God loves cities.
And as author Randy White reminds us, not only does God love them, but He uses cities to protect and prosper people.
Psalm 107:7 shows God delivering vagrants to a city: He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. In Joshua 20, God instructs the nation of Israel to designate cities of refuge. And across the biblical narrative, we see God’s creation unfolding in a garden and culminating in a city. Cities matter to God.
Hailing from small-town America, I had a different view, equating cities with crime, crowds and corruption. You might say I shared the sentiment expressed on a local podcast, the Downtowner: “Nobody wants to live in the city, but we do anyway.” I moved here for my job, not Cleveland.
But such an outlook falls short of understanding how God works, not in spite of cities, but through them. Randy White’s Encounter God in the City offers a remarkable glimpse into the transformation of Fresno, California’s Lowell neighborhood, an area formerly called the “Devil’s Triangle.” Having met the author at a January event hosted by BHITC, I appreciated the personal experiences he outlines in print.
For Randy, one needn’t look far to see history and the Bible rooting individual identity and God’s activity in geography. Saul of Tarsus. Mary of Bethany. Jesus of Nazareth. As he points out, places matter to God; they influence the rhythms and realities of our lives.
But Encounter isn’t just about cities. It’s about individual transformation, too: an ongoing, reciprocal process enabling us to affect where we live. Cities give us identity, and as we shape them, they shape us. As Randy suggested, urban renewal starts by building relationships with those living right around us.
That kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, Randy suggests we’re only able to commit to a city’s transformation after we’ve experienced its pain. It probably goes without saying Cleveland has experienced its own share of trouble, and walking away would be easier than getting involved.
Yet, God is working through people who do. One of my colleagues has deliberately turned down lucrative offers to advance his career in order to continue working with one of Cleveland’s overlooked and underserved populations. I’ve quietly wondered whether I might similarly tie my future to northeast Ohio. Building relationships, after all, takes time, and planting oneself takes faith.
At the end of Randy’s talk, I asked his advice. Surprisingly, he didn’t suggest I move downtown or go into full-time ministry. Instead, he advised taking time to explore and enjoy Cleveland. If God had a role for me to play, it might just be found by participating in the life of its people and places. Volunteering with BHITC is one way I’m glad to do so.
It seemed fitting, then, that when I asked Randy to inscribe my copy of Encounter with a reminder of our conversation, he concluded with this simple phrase:
Go love your city!
Written by Jacey Kepich, BHITC volunteer