Pilgrims of the Alley

Living Out Faith in Displacement
By Dave Arnold
Posted by Darren Cronshaw

Dave Arnold works with immigrants from the Middle East in the Dearborn (Detroit area). He reflects on his experiences and shares three overlapping sets of stories in Pilgrims of the Alley.

The first set of stories is of the migrants and refugees Arnold counts it a privilege to have met. He introduces his readers to people from Iraq, Burma, Liberia, Appalachian Indians and Jewish Holocaust survivors, offering insight into the terror they have come from and the difficulties they face in resettling. Arnold describes some of the ways he has sought to communicate and demonstrate the good news of a generous and hospitable God.

The second story, woven through the book, is the upper room narrative of the Last Supper (John 13-17). In the tradition of other biblical narratives of Abraham, Moses, David and Esther, Arnold shows how Jesus and his followers experienced displacement and grief, and invites us on a similar path, into the same alley.

The third story is Arnold’s own experience in ministry. The book is as much a memoir of an urban missionary as anything. It offers down-to-earth reflections to encourage readers to welcome displacement, to seek God in the midst of difficulties, and to bless others out of our own brokenness and feeling pushed aside. Arnold points his finger at the temptation of workaholism and the performance trap, and explains how he has reoriented ministry around awareness and dependence on God. He urges opening our eyes and hearts to be conscious of where God is at work, and seek to join in. The best form of evangelism, he suggests, is letting people see you are close to God and that you care for people who are different.

My favorite chapter was Arnold’s account of Dr Hensley, his literature teacher, who urged him to give his very best, and gave him “the gift of loving words”. God loves us and accepts us as we are, but also calls us towards character transformation and giving of our best to a hurting world. Sometimes a teacher or coach can cooperate with God in challenging us to be much better than we are currently.

The book is arranged in 3 sections of 6 or 7 chapters each. Each chapter is a short devotional-length 5-7 pages with 2 thoughtful discussion questions and a brief prayer. So the book may be an inspiring narrative to sit and read in one sitting, or even better may be read devotionally as the reader follows and prays through Arnold’s pilgrimage. For example (from page 57):

“Lord, help me to follow You each and every day. I know that true faith and wisdom is learning how to follow You no matter how hard life gets. Lord, the truth is, I need your push. I get so comfortable sometimes and stop depending on You. Give me the wisdom to see where I need to grow and change. Help me to know Your presence more and more each day. In Your name. Amen.”

Dave Arnold, Pilgrims of the Alley: Living Out Faith in Displacement (Portland: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013)

This review was originally published in New Urban World Journal Edition 4 (May 2014), 106-107