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Waking from the American Dream in order to Find More

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Wikipedia defines the American Dream as follows:

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.

Despite serving overseas for years (you can read about our family’s story here), I still love America and many of the principles that guided its founding. I love that we value hard work and Cinderella stories. I often fight tears as I watch the fireworks in July and think about the freedoms and comforts that we enjoy. Most of us have access to clean water, food, medicine, transportation, and entertainment whenever we want it. We live among the upper crust of the global population. These are all great blessings for sure, but we should still be willing to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

How does our affluence and our quest for “upward social mobility” affect our obedience to a verse like Galatians 2:10, which reminds us to “remember the poor”?

What are the cultural factors that are crippling our evangelism to neighborhoods where there is only “downward social mobility”?

Many evangelicals are worried about lost people, but in order to respond biblically to Paul’s call to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2), we may have to do something radical. We may have to descend our “American Dream” ladder in order to find those around us in need, to become part of their world and find more than we left behind.

Sometimes we are asked how a family can prepare themselves for mission work in poverty-stricken countries. We reply, “Don’t wait until you get overseas. Start today. Sell your home, move to the poorest area of town, learn their culture, become a vulnerable part of that community.” We’ve never actually met a couple who did this . . . until last month. Our summer travels and meetings with individual supporters took us through Huntsville, Alabama, where we met up with the Hanks family (including their two little ones). Andrew job is in aerospace and Courtney is a clinical social worker and a faithful mommy. This couple is passionate about the gospel. Read the story of how they woke up from the American Dream in order to find more. May it inspire you to think radically today.

Why We Moved
Andrew and I have always shared a mutual love of missions and adventure. We chose to go on mission to Africa for our honeymoon, and then to Indonesia for our five-year anniversary. As God continued to break our hearts for the unreached and underprivileged, we began asking the question of how are we living “on mission” daily at home? In addition to overseas trips, reading missional books such as Radical, The Insanity of God, and Let the Nations Be Glad began changing us. We no longer desired, or could justify, living the American Dream.

We Googled the poorest neighborhood in our city and began to look for a house there. Why? Because we had an overwhelming, Spirit-filled conviction to live on mission every day. We also wanted to use our neighborhood as a type of training ground to see if God was calling us to overseas missions. In preparation for that possibility, we moved to a place that would take us out of our culture, and out of our comfort zone. The first year was full of adjustments and surprises, however, God was so faithful to confirm His leading in our decision. There was a closeness to our heavenly Father in this season, a closeness we had not yet experienced living in the safety and comforts of our upper-middle class, like-minded world.

Effects on our Family
There are several ways in which the move has affected our family. We are continually learning from cultures that are not our own. This has allowed us to gain respect for our differences and appreciate God’s beautiful design of diversity. In addition, God has removed our spirit of fear and replaced it with a deep love and a desire for our new friends to know Christ. Although there is a sense of desensitization that happens after hearing so many gunshots, God has been faithful to cover our hearts with the peace that passes understanding despite our day-to-day experiences.

Some days we fear the future effects of raising our children in our neighborhood and the things they will be exposed to. There are days we question if we are being negligent by purposely putting them in “harm’s way.” However, when our fears and questions come, it’s as if the Lord whispers sweet truths, saying, “They are mine, I love them more than you ever could, and nothing will happen to them without passing through my sovereign hands first.”

Effects on our Community
In terms of those outside our community, we have found that the majority of our Christian peers are either perplexed or challenged by our decision to live among our city’s underprivileged. We have been given many opportunities to share our convictions and journey with others who share a similar Christian, middle-class background.

As far as the internal community within our neighborhood, we have already (in our short two years) had the opportunity to assist with spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial needs. We have also been blessed to be trusted to walk side-by-side with some neighbors in their times of grief and trials. We have had the privilege of offering prayer and the hope of the gospel. We are still earning trust and deepening our relationships, and we look forward to developing true and lasting relationships with the people in our community. Our prayer is that they see Christ reflected in our actions and that we may be bold in sharing the gospel as opportunities arise right here where God has us.

Courtney Hanks
Andrew and Courtney began their journey together as college sweethearts in 2006 and now have two children. Andrew works full time as an aerospace engineer and Courtney is a clinical social worker serving in the school system as a family counselor. They attend Providence Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, where Andrew serves as the local missions and ministry deacon.
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