(photo by Lewis Wickes Hines)
In calling Christians – or anybody else – to consider remaining in or returning to live in the city, one of the objections often raised is how unsafe and unhealthy it would be to expose their kids to the degradation and depravity typically associated with urban life. Mere differences are also routinely raised as a sticking point. While those conditions certainly tend to be true, is their existence really a threat to raising healthy children?
Noel Piper thinks not. When her husband accepted a call over twenty-five years ago to pastor Bethlehem Baptist Church, an old urban church in Minneapolis, they committed to live within walking distance of the church. Twenty-five years ago, that was not a normal or easy thing for a middle-class white family to do. At that time, those type people were fleeing the apparent dangers of the city for the supposed safety of the suburbs. But they bucked the American trend and raised five children in a small, decades old foursquare house in the middle of and old, urban neighborhood. They did it for many reasons, but one of them was so that their children would be exposed to the very elements of society that so many others found frightening. Noel explains:
“We have purposely fostered the assumption that many people are different from us. Over the years in our downtown neighborhood, our children played with children from welfare families and others who attended private schools. One best friend was Vietnamese and others were of mixed races. Cross-cultural ministry and experience do not have to be in another country. Are there international students or refugees or American Indians or elderly eastern Europeans in your vicinity? Nor does a cross-cultural experience have to be only with foreigners. Let’s say you live in a somewhat isolated setting and have to make an effort to gather playmates for your child. Who are the children you’ll invite? A migrant farm worker’s child? Someone who is a different color than you? The poorly dressed little guy with the runny nose? Continuous contact with people of other cultures and circumstances prepares our children to be open to and comfortable with people anywhere. A child’s world is broadened when the doorbell rings at 2:00 am and an intoxicated acquaintance wants a ride home, or a lonely man who drools and weeps is invited home for Sunday dinner, or a Cameroonian family of five spends Christmas. We assume aloud that many people don’t know God. In every place we’ve lived – suburbs or city – our children have had playmates with unmarried parents living together. They have learned early that many people don’t go to church and many get drunk and smear God’s name.”
Oh, that more Christians would fear less and risk more. Our children’s souls, along with those of many others, depend on it.
– Scott Greider