Something incredible has happened in my neighborhood over the past few years:
It has gotten better.
I don’t have any statistics to back that up, but I’m here every day and I see it and feel it.
The local churches are actively ministering to the poor on a relational level.
The city has invested in itself through neighborhood stabilization programs that have increased the number of home owners and raised property values.
Good things are happening beyond my neighborhood as well, like the group of nonprofit organizations that have formed a regional coalition to effectively house and care for the homeless.
And really, people just seem to have more joy. This is the case for the homeless man on the street corner and the business man getting coffee downtown.
The city is vibrant and thriving.
About a year ago, I led a handful of ministers from a large church on a prayer walk through my neighborhood.
After an hour of walking, one of the ministers said, “Where are the abandoned houses? The boarded up windows? This neighborhood seems really nice.”
She seemed confused. And for a moment, I wanted to tell her the truth, how all of those things were there if she looked more closely.
Instead I gave an equally honest response, “You know, it is a nice neighborhood. Things are really turning around.”
Remember the story of Jonah?
The reluctant prophet travels to Nineveh to tell the city’s wretched citizens that God is about to pour out his wrath. Surprisingly, the city repents and begs God for mercy. God listens and doesn’t destroy Nineveh after all.
Jonah gets angry.
Specifically, he is angry that God proved himself to be “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
The Bible says that Jonah was angry enough to die.
God sets him straight by pointing out how Jonah cares more about his personal comfort than the well being of over a hundred thousand people.
Jonah’s story provides an indispensable truth about God’s character:
He wants things to be good.
And he wants his people to be glad when things are good.
The apostle Paul didn’t operate like Jonah. Instead, when he felt the Gospel had been successfully planted in a city, he moved on, singing hymns and telling stories of the Gospel spreading throughout the whole world.
Honestly, as an urban minister, I kinda want things to be bad.
It validates my purpose.
When people tell me my neighborhood is nice, my gut reaction is to tell them how one of my next door neighbors stabbed her boyfriend last week.
Because that makes me look heroic.
The beauty of the Bible is that it’s filled with stories of God doing incredible things in, through, and for people regardless of the sin and darkness that surrounds humanity. The darkness is real, to be sure, but it’s only the conflict of the story, not the driving plot.
So yes, there are abandoned houses, drug dealers, and occasional stabbings in my neighborhood.
But there’s so much more than that.
I haven’t written in a while, but I’m ready to get back at it. Some of the stories will be happy, others heartbreaking. My hope is to testify to God’s goodness in the middle of it all.
So stay tuned…