the workout is nothing compared to the Splendor of HIS Glory!
”For our trouble, light and momentary, is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…”
2 Corinthians 4:17
"The Lord's glory was in that cloud, and the light from it was so bright that the priests could not stay inside to do their work."
2 Chronicles 5:14