Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare for the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you find your welfare. –Jeremiah 9:4-7
Consider the following statistics from Rockford, Illinois, my city:
- 50% of Winnebago County 2008 births were to unmarried mothers, the highest since 1980
- Ranked the 9th Most Dangerous City in the U.S. based on 2010 data
- Violent crime 251% higher than national average (2011)
- 10.3% unemployment, almost 50% higher than national rate of 7.3%
- 30% of regional households have income before the poverty guidelines
- 63% have high school or less education. National average is 57%
This is alarming data about a city in desperate need of improvement. Thankfully, the Transform Rockford initiative has launched to turn the city around in the coming years. This is a great time for followers of Jesus Christ to engage by working toward the welfare of the city and be a gospel presence in the process!
It is easy to complain. It is easy to flee. But, it is difficult to stay and engage in the improvement effort- with a good attitude. The prophet Jeremiah instructed God’s people to seek the welfare of Babylon, a dark and pagan city, during their exile. As exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11) let’s do the same by being attentive of the needs of our cities, rather than ignoring them or dismissing them as “somebody else’s problem”.
While attending a Transform Rockford visioning and brainstorming session this week, I met a mother and her twenty-year-old son. Less than five years ago they fled from a refugee camp in Congo and landed in Rockford, Illinois. A few months ago, her other son and his brother was gunned down and killed in the city streets. They stated, “we left one war zone and entered another”. Powerful words.
Ultimately, the Gospel is the only answer to ultimate transformation. Yet, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must first step out of our comfort zones and engage in the process- for the good of the city and the Glory of Jesus Christ!