I have an old pamphlet pinned up in our office that contains a print of the painting shown below. I picked it up at an art exhibition when my wife and I were still students. I always thought, “One day I will buy this painting.” Luckily we never did, because it will not fit in a suitcase! My pamphlet has become one of the permanent accessories that travel with us. It’s one of my favorite images, and captures my imagination every time I look at it. It is dynamic, alive and strong; but at the same time, it seems mysterious, dangerous and a little chaotic. I feel the same way about my city.
Papetti, Alessandro. Paris, 2013, oil on canvas, cm. 130×205.
We have always loved cities, and for the last several years, we’ve had the privilege of living and working in Cape Town. I love my city, but at the same time, it challenges me deeply. Cape Town is set in a geographic bowl that is hedged in by mountains, oceans and winelands, and is breathtakingly beautiful! Some locals will tell you that the closer you live to Table Mountain the more beautiful you become. I love its creativity and distinction. I love its diversity that is shaped by indigenous kings, colonialists, pioneers and strong visionary leaders. I am proud to say I am a Capetonian.
I am also concerned for my city. I am concerned with how easy it lives alongside addiction and poverty. Popular culture in the city celebrates beauty and encourages you to move away from danger and avoid poverty. We bought into this culture when we were younger and moved to the city. We lived for comfort, avoided the ugly, ignored the beggar and became blind to the addiction and slavery around us. Physically safe, but spiritually and emotionally numb. The tipping point for me was during an evening out. A young boy approached us out of a dark alley. Rather than thinking, “What is a child doing on the street?”, I acted in self-preservation and chased him away. I could not sleep that night. Luckily, we encountered a love that started to change everything! Jesus started calling us to a new way of thinking. When He put on flesh and walked our streets, He stood against fear, engaged with suffering and loved strangers. How do we live like this? How do we move from being tourists of our cities to being lovers of our cities? I believe that part of the answer is knowing that our King deeply loves the city. The city is His design and not just an invention of humankind:
- In Matthew 10 and Luke 10, we find Jesus heartbroken and crying out to the unrepentant cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.
- In Hebrews 11:10 we learn that Abraham, through faith, left his home and dreamed of a city “whose designer and builder is God.” (ESV)
- In Revelation 21, the climax of God’s redemption plan is described as a city. “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light.” (ESV)
- In Revelation 22, the garden of Eden is reimagined as a city, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of the city, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (ESV)
In his article, “The Theology of Cities,” Tim Keller makes the following statement, “We began in a garden, but will end in a city; God’s purpose for humanity is urban!” Understanding that God is present in the city, and that the city is His design, has had a significant impact on the way I now live in and engage with cities. The city and its hurts are no longer something from which I run away. With the help of my King, it’s something I can now embrace and engage in seeing God’s redemptive strategy for it!
Over the last two years, we’ve had the awesome privilege of sharing life with a group of young professionals living and working in Cape Town. We called ourselves AsWeGo and gathered around the common mission of loving God, loving our city and loving each other. It has been such an awesome gift. Crying and praying together for our city, mourning over its hurts, rejoicing over its victories, trying to help, making many mistakes, but also seeing some breakthrough, shaped us so much. In an attempt to reach our city with the Gospel, our hearts were reached with the Gospel! Here are some practical things we’ve learned in attempting to love our city better:
- Know Your City – This part I enjoy the most. Get a map of the city and hit the streets. Ride the trains, take buses and eat with the locals. Make friends with people different than you, listen to their stories and ask questions. What are your city’s felt needs? Who are the affinities (a relational network of people connected by common culture, language or location)* in your city? What are they passionate about? What are their fears? What existing movements of peace and positive change are present in your city? Who are the change makers and opinion leaders in your city? Start answering these questions and ask Jesus what His redemptive plan is for your city.
- Failing Fast – In an urban context we need to be okay with not having the answers, but adjusting strategy as we go. Innovation is encouraged in an atmosphere where it is okay to make mistakes and adjust strategy on the move.
- Finding the Natural, Pre-existing Affinities Within Our City – The gospel spreads fastest when moving through affinity groups and pre-existing communities. Ask yourself the following questions: Which affinity in the city are you drawn to? What real-world problems are they facing? What does it look like when the kingdom of God comes to them?
A good example of this is the social justice movement found in South African cities today. Launching innovative projects through young leaders that address inequality, and wanting to effect change in our city, has been a wonderful way of finding those who Jesus is drawing to himself. What greater hope can we offer the neglected and marginalized of our cities than the truth of a loving God that wants to be known, and the promise of an eternity in a city that has no need of the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light!
What is God’s redemptive plan for your city? We would like to invite you on a journey of reimagining our cities together. Please let us know what you are learning and practicing in seeing a movement of the gospel take hold of your city.
* In cities, affinities often group together around a common interest, need or cause (examples include a rural Zulu village, a soccer team, fellow students or co-workers, your neighbors, your family).
Marko Pretorius and his wife, Maxie, have been part of All Nations for 3 years, working in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as Mafraq, Jordan. Their hearts break for neglected and unreached communities in Urban areas. They serve on the All Nations Hamburg team and dream to see a movement of the Gospel take hold of Germany and all major cities in Europe.