I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. Revelation 21:3 (MSG)
As we came out of the subway station at Sham Shui Po on Hong Kong’s subway, the heat, humidity, and stench hit us. It was only 84 degrees fahrenheit (29 degrees celsius) but it felt like 94 (35).
A beggar sat in a wheelchair in front of the entrance. His fingerless hand held out a plastic tub. It was empty.
A man squatted beside a market stall, his bare feet caked with grime and toenails encrusted and blackened with dirt. He clearly hadn’t worn a pair of shoes for a long time.
Crowds of people moved in all directions.
The unmoving air hung thick with the odor of Chinese food.
“Cheap, copy Rolex” shouted the stallholder above the noise of traffic, holding out a watch as we walked past.
My daughter groaned, but not because of the man on the stall. She had slipped in a puddle of an unidentified cloudy, white liquid at the curb when we crossed the road. Her foot, in opened-toes sandals, was wet.
Cigarette ends, paper, plastic bottles, and four abandoned massage chairs littered the pavement.
This is Hong Kong’s poorest neighborhood.
Savannah College of Art and Design’s building is just up the road from this shabby, smelly, and crowded area. It is in the abandoned North Kowloon Magistracy with courtrooms and prison cells. SCAD rejuvenated the building in 2011. It received a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation.
Inside, the building is beautiful. We walked into one of the rooms where my daughter has her classes. It is a former courtroom and still retains the polished wooden benches and dock where accused persons once stood.
I am deeply impressed with the college my daughter attends.
SCAD moves into the worst neighborhoods, sets up a campus, and revitalizes the area.
It is the same for SCAD’s location in Savannah, Georgia.
SCAD’s main campus is located in this beautiful colonial city with attractive squares surrounded by Victorian style houses and large trees whose branches hang low with Spanish moss. However, Savannah also knows considerable poverty, and crumbling buildings.
SCAD has taken disused motels and turned them into student residences, and abandoned warehouses are now high-tech, usable classrooms. It is amazing to see.
What SCAD has done reminds me of what God does for people and their lives.
God moves into the dirtiest and shabbiest of lives, and there he sets up home.
A holy, pure God comes to dwell with unholy, defiled people.
God came to dwell among the Israelites in the form of a cloud and pillar of fire to lead and live with them, even though they dishonored and disowned his holy name.
“I’ll set up my residence in your neighborhood; I won’t avoid or shun you; I’ll stroll through your streets. I’ll be your God; you’ll be my people, says God in Leviticus 26:11-12
I’m only in Hong Kong for a few days but I wonder if anyone is walking the streets of Sham Shui Po letting people know about this God who wants to reside in their neighborhood?
Yet, the ultimate expression of God setting up residency among people is when: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14
But now God’s Holy Spirit has taken residence in the hearts of people.
When our hearts are at our shabbiest and poorest, God moves in.
When our lives are a mess, God moves in.
When our hearts are at their hardest, and our thoughts are at their darkest and dirtiest, God moves in.
And there, God performs miracles.
He revitalizes our thoughts, hearts and lives, and then he asks us to be his hands and feet and move into the neighborhoods to transform the lives of other people.
If God were to walk through the streets of your heart, what shabby areas would he find? What areas of your life does he need to clean up as he moves in and takes up residence?
Celebrate one area where God has already cleaned up … where you can walk freely with your head held high.