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Micah Rinsema sits under the dining room table, an infant in a diaper, spinning an empty beer bottle.  I venture under and ask him how long he’s been there.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

“I’ve been here seven months now.  Just had my baptism.  You should have been there; there were a diverse bunch of people there – just all over the place.  That’s life

 in this town.”

He keeps fidgeting with the beer bottle, straight-faced and sober, with that unflinching stare that infants have yet to surrender to the world.

“What is it like here?” I ask.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

Dan and Sarah

“Well, day to day it’s a house.  We do the normal stuff.  But the current that flows through here…  It’s like this – My parents spent four years in Japan teaching English before they came to Muskegon.  That shaped how they saw the world, and how they wanted to live in it.  You realize you matter this much.”  He indicates his full height.  “Which, in their case, is a metaphor.”

“Tell me about them,” I say.

“He’s Canadian; she’s from New York or Iowa or something.  They met in college.”  He states these facts and dismisses them with his hand.  “They’re on these different, parallel paths.  Paths to make things better.  He works with one group of people through Muskegon Area First, and she works with Community EnCompass.  I mean, the paths aren’t always smooth.  Sometimes their work is at odds.  But ultimately, they want the same things.”

“And what about your path?  What do you think your chances are?” I asked.

“How do you mean?”

“Because you’re black.  Because your parents are white.  And the world is persistently hard on those who don’t run away.”

“I’m the beginning of a journey, if you’ll give me a moment’s license to be poetic.  I’ll have to go places light and dark; there are no illusions about that.  I hope that I will have many fathers and many mothers, because I am many things.”

“Tell me of hope.”

Home“Hope is the great human choice.  We control so little; we’re born not knowing who we are.  We’re searching for love, holding desperately to life.  There’s nothing we have that can’t be taken from us.  But there’s always hope.”

“Where is this hope? I want to see it.”

“It’s here in this neighborhood.  It’s too easy to see the cracks in the sidewalk, the bullet hole in the window, the porches that are ready to fall down, but if you look inside the people who live here, there are these beautiful hopes and dreams.  There’s a vision for this place – that God’s finger will touch the earth here, and it will be a preview of heaven.  And it’s already begun.  Step out and look around.”

“From under the table?” I ask.

“From this house.”

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            We grow up in our imperfect worlds, and they make us who we are.  We learn our limits, and we know that we can’t fix the world, but we try.  We try to fix the things that hurts us.

            I sat in a little bistro on 3rd street called Mia & Grace, talking with Carlos Avrard, fellow Mosaic Way-er and coordinator of the Healthy Neighborhood Project in McLaughlin. 

“They have muffalettas here,” he said as he explained the place.

I set out my digital recorder and give him a simple directive: get me to now.

            He told me fondly about New Orleans – the food, the music, the weather, the drive-thru alcohol stands – the diversity he encountered on every side.

“We moved a lot, though, around,” he said.  He went to eight different schools in his thirteen years, never setting down any roots.  Then he tells me in a quiet sort of way that he’s envious of people who have long-term friendships, the kind that stretch back into childhood.

Carlos

     He met his wife, Sarah, in college.  They hung out in a Hardee’s one of the first nights he was there.  “She knew right away,” he said.  After graduation, they moved to Michigan.  The church they attended was located in McLaughlin at the time.  Starting Mosaic Way has seen them come full circle.

            “The diversity, that’s a good, healthy thing, that there’s not people who look like you and think like you.  There’s a vibrancy in that,” he said of the mosaic McLaughlin neighborhood.

            We arrived at now, so now what?  These days Carlos is remodeling his house and continuing his work with the neighborhood.

“One cool thing about our home remodel project – where we’re taking this home built over a hundred years ago and it’s sturdy and it has all this character to it, but has all this work that’s required – I’m kinda paralleling this home remodel project to this neighborhood.  Where as we’re spending ourselves and putting in effort and money into restoring this home in a way, of pouring passion and energy – and granted, it’s one little piece of this neighborhood, but paralleling that to this community, putting in effort, putting in time, pouring ourselves and our passions toward seeing this community be restored in a way. And I think those two parallels of the struggles that we deal with on the house, of knowing it’s not a quick fix and it’s not gonna be easy and we’re gonna have to be patient; we’re gonna have frustrations and roadblocks.  The same is true for this neighborhood, that it’s not going to be a quick fix; we’re gonna have to deal with the frustration and the roadblocks and all those things.  As you kinda dig into this stuff you find that you bust open a wall, and you find out what the plumbing and electrical is like below it.  Whereas, you knock on a door, you find a neighbor that has issues or something…  So that’s been an interesting thing that’s been echoing in my head a lot that this house remodel project in a nutshell is kind of symbolic in a way of this neighborhood.  You know we can’t do this house remodeling on our own; we can’t have this neighborhood redo itself on its own.  It requires other people.  Community and folks for support and all those things.”

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