fear and the city

people usually move farther away from big cities generally for the comfort and well-being of their families. that’s not a bad thing. some people just need to be there. i guess that’s ok. of course i’d love to see more christians really inhabit the city and live out jeremiah 29.

do people typically think of the city as a place of refuge and sanctuary? as a place to grow your roots and raise your children? no. most likely fear fills our minds when we think about it. lately, the philly news has just been plain depressing focusing on the escalating number of homicides since the beginning of 2007 (104 as of today). this number puts us at the top for homicides in the country among big cities. most of these incidents happen in south and west philly but it has been the top issue for the the mayoral race candidates. it has gotten so alarming this weekend that TD Jakes even came out over the weekend for an Interdominational Citywide Crusade for Peace.

i was encouraged to read this statement from the gathering at Enon Tabernacle, “God is to empower us to shape this city.”
that sounds like a battlecry to me. i believe that God will do something.

i admit that i struggle with living and ministering here in the city. i’m trying to work through these issues of what it really takes to be here and be children of light. i question what’s best for my family, how do i protect them, how to be wise in certain situations, how should i respond to wrongful acts committed to people i know and don’t know. i am trying to live missionally by going to where the most people are. life was easier single. i’ve been sharing with the collegians and young adults in my congregation what a unique position they are in right now and how they can do so much more than i can. we live right on the edge of Philly in a blue collar neighborhood. it’s a decent place. unfortunately a few weeks ago a friend that lives just several blocks away encountered some unpleasant interactions by some locals at a bar and had their car vandalized (possibly racially motivated) parked by our house during their visit to us. i was a mess of emotions that week (it was also during the time when many were responding to the zondervan/youth specialties mess).

our church has been working through how to respond to the violence done against chinese immigrants in south philly and in our chinatown community. they’re real targets. some of them are our members.

Yong Qian Liu is afraid to step outside his Chinese takeout in Southwest Philadelphia.
“It only takes one time to catch you,” Liu, who is 5-foot-4, said of leaving the building. “It only takes one time to kill you.” Since he opened in January, he said, he has been robbed at gunpoint and chased by gunmen. Young toughs who call themselves the Head Huntaz have scrawled graffiti on his shop, declaring it their turf. – from “Crime puts fear into takeouts” article in the Inquirer

one of the most landmark testimonies of a church response to violence inflicted on one of its members is from renewal church in west philly. over a decade ago, a young deacon was shot and killed while waiting for his wife in the church parking lot. perhaps these situations are needed to help us outgrow our ingrown church and move us to finally act in light of what the gospel truly calls us to. my heart is heavy for this widow. she was also recently featured in the news for her musical career post-tragedy, i don’t know what her real personal story is but read her words here:

In a way, everything is resolved, but nothing is resolved. “I still struggle,” she says. “I do miss my husband. Sometimes, just going to Philadelphia is hard. I still don’t know why God had to take Yeong. I have accepted it. But I still don’t know the answer why.”

i’ve also been thinking through what david park had to say about a situation that happened close to home for him. he articulates his thoughts so well and it really makes you think about how do/should/could you respond? he writes,

Let us all carry on the work that God has called us to, for as I am truly learning, tomorrow is not promised to any of us, nor any of our neighbors.

the details of city life, or just life in general is largely one of uncertainty. we do know for certain that Christ is with us even in the darkest of times. no one knows for sure how they will respond when they face their fears.


4 Responses to “fear and the city”

  1. April 5, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing these great thoughts.

    I went to college in Philadelphia, so this post is close to home for me. More than just the Philly connection, I felt deeply what you were saying because I know that family in which the husband was murdered in the parking lot. My wife and I went to seminary with her brother, and my wife used to babysit this woman’s son – who was a very sweet kid, by the way!

    I can totally relate to what you’re feeling about ministry being easier when you’re single. When I was single (and even after being married but before having a child), I felt like I could respond to anything that God might call me to do — no matter how crazy it seemed. After all, what was a little (or even a lot) of discomfort or danger if all I had to worry about was myself? But having a family changes everything.

    We struggle with this as well. We never want to remain in a ministry simply because it is “safe” or easy. But, if I’m being really honest, I would be tempted to choose safety over faithfulness if it meant that my family might be at risk.

    As if those of us in vocational ministry needed things to become any more complex, especially in an Asian American setting. Low wages, lack of respect, constant and complex cultural navigating — and then, on top of all that, the dangers & trials of trying to live an incarnational/missional lifestyle… It’s a wonder that anyone is crazy enough to sign up for this 🙂

  2. 2 L T
    April 6, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    I never knew I would have this crazy tension/stress? before I entered ministry. I thought I could always go – go – go! And that my wife and family would too. It’s never really all that simple.

    Also on that note, I set in my heart that I don’t ever want to imitate what I saw in many previous leaders before me that put on the ministry blinders and their families were sacrificed for the sake of “ministry.” I told my wife I don’t ever really want to pull out the God card on her.

    Loving my non-Asian Italian-German American wife as Christ loved the church within a complex Asian American setting in our mosaical consumer driven culture while trying to live and incarnational/missional lifestyle to lead the people that God has brought into our lives can fry my brain if not my heart.

    Thanks Daniel again for your clear articulation and making the connection.
    Did you go to Emmanuel?

  3. April 7, 2007 at 7:20 am

    My wife, who is also in vocational ministry, and I were just talking about this. For so many first-generation pastors, it is almost a twisted badge of honor that they have sacrificed their families for the ministry. One of the first commitments we made to one another was that we would never put the ministry, no matter how noble or worthy it might be, above our family. Certainly, we want to give our best for God and His people, but I refuse to believe that ministry and family life is a zero-sum game.

    This has actually been a huge source of worry and frustration for us recently, as our daughter has been having a pretty rough time at church (ironically, due to another pastor’s kid).

    I had many friends who went to Emmanuel, but I attended a small church called Antioch during my college years (well, it was small back then — these days, the first-gen congregation has grown quite a bit) out in Conshohocken.

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[american born chinese pastor]
seeks to be that third place for those who are american born chinese [abc] in ministry.
here we may explore issues unique to the chinese church and doing ministry in that context
expand the intersection of asian american culture and christian faith
or simply expose what goes on in the mind of this abcpastor

this may be a bit ambitious or even naiive but i do hope that through the posts we can bring together different faith communities, passions for the advancement of the Gospel and the equipping of the body of Christ.

if you are an abc pastor or have any suggestions or would like to contribute to make this space evolve, just comment.


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