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  • Baptist Beacon

Grace in the chaos

by Tom Bradley

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – We have been working to plant and grow CrossWinds WestSide in urban Grand Rapids for the past five years. My wife, Merri, and I constantly have seen the beauty and brokenness of our neighborhood. It is everywhere, we are immersed in it, and it is a little crazy at times.

It is a little crazy

The first night in our house when we moved from the suburbs, I remember seeing flashing strobe lights outside my front window. Walking up to the window to take a peek outside, I heard shouting “get down on the ground and stop resisting.” Having been a police chaplain for 20 years, I immediately knew what was happening.

This summer we had a repeat of that event on a Saturday morning. While waking up with coffee, my grandson and I heard shouting outside. We looked out the kitchen window to see someone being arrested in our driveway. “What is going on papa?” my grandson asked. Later, I found out the man actually called the police to turn himself in because of outstanding warrants, but panicked when they arrived and ran. So sad, but that's my neighborhood.

Living in an environment like this has taken a little getting used to. If my wife and I go for a walk at the end of the day, we know what areas to avoid, like the freeway underpasses where homeless people are bedding down for the night. If someone a little erratic approaches us and asks for money, or wants something, we are a little better prepared at being compassionate, but not enabling.

Sometimes it is a little scary and overwhelming, and we are not sure what to do. So often we meet people whose lives are the accumulation of years of chaos and depravity because of what others have done to them, or choices they have made.

In many ways, all of this is so big it is easy to wonder, what can a small church on the West Side do? We know we can’t make a difference just ourselves, and there lies the great opportunity to see God work.

Brokenness and the Power of God

A friend of mine told me a few years ago, If you want to see the power of God try something you can’t do. Our environment regularly brings us to a deep dependence on God to move, change hearts, and transform lives. In the face of overwhelming darkness, I often see the power and grace of God break through.

Things like; helping find shelter for a homeless family with a newborn on a cold winter night, comforting and counseling a family after their father was murdered, removing an elderly, lonely man from an abusive environment and getting him into safe housing with a loving CrossWinds church family, working with a homeless young man to finish his High School degree and get into college, and talking to a young man miraculously recovering from 17 stab wounds in the neck, who says to me in the hospital, “I think God has a purpose for my life.” I reply, “He does. Let's talk about that.”

In all the chaos of these lives, the constant is the opportunity for gospel conversations, for change, for a new spiritual life, and transformation through the power of Christ. I know its power because I was there once.

Pray for CrossWinds Westside, as we seek to make Jesus known in our neighborhood.



Tom Bradley and Merri are North American Mission Board missionaries in Grand Rapids Michigan. They have been involved in Church Planting for over 25 years. They have 2 children and four grandchildren, and are completing the fourth year of their adventure at CrossWinds West Side. Follow their community on FB at


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