Each day after the workday was over (and after our scheduled 12-minute showers, and unscheduled chill-out time, and a delicious dinner, thanks Colleen) we got together for the evening sessions. I have to say, after working hard all day, there were a couple evenings when I was taken back to college seminars and just could not keep my eyelids up, so my memories of those talks are hazy. But the talks that woke me up and actually kept me up into the night thinking were about citybuilding.
The Lord works in lots of different ways, and is always doing something new. What he's doing with the People of Praise right now is calling us to build cities. Specifically, we've heard a call to build 200 cities in the next 40 years. That sounds pretty funky, and I still have a hard time getting my mind around it. But basically, it's a concrete way of building God's kingdom - we want to have real places that you can walk to, places that are part of God's kingdom on Earth. I've heard it compared to Chinatown - a whole different culture and life in the middle of society.
We want our cities to be places where Jesus is king; where good housing is available to everyone; where we live purposeful life together, across boundaries of age or race of economic class; where our businesses and jobs are close to our homes; where money works (people have enough and it is spent well, and in some cases, it is held in common); where there is friendship and peace; where health care works; and where everything is beautiful and functional.
We're not necessarily talking about building a city from scratch in the middle of the prairie somewhere, although that could happen too. For now, we are building cities inside existing places. Allendale is our first "new start": we moved into the neighborhood and are simultaneously buying up unused land to build on and working for and with the neighbors who already live there. We've already transformed Yale so that you know you are in a new place when you cross Gary or Dunlap onto our block. Up in Minnesota, we've moved into Dinkytown, a college-housing area at the U of M, to build the Kingdom there and revolutionize student life. There's also work being started in Indianapolis, and some people will move to Memphis this fall.
And then there's this whole other part of the picture - "branch citybuilding." So we have missionaries whose job it is to "locate and secure new starts," but citybuilding is actually something the whole People of Praise is part of. The idea is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying - that all 3000 of us are called to do this revolutionary thing. In some ways it's not scary at all, we just have to keep doing what we've been doing - worshiping together, living in households together, having men's and women's groups and youth ministry, taking care of each other in times of transition or crisis, etc. - because that's what is going to make our cities worth living in. But the other part of branch citybuilding is that each branch - we have 20 by the way, in places all across the country - each branch is going to have to figure out how to become a city.
Portland's already started. My new friend Luke told me a lot about what's happening there while we painted together the first week in Allendale. I'd heard about it before but never from someone who's actually living there, and I was fascinated. The branch in Portland just decided on a section of the city they wanted to live in, and now there are several "hubs" of families living together within that area. A hub would be several families living in close proximity - next door or across the backyard or something - the new catch phrase is "close enough to bring a pot of hot soup over for dinner." Life together is intense and intentional. Families even went to look at each house all together before one family would buy their house, because everyone needed to agree it was what would work for life together. Amazing.
What kept me up late at night (other than the coffee I had after Lord's Day dinner, which was my first caffeine in a week) was wondering what we're doing in the South Bend branch to build a city in South Bend. My mind was racing with possibilities and questions and I couldn't wait to get back and start talking to people. Now that I'm back I don't quite know where to start, though ...
I do know that I am passionate about branch citybuilding, and nothing gets me on my soapbox faster than hearing how left-out people feel when we talk about missionaries and new starts. Maybe because I have so often felt that way too. But ... the missionaries are doing amazing work, but when it comes down to it, our regular life is pretty amazing too. It's the Lord's work and we need to keep doing it. Raising families, renewing our churches, being Christ to our coworkers and neighbors and friends ... one college student from my Allendale team is dedicated to her younger brothers and sisters in her branch. She's the youngest committed member of the branch and she knows the teenagers (and younger) need to have her around, to see what it is to be a young person in love with the Lord and committed to Christian life together. That is where the Lord is, just as much as he is in Allendale and Dinkytown.
We just need to pull it all together ...