The last post ended with a question: What if it wasn’t just the children on the other side of the world who were starving? What if it was MY children?
That two-letter word changes everything, doesn’t it?
I love my children and every one of them holds a piece of my heart (and also, sadly, a chunk of my brain). I would do whatever it takes, moving heaven and earth in the process, to get them food to fill their hungry bellies.
Do you see the difference….and the problem?
Of course, it’s impossible to claim all the starving children in the world as your own, nor should you have to by yourself. There are no easy solutions to a problem of this magnitude, but I do know that you’d look at the problem of hunger differently if you were exposed to it regularly, if it wasn’t just an abstract concept of “children are hungry” but a tangible problem that affects living, breathing souls you can reach out and touch.
Living in the city has taught me a way to circumvent the human condition of self-absorption, or at least manipulate it towards communal justice, and that is to subvert the paradigm of success.
“Success” urges people to move out of the city to districts with bigger homes and better school systems. Success says, “your parents worked so hard to give you a better life, so move to an even nicer neighborhood and get a higher-paying job.” Success says “location, location, location;” follow the incline of the housing market. Success calls us to invest in the stock market, antiques and collectibles, technology, and fine jewelry, so naturally, people are drawn to areas where their valuables are more likely to remain safe.
But here’s the plain truth: until the school that only graduates slightly more than half the students, the school where tenth graders don’t know how to read, the school with the gang unit posted outside because students and parents alike brawl in the streets becomes MY school, I will have little motivation or dedication to effect lasting change there.
Until the streets on which kindergarteners walk home from school alone, teenagers are assaulted, and prostitutes wait at bus stops become MY streets, my heart won’t have the capacity or desire to campaign for change.
Until the neighbors who can’t afford to feed their children become MY neighbors, until the children who don't know what a cucumber is because they’ve never eaten fresh vegetables become MY children, my weak and selfish heart will not be motivated to fight for food security in their world.
Right? I mean, when it’s all spelled out like that in black and white, it doesn’t look so nice, but that’s so often how it is. And it’s not because we don’t care or have good intentions. A lot of us are just busy people with full lives that never collide with those in need in a tangible way. We don’t have the time or bandwidth for one more thing, especially if it’s not easy, convenient, or staring us in the face. This is the natural consequence of cultural distance and disconnection, the exodus of success from the hard, broken-down, unsafe, and ugly places.
Maybe you can figure out how to effectively adopt the city and its people, with all their issues and struggles, as your own without living here, without having skin in the game, your own livelihood and safety and success all intertwined and enmeshed in the mix, but I haven’t. I’m far too selfish and self-absorbed for all of that.
I used to think that the city, that “those people,” needed me, but what God has graciously shown me is I desperately need the city. I need the city because if I’m not confronted with human pain and the harsh reality of life on a daily basis, I forget.
I’d forget about the multitude of growling bellies, those who are as hungry for a meal to fill their stomachs as they are for some laughter around a kitchen table and a gentle, kind touch.
I’d forget about the men who have nowhere to call home, who bounce from one free meal to the next but whose lives are void of relationships and meaning. Men who drink to numb the debilitating pain of loneliness and depression.
I’d forget about the collective suffering of those in poverty.
I’d forget about the women who sell pieces of their soul to afford the next fix.
I’d forget about the kids who’ve never been loved, those who only know communication as anger.
So I need to be reminded. Every day. The city has taught me that I don't have all the answers, that there are no easy answers, that I have so very much left to learn. The city has taught me that I'm certainly not always the solution, that more likely, I'm the companion, the listening ear, the co-mourner, the friend.
The city has stretched me, broke me, convicted me, humbled me….and changed me. I’m forever grateful.
This post is part of a series I’m writing for the month of October called, 31 Ways God Paved the Road to Urban Missions. If you’re interested in the reading the rest of the series, you can find it here. To receive these posts directly in your inbox every week, subscribe below!