Friday, October 21, 2016

The Deans Take on the Delta

We are excited to announce that Ryan has accepted a call to be senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Clarksdale, MS, which is located in the Delta, 2 1/2 hours north of where we currently live in Jackson.

If you're reading this and you're not from Mississippi, chances are when you hear the term "Mississippi Delta", you imagine the sediment-filled, muddy water where the mighty Mississippi dumps into the Gulf of Mexico. That's what I used to think too, until people corrected me years ago by telling me that it's actually a stretch of land as flat as Kansas that was once a flood plane between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Post Civil War, through a process of clearing land and building levees, the Delta became an incredibly fertile place for growing crops, and at one time was known as the Cotton Capital of the World.  And yet, this place so richly fertile is also notorious for its barrenness. "The Delta" has become synonymous with racial tension, grinding poverty, and cultural brokenness. These characteristics undoubtedly set the stage for the birthplace of the Blues, what the Delta is most widely known for, producing legends like B.B. King and Muddy Waters who knew first hand the deep troubles of which they sang. It's not uncommon to be walking the streets of a Delta town and run into tourists from Europe or Asia who are following the Mississippi Blues trail. It really is a fascinating place of both brokenness & beauty.

This background all sets the stage for why we believe God is calling us to serve in a small Delta town, but to really get the full picture, I need to give a little background on us. Seven years ago this month, we answered the call for Ryan to serve as youth pastor at Redeemer Church, an intentionally multiethnic church in Jackson, MS. Providentially, we were unable to sell our house in the suburbs of Atlanta at the time and were "stuck" living in the church's house behind Redeemer in the transitional neighborhood of Broadmoor. I know this was no accident, but instead was a part of God's plan to stretch me. He used living in our cute little 1,100 square foot house with one bathroom in a neighborhood I would've written off as unsafe to show me how little I actually do need. But most importantly, he used it to give both Ryan and me a heart for the African American community, particularly those in a community of need. I believe living in our neighborhood has helped us build bridges across racial and socioeconomic lines with many of our neighbors by making us more approachable, which over time, builds trust. We are going to miss living in Broadmoor dearly!

While God was doing this work in our lives here in Jackson, he was doing a similar work in the congregation of First Pres in the city of Clarksdale. Several years ago, burdened for reaching their changing community with the gospel, a committee of lay people got together and wrote their vision statement (based on 2 Corinthians 5:18-19), which is "to live and share the ministry of reconciliation in Clarksdale, in Mississippi, and around the world." They have since spent the last few years making their church more welcoming to people from different backgrounds by broadening their worship styles, hiring an African American assistant pastor, and serving their community through many different community programs & events. So when our paths crossed theirs a few months back, it became very clear to us that this is what the Lord had been preparing us for.

We are sad that this season of serving at Redeemer is coming to a close, for its people have become like family to us, but we are thankful that we won't be that far away and can hopefully continue many of those relationships. We like to think of our going as an extension of what the Lord has been doing at Redeemer, bringing people from different races & socioeconomic backgrounds together in Christ. With all of the divisions that still exist in our country today, this is the sort of thing that the world notices as being different, and thus brings glory to him!

We are also excited about this new opportunity of experiencing the rich culture of the Delta and making new friends in our new church family and the surrounding community. Upon hearing about our upcoming move, a sweet Redeemer friend of ours said that the Deans & the Delta go together like greens & cornbread. Here's hoping!

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