Gritty City Life

For the last few years I‘ve had the opportunity to teach in Beirut, Lebanon. I was on my way there in July 2006 when the Israeli-Hezbollah War broke out. The runways at the Beirut Airport were bombed and I was stuck in Paris for a week. There could be worse places to be stuck! When I speak in American churches about ministry in Beirut I am asked if it is dangerous and if I ever feel afraid. My tongue-in-cheek response is that I'm not afraid in Beirut because I grew up in Philadelphia and usually am oblivious to danger around me until after the fact when I hear it on the news. In reality, apart from the occasional bomb that went off in Beirut during my visits, I usually felt quite safe (except once in Hezbollah territory on my way to Baalbek when I thought we were being followed). 


Living in the city does require a pioneer spirit and a willingness to be confronted daily with the grittier side of life. I have had Christians tell me that they could not live in a big city or they don’t want to raise children in a city. I understand that and realize that city life is not for everyone and is not God’s calling for their lives and ministry. People who are willing to invest in the city need to know that city life presents unique challenges. A quick glance at the news makes it clear that there are no safe, crime-free, drug-free places in our country. And wherever we are the greatest safety is in our Lord’s care wherever we might live. What is different in many cities is the concentration of crime, drug addiction, homelessness, ex-cons, boarding houses, and warehouses for people suffering from mental health problems. These problems are in your face every day. They are in your church to a greater degree than in most suburban churches.


However the city presents such great diversity that Christians who are praying about urban ministry needn’t worry about danger. Oh, you will need to be more cautious, more aware at times. Where we live in Philadelphia is a very nice gentrifying neighborhood just a few blocks from the University of Pennsylvania. But two or three blocks away the city takes on a different look with boarded up houses and trash-strewn streets. We are careful and there are places we will walk during the day but not at night. There are places we will park our car during the day but then move it before night falls to another street (my car has only been broken into once and sideswiped twice).  Even more important is that you know that God is in control. That doesn’t mean you go places you probably shouldn’t and/or at times that are not advisable. But you don’t need to live in fear. There is no better place, no safer place than in God’s place for you. If that place is the city – welcome to Philadelphia!

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