Summer/Fall 2002
Volume 7 Number 1
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open Eyes, Open Doors Peacemaking in the Israeli/Palestinian War Zone


by Leslie Dobbs-Alsopp

One afternoon the sound of muffled laughter outside his office led David Norwood (M.Div. 1998, Th.M. 1999) to look out the window in time to witness four young graffiti artists at work. He strongly encouraged the youths to clean the wall or he’d have to call the authorities. He prayed for guidance during the cleaning, and when the job was done he invited the young people for pizza and soda. A ministry was born. The next week they brought their friends to church, returning each Wednesday afternoon for pizza, Ping-Pong, and foosball. Over the next 18 months, the group grew to include 40 young people new to the church. Norwood presented a weekly message about being fed by God’s love (“Jesus made sure that everyone had enough food”) so that these young people would have a “feeding experience” of Jesus.

Norwood was called to Community Presbyterian Church in Wapato, Washington, in the fall of 1999. The church is situated in rural apple country on the Yakima Indian Reservation, an area of extreme poverty. The diverse 150-member congregation consists of Native American locals, Hispanic and Filipino immigrant families, and Anglo professionals and landowners. The long-standing members are descended from northern European Protestants who “come from conservative roots,” explains Norwood. In the 1960s the area demographics underwent a sea change. Today the schools serve a 70 percent racial/ethnic minority population, and the struggles facing the Native American community are varied and intense.

When Norwood arrived at Community Presbyterian, the church was perhaps best known for “the locks on its doors,” but many of those doors have now been opened.

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According to Norwood, God’s spirit is blowing new life into the church community. He asked the elders at his first session retreat to describe the assets the congregation had for ministry. One strong asset was the building itself. So the session established a new open door policy: “If someone asks to use the church, the first answer should be yes.” The church building is now home to AA groups, ESL (English As a Second Language) classes, various community meetings, and a newly reborn Christian preschool. The preschool includes a new playground that has become a magnet for the neighborhood kids. The open door policy has been exciting for the congregation, but the tensions of growth and change have created challenges as well as opportunities for the members.

David Norwood has been opening doors for all of his 43 years. After “a bit” of college, his career trajectory moved from real estate to computers, from California back home to Washington State. Along the way he and his wife, Gail, adopted three late-placed special needs children, and they now have three grandchildren. At Vashon Presbyterian Church (in Vashon, Washington), the Norwoods volunteered extensively, and David was called to seminary; however, he had yet to earn his college degree. With characteristic determination, he went back to school, finished his A.A., and then his B.A. After a year at Fuller (the Seattle campus) he came to PTS to finish his M.Div. degree.

He has many fond memories of Princeton Seminary, including service on Student Government, working on the PTS web site, studying with Professors McCormack and Allen, playing golf with Dean Armstrong, and a “victory lap” New Testament Th.M. with Professor Don Juel. Norwood’s Th.M. thesis focused on the Syrophoenician woman, and his theological work on that story has profoundly influenced his ministry at Community Presbyterian.

Norwood explains that the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24–30) was the archetypal stranger. When she first spoke to Jesus, even he rejected her, but then realized that she “brought the gift of Truth to their relationship.” Jesus saw this truth, and his ministry extended to the Gentiles. According to Norwood, “We receive a special grace when we listen to others who are different than ourselves. We can’t do this unless God has prompted us to open our eyes to the other.”

Young people gather for  a pizza party at Community Presbyterian Church.

Norwood has embodied that theology at his church and in his family life. At Community Presbyterian, once eyes and doors were opened, more strangers kept showing up, including a remarkable pastor named Corey Greaves, who knocked on the church door 18 months after the pizza ministry began. Greaves had a vision for outreach to Native American youth in the community, who are at grave risk for suicide and violent death. The session came to share the dream of a full-time outreach youth worker. They “stepped forward in faith,” and now the congregation helps to sponsor a praise band and a youth program three days a week.

For Norwood, it’s been “an amazing two-and-a-half years, and I can’t even imagine what will happen next. This is a God-driven place. We just keep saying ‘Yes’ when someone knocks on the door.... I guess we’re experiencing the answer to the question ‘What will Jesus do?’”

Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp is the Bridges Project coordinator at Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry.


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