Dickey Park on the corner of Blackstone Avenue and Divisadero is a long-standing landmark for the Historic Lowell Neighborhood in Downtown Fresno. Over the past four years, it has undergone a transformation matching that of the Lowell Neighborhood. Those changes include: a splash park, new sidewalks, new volleyball courts, basketball courts, restrooms and refurbished baseball field. On Ramps Covenant Church has been instrumental in these changes.
(This is the first in a series of stories that combine to create our story. These events have shaped who we are as a church, rather than show how we have been heroes in shaping Lowell. Lowell has shaped us.)
On Ramps began to meet outside at Dickey Park monthly in their early days as a church. That decision has continually revitalized the members and mission of the church as much as it has revitalized the landscape of the park. On Ramps has met life in Lowell on life’s terms and the impact has been felt on both sides.
On Ramps’ started with a mission for the Lowell Neighborhood. Being parish-minded was part of that mission; being dedicated to this specific, historic neighborhood that had been neglected for decades. While that is not the defining mark of the church, it is one of them. Leaning into the needs of the community is another defining mark of On Ramps. And these two key aspects came together in terrible and beautiful ways at Dickey Park.
People went to the park for all kinds of unsavory reasons: a drug deal, to have sex in the bathrooms, to meet people they’re ordered to avoid. When On Ramps was there, those people encountered worship music and other people willing to pray for the them, in fact, they met people who would be willing to risk their own safety.
One group of people that met On Ramps at Dickey Park was battered women who had escaped abusive relationships, but were still finding it hard to sever those ties. A Marjaree Mason Center is only a few blocks from Dickey Park. Many of the women broke the center’s rules by meeting their abusers at the park. Many of those women met On Ramps’ members who prayed for them and showed them God’s love in practical ways like food and clothing. The abusers weren’t happy about it. In fact, most of them were furious.
One of those abusers showed up to a church gathering at the Youth For Christ building down the street from Dickey Park. He lured his ex-girlfriend out of the church and started beating her. Two On Ramps’ leaders found out what was happening, went outside, broke them up and tried to calm the man down. They even invited him into the church gathering.
He wasn’t interested in their invitation and kept telling the girl to send them away. The leaders eventually went back inside when they thought it was over, but she came in crying after getting hit by her ex-boyfriend again.
When the two leaders went back outside to confront him, the abuser called some friends. His friends showed up, but stayed in their car. On Ramps leaders were on high alert, but glad the friends didn’t exit the car and elevate the situation.
The couple started fighting again, though. When things seemed to be cooling down for just a moment, the attacker jumped in the car with his friends and yelled out the window that he would be back to kill them all.
Fresno Police Department finally showed up. Nothing else happened that night and eventually the girl was sent to a Marjaree Mason Center in another county for her and her kids’ safety.
Those experiences taught us about how to minister to these women who’d been broken and yet be careful to protect ourselves at the same time. God changed us through them. We learned that people off the street would be real about what they were struggling with, whereas most church people would say how blessed they were despite their struggles with life.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, he didn’t have much time with her. So, he simply gave her the whole truth directly. There was a sense of urgency. On Ramps has taken on that sense of urgency.
We have to tell others about the love of Jesus right here, right now. Providing a safe space for people, and loving them in every way we can in that moment has become a mark of On Ramps’ ministry to the Lowell Neighborhood. Just as importantly, it has become a mark of Lowell to On Ramps. It’s not about us and them.
It’s not about outreach or handouts. It’s just about doing life on life’s terms for however long we’re together with anyone we cross paths with. We’ve learned to minister with open hands. The people of Lowell don’t belong to us. We welcome everyone and release people when they need to move on. In the process, God reveals himself to them and us. In fact, it’s just us on the receiving end of God’s love. There is no them. We are together, On Ramps and Lowell, learning more about God as we respond to his promptings.