The moment someone spoke the word “city,” I immediately saw a skyline. I mean, what else would you think? A city indicated a cluster of multiple levels of buildings that housed various businesses and people. So, when I heard the phrase “love the city” from Vintage Church’s mission statement my first understanding of this was to love the actual city itself. By loving the city itself I figured it meant you worked in it, rooted for the teams, took part in festivities, and became a full on supporter of wherever you are planted. From sitting in a coffee shop, however, I have learned that is not what it means to love the city
Every Tuesday, I go to the Mojo coffee house on Magazine Street as part of my internship with Vintage. I go there each week to do outreach in the community. The missionary, Jim Elliot, said, “Wherever you are, be all there!” So, I took the advice and fully engaged in the city of New Orleans by buying the local paper every time I came into the coffee house. I speak with the barista, take a paper, and begin making myself familiar with the situations and events surrounding my temporary home.
Last Tuesday, I picked up the paper with pages filled with the recent shooting on Bourbon street. I spoke briefly to those around me about how sad it was, but they were numb to hurt. It was common to them; it didn’t really matter all that much. That’s when I realized I was looking at the city of New Orleans through stained glass eyes yet the glass had been shattered. Romanticizing about New Orleans, I had made the city to be a wonderful location rather than embracing the city for what it really is, a group of people. I used to see the skyline when I thought of a city; now I see people.
Cities have become the watering hole of the nations. People of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds come to meet in the same urban location. Reaching the nations used to involve months of planning, travel expenses, and strategic operations to make it to the end of the earth, but now we walk across the street. Not only do the nations come to a city, but they make it their home. These are their streets, their news, and their culture. Living here in New Orleans, I stumbled into the people rather than just a concrete jungle. God with His mighty hand delivered the nations right into our lap. I see the nations walk across my path every Tuesday. That time alone on Tuesday afternoons I see people from across the world come in to order coffee and stay a while. It makes Act 1:8 a bit easier when “the ends of the earth” come to you.
So, what are we going to do about it? Love the city. But what does that mean? The past few weeks I have wrestled with the concept of loving the city. After grasping what the city is, I had to also take hold of what it means to love the city. We are told to do this in 1 Corinthian 9:22-23:
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
As Christians, we love people as a symbol of what Christ did for us. We meet people where they are. One day, I sparked conversation with a young girl in line at a bakery. I ended up inviting her to stay a while and chat with me. After talking about the city and what it is like to live here, I asked her about her connection with the local church. She has no connections, yet she wanted one. I spent some more time loving on her and sharing Jesus with her as well as telling her about Vintage. Jesus demonstrated love to us throughout the gospels by meeting people where they are. That day the girl needed a friend and some direction. I did what I could to give both. To love the city, we have to be in it. To love the people, we have to meet them where they are. Are you ready to love the city?