A little bit about me: I moved to the city 7 years ago, and lived as a tourist for 4 of those years until I got involved with a para-church organization here in the city, and I started spending some time with at-risk students. I’ve seen and experienced some of the ‘hard stuff’ that we often talk about and probably many of you have experienced as well. The following post is a summary of some things that I’ve learned along the way.
Recently around Park we’ve been talking about what it means to renew the city. As you may have heard Jackson talk about, there are so many issues in Chicago, it’s hard to know where to start. Yet in spite of all of these problems, people are flocking to the city, whether it be for work, school, or just the energy of being surrounded by people and culture. And you are probably one of those people. Regardless of the reason that you came to the city, one thing is true, you are either living here as a tourist or as a citizen.
If you’re living as a tourist, then you are not engaged in the problems of our city. A tourist says, “I’m only here for a little while so I’m going to enjoy all the benefits of the city, without being engaged in the hard places.” A tourist takes no action to seek the welfare of their city.
A citizen on the other hand says, “I’m committed to living in this city for as long as God has me here so I’m going to not only enjoy the benefits of the city, but I’m also going to get my hands dirty, and seek the welfare of the city. I’m going to engage in the issues of the city.” It says in Jeremiah 29:7, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah was calling these people to be engaged in their city where the Lord had placed them, and to seek the welfare (peace) of the city.
God is calling us to be engaged in seeking the peace of our city, so I’d like to give you some tangible ways to help you move from being a tourist to a citizen in our city for as long as God has you here.
1. Choose Yourself
Many times we have what I like to call the ‘expressway mentality.’ If someone’s car is broken down on the side of a busy expressway, 99% of people will just drive by without stopping to offer help. With that many people on the road, everyone else is assuming that someone else is going to help, or that help is already on the way. When in reality, if everyone has this mentality then no one is going to stop and help.
We tend to have this mentality, especially in a big city. With 2.7 million people in Chicago, the assumption is that I don’t have to help this person in need because someone else will. I don’t need to engage in this issue because there are others to do that. We need to rid ourselves of this thinking. We need to think differently – I can and will do something. You need to choose yourself to be engaged in the city.
Now you need to go learn about an issue in our city. There are a plethora of issues so you can take your pick. You can choose to learn about homelessness, employment, housing, education, immigration, violence, and the list goes on.
Be sure not to confuse ‘learning’ with ‘sitting around and doing nothing.’ Learning isn’t just limited to reading books, and articles on the internet. While those are great things to do, and you should definitely learn from the smart people who are writing about these issues, I’m also a big advocate of learning by experience. Come under the leadership of some people and organizations who are already engaged in the issues of our city and learn from them. Ask questions. Don’t try to go at this alone, because chances are there is someone who has been going at this much longer than you have.
And that brings me to third way you can engage in issues in our city…
3. Get Involved
Now you need to do something. If you’ve found an organization that is already engaged in an issue, chances are they need help. And guess what? You’re just the person to help. You’ve already started learning a bit it, and now it’s time to get your hands dirty and actually do something.
Send that email asking about opportunities to get involved, or pick up the phone and make that call. This may seem simple, but sometimes this can be the hardest step for people to take. Why? It might be unfamiliar territory and sure that can be a little unnerving, but what really makes it difficult is that you actually have to interact with someone else. And when that happens there is a certain sense of accountability that is now in place. I don’t know about you, but my nature fights against seeking out accountability, especially when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone.
So go send that email. Make that phone call. Visit that organization. It may seem tough at first, but once you’re involved, you’ll be glad you took the step. God can and will use you to bring peace to the city and He may change you in the process too.
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7
Have you taken any of these steps?
Which one of these is the hardest for you?
Are there other steps that should be added to this list?
One easy way to get started is to get involved in our upcoming service day for the city called For One Chicago. Get together with your small group, or just register and meet some new people. This is just a starting point, and a quick way to take the step of choosing yourself to get involved.