The Healing of the City

The body lay face down on the asphalt with a crowd gathering on both sides of the road while a few police stood by watching. I noticed some of the people were in their Sunday best probably on their way to church just like we were yesterday morning. This was the scene we came across only a couple of hundred yards from our house.

Fortunately we don’t see bodies lying on the street everyday, (though this was not a first time experience) but in a place where street justice is solidly knit into the fabric of society this is a relatively frequent occurrence in Haiti. My source told me this was a police shooting of a pair of bandits (thieves) who were chased into our neighbourhood from another part of town. One was killed and the other arrested.

I spent last week in Guatemala with others in our region who are part of the Street Psalms network. We gathered for a few days to explore the theme Transforming Mission: Healing the City Together.

Cities are the gathering places of nations. They are places of commerce, education and government, where culture thrives and grows. They are places of joy and pain, success and failure, despair and hope, places where the best and worst of people are drawn out. Last week I heard stories of people who live in despair in the largest garbage dump in Guatemala City and I heard about violent gangs of young people who live like they have no hope. In Port-au-Prince where we live the reality of poverty and the crime that is often closely connected is never far from us. The high walls that surround most homes and the bars on the windows attest to that.

But what about hope?

I heard other stories, stories of transformation and healing taking place in the cities where former gang members are now pastors ministering to gangs and where community transformation is taking place in the midst of the garbage dump. In these stories I heard hope but I also heard the tension where despair and hope and joy and pain reside in the same place. There are glimpses that the Kingdom of God is taking root in the hard places of the cities my friends call home. Yet the reality we see around us everyday, sometimes in the still body lying on the side of the roads we drive, tries to convince us that transformation and healing is impossible, that this will always be the reality.

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Port-au-Prince streets

As we passed by the scene on our way home from church all that was left was a dried pool of blood on the pavement, some dirty rags that were clothes and a pair of old shoes. We don’t know who the person was who died on our street today but we do know God loved him and that God weeps with us over this violence and senseless death and he weeps over this city. This is not the way the world should be and this is not the way Port-au-Prince should be. It is our hope that one day we will see Port-au-Prince healed and transformed into what Zechariah prophesied, “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

What a wonderful vision, what a wonderful future.

We know that the healing of cities does not happen quickly but we also know that God and many Haitians care for their city. We are convinced that there are places where God’s grace is pooling up and small hints of transformation are happening already as women and men of faith seek the good of their communities amongst the tension of their present reality. This is the vision we focus on and the vision we pray for others to see and experience.

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