June 11th, 2012 at 12:37 pm
I’m currently sipping on beautifully decorated hot chocolate in Marsee’s Bakery located in Southeast Portland with Paradise by Coldplay on repeat. The small sips I take from my blank, white mug seem to be doing more harm than good. Every taste leaves a small bit of brown residue of cocoa on the lip of the cup, which makes the eye-catching appearance of the drink less and less desirable. I was handed a 12 oz mug of hot chocolate with a dazzling design of a flower made from cream, and now I stare at a 6 oz cup of tan liquid with pedals from the cream-flower left behind. I down the remainder of the beverage, leaving dark, leftover chocolate syrup on the bottom of the mug. Portlandians love their coffee shops.
Portland people love a lot of things: Coffee, bikes, the Trail Blazers, beards, and dogs. “Love” seems to be an understatement when stating their affection for those things. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I walked down the street and saw a bearded man, wearing a Trail Blazers’ shirt, drinking coffee while riding a bike with his dog on a leash. That’s the norm here. It’s Portland, Oregon.
I am a member of the Portland Parachute Project team here in Southeast Portland in an area called Sellwood. The team consists of five people including myself, Joel Smith (Senior at Midwestern State University), Kaitlyn Crawford (UT Graduate), Jackie Alvarez (Angelo State Graduate), and Amy Brown (Junior at Western Carolina University). We have a supervisor named Matt Jolley, who desires to see spiritual life in Portland grow. He has dedicated his life to living in Portland while planting a church. His vision is that since people in Portland are mainly go-with-the-flow kinds of people, he doesn’t want a traditional church. He wants to listen to what the community has to say about the church and bring them Jesus in a Portland kind of way. For now, he is meeting with a group of people each week that he has chosen, studying the Bible, and expressing his desire to do life together with them. He needs our help to bring the church to people. That means my team is here to help connect with people across Southeast Portland, build intentional relationships with them for the sake of the gospel, and introduce them to God’s word.
This is much easier said than done. The Northwest is very different from the South. We met a girl who just graduated high school, Kathryn Ludlam, at Powell’s Bookstore (A huge, four-story bookstore- the “Goodwill” of bookstores) in the Christian Literature section. She looked at us and immediately knew that we were outsiders. How? She said we were too tan to be from Portland. She also said we dressed too “normal”. Too normal? I thought my crazy socks and goodwill outfits were good enough to satisfy the Portland fashion taste buds. I guess I was wrong. I’m too normal… which is apparently frowned upon. If I want to seriously connect with these people, I need to figure out how to be more hip. If only I had the kind of hormones to grow a wicked beard like the people of Portland.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we aren’t connecting with anyone here. Kathryn came over for dinner yesterday (June 4th) and we played games afterwards. She said that she wants to hangout more often before she goes to college, which is incredible.
The other day, we were feeling a bit ambitious and went to the only 24 hour coffee shop in town to get some reading in. When we walked in, it seemed like the entire building turned and looked at us and immediately knew we weren’t from around here. My order of a smoothie from a coffee shop didn’t help much either. I’m not too fond of coffee, so that sets me back even further from connecting with people here.
We strategically placed ourselves in different locations around the shop and read our Bibles, hoping people would notice and that might strike up a conversation. It worked. Joel started talking to a group of Romanian believers, and Amy was talking to a German, as well as a Native American. The Romanians were encouraging us to continue to do work in Portland, as they have been. They explained that their church was having its own struggles and our obedience to the Lord excited them about their own walks.
We met one guy in specific named Peter. Peter is in his mid-20s and is on fire to serve God. He was saved while listening to a sermon by a church in Dallas called The Village. He was listening to Matt Chandler (an awesome preacher) and decided to devote his life to serving the Lord. It’s crazy because when I’m in Texas, I go to The Village! He was connecting with our group and we ended up talking until about 1:00 am. Peter is a great guy and we want to continue to keep in touch with him.
As for the Portland life, it’s a bit challenging to jump into this area head first. Everything is different. It rains a lot. It’s not the pouring down rain either. It’s the annoying rain where it’s in between drizzling and a normal rain. It’s just frustrating because it ruins everything. My main source of transportation is by bike, so when it rains it really stinks to get from place to place. Another source of transportation around here is by train or bus. The only bus I’ve been on is a school bus so it’s confusing when I’m trying to get somewhere. I genuinely like to ride my bike everywhere. I feel like it’s easier, healthier, and just more fun. If only I was better at navigating through rain on these busy streets. I need to sit down and study the streets to get more familiar with them.
Other than the weather and the transportation, Portland is pretty great. People here eat out a lot, which is fine by me because that gives me an excuse to eat out at places and join them for a cup of coffee (or smoothie, in my case).
The people here are some of the nicest people I’ve met. It’s said that people from Texas are nice. Well they are mean compared to the people in Portland. When you ask someone how they are doing, they give an authentic answer and ask you how you are doing. This leads into a conversation where I can connect with people. In Texas it seems like when you ask someone “Hey how are you?” All they say is “Good. You?” The genuineness of the people here is something I haven’t experienced, and it gives me more of a desire to see them grow for Christ.
One thing that is helping me adapt to the Portland lifestyle is by reading the book of Romans. In the beginning of this book, the author, Apostle Paul, is painting a picture of how powerful God is compared to us. He explains that we, as humans, are literally nothing without God. He doesn’t do this condescending. He does it with encouragement. I catch myself belittling myself while I’m here and getting discouraged while thinking of ways to connect with the people of Portland. Then I realize that no matter how much we DON’T have in common, we all have at least one thing that relates us: We are nothing without God.
Romans 1:21 really sticks out to me. It says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The Portland people here know God, but they do not give him glory; whether that is because of pride, or their lack of respect for God. Romans 5:8 gives hope by saying, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I see this as even though people in Portland aren’t giving God the glory he deserves, He still loves them and desires a relationship with them. I am here to help start a fire in their hearts for God by living as similar to Jesus as possible.
I am about to go to the Food Courts of Sellwood (Food courts are very popular here) and get some lunch with Joel. I thank you for all of your prayers and ask that you continue to pray for me while I’m in Portland. I want to encourage you guys to read the book of Matthew if you have never read it. It totally changed my life and I thank God for the story within. I will keep you guys updated on my adventure here in Portland.
Mark Campbell, Go No Missions missionary in Portland, Oregon and a student at Midwestern State University
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