Writing the Story of UTM

When I share the messy, raw stories of how Jesus transforms lives in my neighborhood through UTM, people often remark, “You really ought to write a book.”   For many years I resisted, because I know myself.  I sometimes fall into the habit of starting projects, but not completing them. But while on vacation up at Silver Lake, I cleared my head which allowed Sherilyn and I to come up with a strategy on how we could compile these stories into one book.  Stories of transformation through Jesus—-among the many youth and families that we’ve served in the inner-city as well as our own transformation through Jesus.   So we sketched out an outline along with the introduction and first chapter of “Under the Gun Rue.”  Here is the unedited version of its introduction.   Let us know what you think.    

Under the Gun Rue:  Introduction

Would you believe that the hip-hop slang name for Grand Rapids is Gun Rue?  Its even more difficult to believe that gun violence, and all the pathologies associated with it, brought on this gritty street name for Grand Rapids. Yes, I am talking about the city of churches, where there is a place of worship on almost every street corner.  And I am talking about the same city that claimed a coveted first place on Forbes magazine’s list for most desirable cities to raise a family in 2012!   

Don’t get me wrong….Grand Rapids has earned an excellent reputation as a conservative, family-friendly community blessed with thriving businesses, churches, Christian schools, Christian colleges, and an abundance of Christian nonprofit ministries.  But just beyond the Beltine and the Ford Freeway, inner-city neighborhoods are plagued with violent crime, public schools that are labeled “drop-out” factories, rising unemployment, chronic poverty, soaring teen pregnancies, and gang-related killings.  Grand Rapids truly fits the mold of a modern-day Dickinson tale of two cities.  It was the violent streets of Grand Rapids that compelled a New York City Wu-Tang Clan-affiliated rapper by the name of Lason Jackson, aka LA the Darkman, to drop a track that referred to Grand Rapids as “Gun Rule.”  Although Lason came from the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, he spent part of his high school years on the SE side of inner-city Grand Rapids where he experienced the dark underbelly of its street-life. Immediately, the hip-hop nation in Grand Rapids took notice and embraced the name Gun Rule, which eventually morphed into its hip-hop slang name, “Gun-Rue” or “Gun-Ru.”  

The subtitle of this book gives you a clue in what you will encounter in this reading.  It is the messy and violent story of Jesus—-not only transforming gang members, drug dealers, and at-risk urban youth and their families, but also transforming urban missionaries, affluent businessmen, and privileged white suburbanites.  There are no heroes in this story, except for Jesus. None of us can boast in this narrative that we share in this book, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, Sherilyn and I have also chosen to include the darker moments in our lives and the darker moments of some that are part of the UTM/New City family—-along with moments of joy and the extraordinary, including the power of Jesus’ gospel transforming drug-dealing, hustlin’ and what the world labels “thugs” into godly men who stepped up and took responsibility for loving their broken families and their broken communities.  As being completely real is such a core value in the ‘hood, we felt that we could not do otherwise.    Therefore, this is a story of broken husband and wife called to love and serve broken people in our inner-city neighborhood.  Through Jesus, these broken people that became family to us have also become godly leaders and are now spreading the gospel to the streets from whence they came.  


6 Comments On “Writing the Story of UTM”

  1. This is what the church going residents of Grand Rapids need to hear.
    We live such sheltered lives from the violence and hopelessness of our neighbors and we find it so easy to just ignore and avoid their communities.
    I will pray for God’s guidence and strength to bring their message to us.

    • Thanks for the Encouragement, Ardean. And thanks so much for so many years of faithful service reaching out to the neighborhood!

  2. I look forward to reading this (I don’t read very much at all) and understanding a little more of what you have and are going through on a daily basis to bring Christ to so many.
    On a side note (for Joel), will there be a chapter called “You can’t be a Christian AND a Democrat”?

    • Lee, great to hear that you’d be willing to read our stories! On that side note, no. Very Funny…. That wouldn’t go over very well at New City Church since about 1/3 of our congregation are pro-life democrats!

  3. Oh my Brother and Sister! If this is just the start, God will move many through this book. Speak on!

    • Thanks so much Dan for your encouragement! Also thanks so much for your involvement with the Man-Up guys. I will be sharing about you at our board meeting tomorrow night!

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