But let's be honest. It has...issues.
In the eight years since Robin and I moved here, we've seen and experienced all kinds of chaos. We've seen women getting punched in the street outside our house and had men come to our house in the middle of the night to try to get money to pay off drug dealers who are waiting in their car by the curb. We've seen our friends have their homes invaded and burglarized (and one eighty year old man beaten), ministry partners robbed at gunpoint, gunfights between feuding neighbors, and more vandalism and domestic violence than you can shake a non-emergency police call at.
I suppose this is why many who love us were so concerned when we decided to have children and raise them here:
"Do you know the dangers they'll face?!"
"Do you know the things they'll hear from other kids?!"
"Do you realize what the chaos is like in the South Bend Public Schools?!"
"Get them out of there!"
To be honest, I was concerned myself as well. In one trip to the park, we heard a group of boys (who had to be 8 years old or so) talking about how they were going to get as many girls pregnant as possible someday. Another young boy was following a little girl around with hip thrusts in her direction. Is this the right environment for my precious angels?!
And then one day a group of friends from our community took a trip to visit an urban ministry in Chicago and had a long talk with a veteran urban ministry leader. We asked him about his thoughts on raising kids in the city (as he has raised many of his own there). His thoughts have stuck with me today and proved itself true already:
"I would prefer to raise my kids in the 'hood. In the 'hood, kids can clearly see right and wrong played out before their eyes, with the consequences clear. Violence causes problems. Drug use ruins lives. Mean words tear apart families. In the rest of society, the problems and sin still exist, they're just decorated and hidden. Those problems are harder for kids to see and easier for them to unknowingly inherit."And he's right.
Where I grew up in the suburbs, sin was like carbon monoxide. You couldn't see it, couldn't smell it, so you didn't know to avoid it, but it still had the same drastic consequences. No, there wasn't rampant drug use, violence, or domestic abuse, but there was materialism, arrogance, vanity, and (worst of all) this feeling like everything would be okay with or without God.
Not so in the 'hood. People are real. You see the good and the bad. It's all very clear, right there before you. There isn't the hiding. There isn't the makeup.
Last year, a woman burst through the front door of our home and into our entryway unannounced, fleeing an abusive boyfriend, only to see him follow her inside and beat her in our front room. Meanwhile, our two young girls were upstairs ready for bed, anxious as they listened to the angry man and the screaming woman. Needless to say, they asked a lot of questions that night.
We were able to tell them about sin and the pain it causes in our lives. We told them about relying on God and how He won't ever hurt you like others might. And we shared about trusting God to care for us when we are afraid.
My belief is that our kids will be better off for these experiences. I want them to grow up seeing their need to depend on God daily; knowing that God is the one who gives life and keeps us from despair.
Additionally, there are so many great lessons we can learn from my neighbors that were never a part of the suburban culture. People in my neighborhood look out for each other. In the midst of the pain and difficulty of life, I've seen so many rise to levels of grace and kindness that I'm not used to seeing. I've seen mothers, struggling to provide for their own children, take in another child of a friend who is hurting. I've seen the poor offer the little money they have to a relative in need. I've seen families living in already cramped housing take in entire other families who just needed a place to stay.
So yeah, my neighborhood has issues. The truth is, we all do. But in the 'hood, at least you know what they are.
And I would prefer my kids be able to see clearly the choices set before them.
I'm not sure I could raise them in the suburbs. It's too risky.