Driving down Broad Street is a feast for the eyes. There is so much going on at all times that it can almost be overwhelming to take in. With pedestrians swarming from all sides and traffic patterns changing on a regular basis, it is tempting to keep your head down, eyes focused on the road and ignore what is going on around you. When I first came to Philadelphia, that was my tendency too. If I did look up it was to notice the dilapidation, crumbling buildings and stores that were closed.
A few years ago, I began a new habit. I started looking up. It was easy to see the things that were dead or dying, but harder to notice the new and thriving. This week as I was driving down Broad Street, I nearly had to stop and pull over because of what I saw. On a building that had been boarded up and abandoned at the intersection with Lehigh Street was a huge mural with the word RISE on in bold colors. It was so big it could be seen from blocks away. I couldn’t get the image out of my head and was sure to look for the building again as I drove back up Broad Street from my appointment and suddenly noticed the word SHINE on the opposite side of the building in letters that were just as big, bold and beautiful. This wonderful project completed by the mural arts program is symbolic of what God is doing in Philly and cities all over the country.
I have just finished reading a wonderful new book called Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard and was struck by what they had to say in the introduction. “Intentionally or unintentionally, cities have been portrayed as places of problem, rather than places of opportunity and blessedness. The reality is bigger and more beautiful than the evangelical portrayal has typically shown – the city is a wonderful, dynamic, exciting place for people to live, work and make a difference.”
As I have served and worked alongside people who have taken this mandate seriously, my eyes have been opened to the work of God in my city. There are amazing things taking place if you look carefully enough:
- A former Eagles football player became a pastor, started a church on Broad Street and reclaimed an entire city block. His People to People not-for-profit initiative has made such an impact that it has been recognized by Presidents of the United States.
- Burdened by the need for quality education in a Christian school setting, the Children’s Jubilee Fund was established to provide scholarships for kids that could not afford to go these schools. Over the years, hundreds of kids have now benefited from the program and many are in college today.
- Biblical training for lay people and pastors is alive and well in the city. CUTS (the Center for Urban Theological Studies) has recently partnered with Lancaster Bible College to provide fully accredited degrees to those studying for the pastorate. Bethel Deliverance Church continues to provide high quality lay training through its Bethel Bible Institute and attracts attendees from churches all over the city.
- Church planting is alive and well and CMA Pastor Jim Rudd has just announced that True Vine Community Church has signed a lease for their newest campus at 4500 Tyson Avenue.
- Immigrants are being welcomed in name of the Lord Jesus Christ and ESL training at Northeast Community Church is growing by leaps and bounds. People from China, India, Russia, Pakistan, Algeria and many other nations who have moved to Philly are learning English and meeting Christ followers in a fun and engaging setting.
As I dream about the move of the gospel in Philly, this year, I am encouraged to see so many people looking up with me and seeing the possibilities and not just the problems. Who knows what God will do in the days ahead through the power of Christian literature as I join in to help make resources available through our ministry and partner with these types of organizations? Nothing is too big for my God.