Jerry Ireland lives in Lome, Togo leading compassion ministries across many countries across the area and continent.
“The city of chaos is broken down.” ~ Isaiah 24:10 (NASB)
When I think of Africa, I think of cities. That may seem strange to some; many people likely think of wildlife, game parks, vast savannahs, and stunning sunsets. To be sure, those are an indelible part of the African scene— but so, too, are cities.
When I think of African cities, I think of life. I think of great masses of people moving and thinking and feeling and searching for opportunity, for a better future.
The reality is that Africans are migrating to the great cities of the continent en masse. For many, the city means one thing: hope—hope that the future can be better, hope that some discovery awaits them in the city that will be the key to tomorrow’s success and to brighter prospects for their children.
Yet occasionally I find myself struggling to love the city I’m in. Where I live, traffic is nightmarish—not the bumper-to-bumper type one finds in places like Nairobi or Dar es Salaam, but the chaotic, motorbike-by-the-millions type. Even the simplest tasks like going for groceries are high-stress events, because they require navigating swarms of scooters and motos that are every bit as unpredictable and destructive as a herd of wildebeests. As a result, everyday life often seems like a constant exercise in chaos management. Some days I manage the chaos better than others, some days, the chaos manages me.
The thing is, you cannot have a city without a little chaos—they just go together. Encountering that chaos, getting caught in it, and occasionally having it get the best of you is actually a good thing for a missionary, even though it rarely feels that way. Urban chaos reminds me that cities are not only about hope, but also about hope deferred; that those who come to the city looking for a better future often get swallowed in an overwhelming present. Their dreams of things to come often get beat down by the things that are. They discover that opportunity spends a lot of time hanging out with risk, and consequently, things don’t always go as planned. In the city, wide-eyed visions of success often vanish in the blinding light of reality.
When I find myself struggling to love the city I’m in, it is usually because I’ve become too detached from the chaos. In order to love the city, the city has to get in your hair and under your fingernails. You have to touch it, taste it, smell it. You have to be close to it and look it in the eye. You cannot love the city through a car window.
The simple fact is that the gospel is perhaps nowhere more relevant than in the city. Remember, the Christian story itself culminates with a heavenly city that stands in direct contrast to the broken cities of man. “And I saw the holy city…coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21: 2, NASB). The differences could not be more profound. As Augustine said, “The earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.”
Would you join us in praying for the great cities of Africa, that they would know the hope of the heavenly city and the Living God who brings peace in the midst of chaos?