The Power of Presence: Serving Portland’s Rocky Butte Neighborhood

“Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

When Isaiah of Old Testament times heard this call, he recognized it was a personal call to him and responded immediately, “Here I am. Send me” (see Isaiah 6:8). He would be used of God to minister in his neighborhood.

Navigator staff members James and Sheryl Helms have heard this exact same call—to share the Good News of Jesus among their neighbors—and their response is the same: Here we are. Send us!

“Over the last few years our presence in the neighborhood has continued to grow,” says James, “and we are drawn to live and make disciples among a community that does not know Jesus. We don't sense or see anybody taking responsibility to make Jesus known here.”

Saying “yes” to this call, James and Sheryl have transitioned to Nav Neighbors, a ministry of The Navigators. They’re convinced that God has them where He wants them and will use them right where they live.

In their neighborhood of the Rocky Butte area of Portland, Oregon, one notices the affluent staying distanced from the impoverished. In recent years, churches in the area have avoided commitment to being present in this community. Upon receiving an invitation to participate in a neighborhood event from James and Sheryl, one pastor replied, “Why would we do that? No one from our church lives there.”

As they consider the dynamics of their neighborhood, James and Sheryl say their neighbors are typically disengaged from each other. They’ve observed that frequent shootings, prostitution, domestic violence, and drug use drive a wedge between the people and the larger community. Fear of neighbors and the neighborhood is a common response in their community.

“When it comes to seeing transformation of communities through the work of the Good News,” James says, “we need mechanisms to communicate and draw people toward a shared culture and strong community.” In seeking to reconnect and revitalize this disengaged community, James and Sheryl say they’re committed to being “present” in the community in a variety of ways, such as “communicating stories and mobilizing a faith community.”

Last year, they introduced the Rocky Butte Times into the community so that they could unite with their neighbors. Recently, more than 20 of their neighbors joined them as they invested in and distributed the third quarterly issue of this community newsletter to some 1,000 homes in their area. The Rocky Butte Times connects neighbor to neighbor through shared stories and a shared place.

Also, they are members of a church plant called Church of the City. In their words, “As a Gospel community we are committed to being formed as followers of Jesus, strengthening our community together, and reaching out into the neighborhood in order to see the Gospel transform our city.“ Their faith community is becoming an integral part of their work in the Rocky Butte area. Through distribution of the Rocky Butte Times—plus cooking for the men at The Harbor, a ministry of the Portland Rescue Mission in the Rocky Butte area—they have engaged in ministry as a community.

James and Sheryl’s story is just one of many from our Nav Neighbors staff, encouraging us to reflect the love of Christ where we live. In light of this, James offers a few questions to consider:

  • What would listening to and sharing stories look like in your neighborhood?
  • What are some benefits of moving into the neighborhood as a community as opposed to doing so individually?

Visit the Nav Neighbors website for tools and ideas for impacting your neighborhood for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Abby Dewsnap and Dean Ridings serve a group of five Navigator ministries, working in communications and staff services. Dean is also on staff with Navigator Church Ministries.

Photo by Visitor7 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28231107