Holy Saturday was a fitting day for Jason Payne to help three of his friends move into a five-room cottage on Hilton Street that includes this handwritten sign in the front window: “We love because he first loved us — John 4:19.”
“It’s our welcome mat,” said Payne, a 30-year-old former stock analyst, Collierville High graduate and Central Church member who, along with nine of his young, single, suburban friends — six men, four women — are moving into Orange Mound, one of America’s most historically and culturally significant African-American neighborhoods.
It’s also one of the city’s most blighted, impoverished and distressed neighborhoods. Payne’s 1940s-era house, which he bought at auction last fall for $12,000, is on a street with a half dozen board-ups, at least one burnout, and several houses that look as if they could collapse at any moment. According to a recent University of Memphis study, 45 percent of the properties in Orange Mound are in disrepair, the highest rate in the city.
Payne says they’ve spent more than $30,000 renovating the house, which was vacant and gutted after thieves tore the place up and stole everything that could be removed, including the kitchen sink. Although Payne is now chief financial officer for a local real estate startup, he says he and his friends are moving into Orange Mound to make a spiritual investment, not a financial one.
“We’re not going to save anyone,” said Payne. “We’re going to serve our neighbors, and together with our neighbors to glorify God and make Jesus proud. It’s easier to love your neighbors if they are actually your neighbors.”
For Payne and his friends, who met at church or in ministries such as Orange Mound Outreach Ministries, this isn’t a social experiment. It’s a theological imperative. They are part of a growing number of “missional communities” across the city and around the country — small groups of Christians who move into distressed neighborhoods to be good neighbors, not do-gooders.
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