There was broken glass everywhere. For the third time in the same month, a vandal had thrown a brick through the plate glass window of our bookstore and I had gotten the call in the middle of the night. It was not getting up at 2AM and having to cleaning up a mess that bothered me so much. I just could not understand why a Christian bookstore was a target for thieves when there were so many other businesses nearby to target. As a missionary working in a cross cultural urban setting I also silently began to succumb to a nagging question, “Was this really worth it?” Couldn’t we run a bookstore in some idyllic suburban location that was just a “little” bit safer?
A few years later, I found myself crowded onto a Moscow subway hardly able to breathe because there were so many people surrounding me. As I looked around I could not help but notice that everyone seemed to be reading and what they were reading definitely not Christian literature. In a few minutes we arrived at our subway stop and took the long steep escalator out into the freezing streets and walked to our destination. Here in the heart of the Russian capital was a new Christian bookstore about to celebrate its official opening. Ironically the store was named Philadelphia to give it a cosmopolitan feel and it was CLC’s newest store at that time. It had taken us seven years of arduous work and incredible sacrifice to get this store open. As I stood in the midst of that wonderful shop, I could almost hear my grandparents whispering in my ear, “So is it worth it now?” Our family had been praying for the people of the former Soviet Union since I was a little boy. We had learned all about Brother Andrew smuggling Bibles into Eastern Europe and here I was looking at an entire store of Christian books and Bibles legally available in the heart of communism.
Serving people in the city is not an easy task. Life can be messy. There is a lot of brokenness to contend with and so much sin on display. Yet, somehow, I think that if Jesus had come to earth today he would certainly have arrived in a city. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus quotes from the Old Testament book of Isaiah and said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
As we open the doors of our bookshops each day, we never know who will come in. Given the strategic locations of our ministry in major cities around the world, we regularly minister to those who are captive to lies of post-modernism, atheism and agnosticism. We have the joy of sharing the good news of the Gospel and that Jesus is still in the business of giving sight to those that are spiritually blind. We get to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor every single day to a world that streams by our doors and window displays. Countless people have stumbled in wondering what kind of business we were running and ultimately made professions of faith for the first time in one of our stores around the world.
Seeking shalom in the city has meant many things for our teams over the years:
- In Sierra Leone it meant providing adult literacy courses so that men and women could learn to read for the first time and begin to dream of a life not consumed by poverty and destitution.
- In Chile, it meant ministering love and hope to people who had lost homes and businesses after a catastrophic earthquake.
- In Thailand it meant making hundreds of meals in Chiang Mai that would be flown down to Bangkok to feed people suffering the devastating after effects of a major flood.
- In Myanmar, it meant providing blankets, food and basic supplies after a devastating tsunami.
- In Central Asia in meant reopening our bookstore after our worker had been assaulted and the lives of other team members were threatened.
- It meant keeping a location open in Karachi, Pakistan despite an attempt by a gunman to assassinate our team.
- In Venezuela it meant ministering in love to a transvestite who nearly took their own life in our bathroom.
- In Philadelphia, it meant opening the doors in Center City even though we had been robbed twice.
Jesus never promised perfect peace and safety in this world, but He did promise us that He would never leave nor forsake us.