In May 2010, my family relocated from St. Louis to Tulsa, to begin the process of planting a church in the urban core. We just passed our one-year anniversary of moving and it has caused me to reflect on our first year here.
In many ways, I have felt like an exile from the book of Jeremiah where God calls his people to leave their land and move to a foreign city -- to work for the good of that city. In Jeremiah 29, God says this to his people:
"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 ... 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."
Just as the Jerusalem exiles in Babylon, we have left our home and are working for the shalom of Tulsa in word and deed. In short, it has been an ebb and flow of promise and disappointment. Starting something from scratch in a city with few connections is arduous work. But there have been many evidences of grace.
I think of the deep community that has been developing our living room. I think of the way our community served one another during the recent snowstorm, checking in to make sure everyone was safe and had food and warmth. I think of the 62-year-old lady who placed her faith in Jesus after a lifetime of emptiness. Most of all, I see my family flourishing in their faith in a new place and a new adventure.
As I've been reflecting, I was reminded of a time a few years ago that God taught me something that I'm sure the exiles felt during their time in Babylon.
It was the Fourth of July. My family and I had gone down the road to an interesting spot to view some fireworks. A spot that has an intriguing history.
In the late 1990s, St. Louis' Lambert Airport was promised a lucrative contract with a major airline and with this deal, Lambert would need to expand. This expansion would include extra runways and concourses. The airport purchased land southwest of their facility which in turn meant that neighborhoods, churches, and businesses in that area would need to be demolished and folks would have to relocate.
In 2002, over 1,925 homes were demolished by the airport and in January 2007, USA Today reported that the runway displaced 6,000 residents of suburban Bridgeton from their homes.
Well, the contract didn't meet its desired expectations. Lambert did a partial expansion and acres and acres of land now sit empty as thousands of people had to leave. I also heard recently that only 5 percent of flights at Lambert use the new runway. Unbelievable.
Today, only a few empty, boarded-up houses and a church remain. A veritable ghost town in the middle of a major metropolitan city.
In the back portion of this ghost town sits a park that is a part of the Bridgeton park system. The park still has a certain level of maintenance. And even though there was virtually nothing around it, our family thought that this would be a great place to watch some fireworks.
That night we probably saw around 20 major fireworks displays west down the Interstate 40 corridor -- St. Charles, St. Peters, O'Fallon, Lake St. Louis, Wentzville, etc. -- north up the I-270 corridor -- Bridgeton, Florrisant, Ferguson, etc. -- and northwest into Elsberry, Louisiana, etc. Our kids were mesmerized. And so were their parents.
And there were other families there. Ones that I'm sure remember when this community was a fledgling neighborhood. Now all that's left are empty lots and the occasional home whose windows are broken and shrubs are overgrown.
As we drove out of the ghost town that night I couldn't help but think of all the people who were uprooted from these neighborhoods. They are now scattered all over St. Louis and St. Charles counties.
In some sense, these people became exiles in their own city. I had a good friend whose family used to live in one of the neighborhoods. They now live across the Missouri River in a city called St. Charles.
Our family now finds ourselves in a new land. A city we love. A city that is becoming home. Sometimes being displaced is a good thing.
As my family left the park that night on a Fourth of July, I realized that home isn't a structure. Home truly is where the heart resides. Whether you live in Tulsa or Babylon.
You see, no one can take your home from you.
Even if they take your house from you.
-(Brad Andrews is lead pastor at Mercyview)
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