Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Raise them in the 'hood

I love my neighborhood.

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.


  1. Great points! Living in challenging places also prompts us to be clear on what God wants. It does require more parental oversight and involvement.

  2. When we lived in the suburbs our kids thought everyone there was a Christian because they lived pretty good lives. Going to South Bend schools was helpful for them to see themselves as salt and light. I see other Christian kids that stayed in the "safe" suburbs and they usually look like everyone else.

  3. Ryan-- Nick made me read this today as I was sharing my anxious thoughts about public vs. private school/ city vs. suburb. It was beautifully written and I actually cried a little bit. Everything you said was true. Thanks for sharing your heart. We love you guys and your honesty and stick-ability!!!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Angie. We're so privileged to have other friends like you with similar convictions -- that we can urge each other on, and know our children will have friends doing that with them as well!

  4. oh this was good stuff! you know the walatka's are with ya!

  5. Humbling ....

  6. Shelley led me here and wow! What great points that I've never even pondered as a suburban girl(very ashamed to say it). This is really ruminating inside and will be for some time. Thank you so much.

  7. Sent here by a friend. Your words are profoundly truthful and full of so much grace. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Ryan, I hear you and I hear your heart. But don't you think that everyone's calling is different? The last sentence to me is so black and white that it seems as if you are passing judgement on all those people who choose to live in the suburbs, not because it is less risky, not because it is more comfortable, or whatever selfish reason I can name but rather because God calls people to all kinds of people, not just to those who live in tough areas. The people in the suburbs, as you state, are also full of sin and what is worse, many don't recognize it, don't see it clearly for the very reasons you state. I commend you for your obedience to raise your children in the tough neighborhood in which you live. I am sure you are making a wonderful difference. But please, don't dismiss those who are ministering, sharing God's truth and love with those who "have" because they need Jesus as well. Just because someone is called to live in the suburbs does not mean they don't give sacrificially, live sacrificially, and love sacrificially. I also find value in children learning to discern the very subtle lies that lead to those very subtle sins of materialism and vanity you mention. That's what parents do: show it to them, point it out and teach them to avoid it and to stand up and out when everyone else has the latest this or that and they don't and tell them why. I hope you hear my heart: let's not draw lines in the sand. You have your call, others have theirs. Equally valid, equally hard. And just to put this in perspective, I don't live in the suburbs. I live in the heart of the city myself but I know incredible families serving faithfully and obediently among all kinds of people.

    1. Thank you for sharing. I think you may be misreading my position. I certainly agree that God calls people to all sorts of situations, not just into working with the under-resourced, and that those situations can be just as difficult. That's actually the point I was making -- that each calling has it's own set of obstacles and it's own blessings.

      As you read the comments we received moving into our neighborhood, it just became clear that the common perspective surrounding my life was that you lived in the nice suburb neighborhood with the nice schools unless called by God into a different situation. I would challenge people to not consider there to be a default location for life and that the suburb life has its own challenges. A conference I recently attended provided this quote: "privilege is every bit the challenge for the Kingdom of God that poverty is".

      My blog post here, then, is not a challenge against being called by God into privilege, but rather the assumption that it's better to live in privilege unless told otherwise. As you show, not everyone shares that assumption, which is greatly encouraging.

      Peace, Ryan

    2. Thank you, Ryan. I have been surrounded by this philosophy lately: if you truly love God, you must live in hardship and poverty." And I disagree diametrically (even though I don't live in privilege :)). We are called to bring the love of Christ to all corners of the world, not just those in poverty. I like your quote very much. It makes perfect sense to me.

  9. So encouraging to read your thoughts on God's grace in the middle of all this. So encouraging to know you're there and that there is a light out there refusing to hide under a basket. Thank you for sharing.

  10. You know, I often try to think of intelligent comments to make about things that move me in the online world....then comes.... *crickets*...

    I am living a life in Australia where I almost feel trapped within myself. Unloved and unloving and unlovable. I am not telling you this so I get a "there, there" or "God loves you" reply. I *know* that is true but today my heart struggles. A lot.

    Not only does my geographical environment keep me "sheltered from sin" (yeah right) but my upbringing of not living in a welcoming or hospitable family. My heart feels shut right up tight, good and proper.

    Thanks for helping me see something beyond me and more for others

    1. @Katherine, thanks for sharing your heart.

      The only reason we are able to be where we are is because of my wife, who has a story perhaps very similar to yours. I was the sheltered one from the perfectly loving family situation. But my wife's story is different at every turn. I'm not quite sure how God brought us together, but only that we would not be where we are if not for HER story. Because of what she's been through, she has empathy and understanding (in a way I could never dream)for people going through similar situations.

      Your story sounds like it carries a lot of pain, but know that you pain has also earned you wisdom and influence with others who are hurting. You can help those who would never give people like me the time of day.

      Be encouraged. Your life and story is so important! Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Something you didn't mention in this post (but I'm sure you have before) is what a difference it makes knowing you are where the Lord wants you to be. Knowing that He foresaw all you are experiencing and this is where He wants your family right now. There is an amazing peace about knowing that. Then you never have to doubt your decision, or question why, or prove to others...you just know it's the Lord's will for you and that changes everything.

    We are about to move our three young daughters to Berlin, Germany as we work with local church plants and in considering the new environment and culture they are going to be raised in, it makes such a difference knowing that the Lord called us to go there. His idea! We can trust that His plan is best. Praise the Lord!

  13. I appreciate all that you have shared. I question whether timing is a consideration? I believe that as parents our first and foremost ministry is the salvation of our children and the training and preparation for the world because the world wants and will indoctrinate our children if they are not equipped. I have many friends who have chosen to homeschool to give their children a strong foundation in Christ and who they are in Him so that they can then go out and be salt and light. Our family chose private Christian schooling for this same reason. Our kids spend the majority of their day with outside influences which is why I believe it is imperative we mold them and have their hearts until they are called to minister. I agree whole heartedly that each person is called for a different purpose and our trust is in Him who calls us!

  14. Coming from someone who has found herself living in the inner city not by choice, and struggles with a newborn in a worsening neighborhood. I thank you for your perspective! Though I still desire a safer enviroment for my baby, it do feel encouraged by your perspective.