I have learned many things these past five years whilst being a missionary in Chicago. And maybe one day I will write it all down, but for today I wanted to share the biggest difference of living in a city verses a suburb while being a follower of Christ.
But first, context.
Where I came from was weird
Riverside, California, was where I did most of my growing up and it’s one of those weird places that has several mega-churches. It’s also surrounded by other mega-churches all throughout Southern California. There is a substantial Christian bubble in Orange County and the Inland Empire that I didn’t realize was there until I moved out of it.
It was the norm to see Christian owned bookstores, cafes, bakeries, etc. Anytime I would walk into a Starbucks I could find someone doing a Bible study or see advertisements for Christian concerts at churches or major venues.
There was also enough space to create your own silos. You defined yourself by what church you went to, “I’m Harvest” “Well, I’m Sandals” “Oh, I’m the Grove.” And there was a hierarchy about it too. Christians felt like they were better than you if you didn’t attend their church. It didn’t even depend on doctrinal issues, just proximity, and sometimes unfortunately, cult of personality.
Where I live now is normal
Now I live in Chicago where the bubble does not exist. In fact, just the other day I got into an Uber and I saw that the driver had a cross hanging from his rear-view mirror. I literally yelled, “Are you a Christian?” He seemed a bit nervous and then confessed he was. “Oh, me too! I love Jesus too!” It is so rare to find someone else who loves Jesus in this city that I cannot help but yell with joy.
He then asked me what denomination I was, and that’s when I realized this man wasn’t from the city. In the city we cannot survive within denominational, location, and personality silos.
Do you love Jesus?
Hello my brother or sister!
Oh, you disagree on this doctrinal issue and this one too? Well, I still love you. I will still call you family. Why? Because there’s no one else around here. It’s you and me kid.
I did learn that the Uber driver was indeed from a suburb and that our “denominations” were different, but it didn’t matter. We talked of our Savior all the way home and it was refreshing.
Regular church attendance is vital
Living in Riverside, if you missed Sunday it wasn’t that big of a deal. There was surprisingly enough weekday activities all throughout that region that led to many encounters with God. I am not encouraging lack of church attendance by any means, but I have learned there’s another very important reason why God calls us to worship Him weekly that was not apparent to me whilst living in the bubble.
It’s to remind us that we are not alone. It encourages us in our faith. I can go an entire week without meeting a Christian in Chicago and Sunday is the only day that I can breathe and worship my King without restraint. It’s that “you too?” question when you walk through the doors.
Not taking it for granted
Unlike many other cities in the world, Chicago still offers the freedom to gather together in worship. Unlike other countries where Christians have to conduct services and meetings underground, we can still meet publicly.
I recently watched Silence and I mourned with a deep sympathetic cry all throughout the film. Without giving too much away because I am not sure if you have seen it, there is a scene where a Japanese man sees the cross hanging from the priest’s neck and he falls to his knees and cries. It’s the first cross he has seen in over 15 years.
I looked at my bookcase of Christian textbooks, a picture of the Wailing Wall, Scripture art, and large and small crosses stationed neatly throughout my shelves, and I couldn’t help but cry with appreciation. I can openly worship God without any fear of death.
And then I thought about my own experience of living in Chicago. The feeling I get when I meet other Christians. The feeling I get when I walk into our rented out space on Sundays to worship with my church. The feeling I get when I meet for Wednesday night Bible study. I would have never experienced that sweet gratitude, that hopeful glimmer, that peaceful release of being around my family, of being my true self, of worshiping God in truth and Spirit together, without leaving the bubble of Riverside.
It’s undeniably a gift.
And one that I will not take for granted.