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How to Live Missionally in the Suburbs

When my husband and I moved our family from Richmond, Virginia, to Tacoma, Washington, we had every intention of landing in a downtown area. We love the grit of urban living, not to mention the local shops and the walkability. The whole reason for relocating was to train and eventually church plant with Soma Communities, so it made sense to go where the action was. But as we listened to the elders (and tried in vain to find a good housing fit in the city), it became clear that we were needed in the suburbs. As any good Keller-disciple would, we balked. But the Holy Spirit was clear, and peace only came when we turned our attention to a large apartment complex in Northeast Tacoma.

From the City to Our Suburbs

To give you the lay of the land: Our back yard is a golf course, and the surrounding hills hold large homes with views of the Puget Sound. Our neighborhood is Tacoma’s wealthiest; it’s also its most isolated, and we rarely walk anywhere. And despite the abundant local resources, our immediate neighbors are not the wealthiest. In fact, they’re just the opposite.

My neighbors and I live in three-story buildings, six units per stairway, twelve units per building; there are about 545 total units in our complex. From day one, my husband has called forth the vision for our neighborhood: We need to reach all 545 of these units with the Gospel. I am all about strategy, logistics, and intimacy, so I put up my hand and told him I couldn’t even think about that. I’d rather just concentrate on being faithful with the few I’ve already been given (even though this is often just a convenient excuse to doubt God).

Faith in Jesus & Love for Our Neighbors

The day we moved in, we met our downstairs neighbor—we’ll call her Alicia—and her daughter, Tina. Tina was entering first grade, as was our oldest daughter, so we were thrilled for an easy and immediate friendship. Tina began playing at our house regularly, and it didn’t take long before we had her at our dinner table. We eventually met her teenage brother, Michael, who pretty much keeps to himself.

Within two weeks of moving in, my husband invited Tina to attend Soma’s Sunday Gathering with us. I jumped on him, stage whispering something like, “You can’t ask a child to go to church with you; you need to ask her mother before you make that offer!” In hindsight, I was being ridiculous. Tina has no boundaries, and she’ll ask for anything. “Can I play in your house?” “Can I have an apple?” “Can I stay for dinner?” “Can I go to the beach with you?” So it really didn’t matter whether we asked her or she asked us, it was only a matter of time before she ended up attending Sunday school with our kids.