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Flee or Engage

December 6, 2015

Urban Decay: Falsas Promesas/Broken Promises, Charlotte Street Stencils, South Bronx, NY, Author John Fekner (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Tyshawn Lee, a 9 year old Chicago boy, was laid to rest last month, another victim of inner city violence. The child is thought to have been lured to his death by members of a gang competing with his father’s for drug turf. There have been more than 390 such killings in Chicago this year [1].

I grew up in a working class neighborhood of the Bronx, a short drive from the nearest public housing project.  The high-rise apartments there were monoliths, devoid of any hint of humanity other than graffiti and the occasional Christmas lights draped from a balcony, twenty stories up.

My parents for years owned a small delicatessen in Harlem.  My mother dealt daily with the working poor, barefoot children, prostitutes, drug addicts, and the homeless.

As an adult, a personal injury lawyer, I interviewed the victims of rape and mayhem in projects with names like the Polo Grounds Houses.  The irony was not lost on me.  Children amused themselves by riding skateboards against the elevator doors, for the clanging sound that made.  A special police squad investigated the paralyses and deaths which resulted when the doors gave way, and children disappeared down the shaft.

Behind the desk of one project manager, I noticed a large jar of what seemed to be multi-colored marbles.  He pulled the jar forward to reveal empty “crack” cocaine vials.  “This is what I’m up against,” he said to me, somberly. “This is just a week’s worth from one of the stairwells.”

I rode the subways at all hours.  Legless veterans would regularly roll through the train cars, flush with the floor, begging for spare change.  One frail young woman pushed a stroller along, calling out, “Milk for the baby!  Milk for the baby!” as she pleaded for coins.  Whether the money she collected went to the baby or her drug habit, I do not know.

A scrap of conversation stays with me from those subway rides.  Three middle-aged, African American women sat across from me, talking over the roar of the train, one gesturing in an animated fashion.  I could not help but overhear her distress. ” ‘An Uzi!?’ I said to him.  ‘An Uzi? Why can’t you just get a regular gun?’ ”

A high school teacher of mine said perhaps the most profound thing I ever heard in class.  “There will come a time when each of you will have to choose. Either run from the cities or save them.”  Flee or engage.

That is the choice with which Christians are faced.  Flee or engage.  There is no more time left for temporizing, no more time left for us to ponder the question.  There have been studies and deaths enough.

This is the challenge to our faith.  We either put up or shut up.  The comfortable sideline is not an option.  WWJD?

[1], “South Side Chicago Community in Shock over Killing of 9 Year Old Tyshawn Lee” by Don Melvin, Bill Kirkos, and Glen Dacy, 11/10/15,


  1. we have no idea…

  2. Very well said Anna. We do indeed face a choice. I like the way you put it. The only problem is, the time was actually here decades ago, and Christians as a whole chose to flee. Now, we have catching up to do. Great post.

  3. Anna, thank you for this. You always post such thought provoking articles. I agree with Wally. I have not only seen Christians leave the city, but entire church groups. I think there are three main reasons for this. I will try to be brief.

    Fear is the biggest reason. It is dangerous in the city, as you have mentioned. After all we have families to raise. The thinking has been to pull back in order to keep us all safe. The media plays a part in this as well, seldom having stories of every day heroes, but painting a picture that is incredibly frightening.

    Secondly there has been a false doctrine growing for 20-30 years or more, known as the “prosperity gospel”. Sometimes it is also called “word of faith”. This causes many Christians to focus on our own needs, and being successful, instead of giving back and sacrificing for others.

    Thirdly, underneath the surface for many Christians is something they would never admit to. They simply don’t like people of another color or ethnic group, especially if they are black or from another country. Again this is very subtle. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a very subtle racism that exists.

    I think each Christian is responsible for doing what we can, even if it is small. Peace.

  4. Hey Anna, and Nicodemus. Pray for me since we are on this topic.

    My church at the moment has one mission, down in Mexico. We are at the point where we can and should support one, and I have been feeling called to present that business to the congregation. I feel God wants me to propose this.

    Specifically where I feel we should place a mission in Central or downtown Little Rock, where all the churches of our Association have pretty much bailed out. There is a huge cross section of the unchurched in the city, and I am thinking we need to reach them. Pray, because I don’t suspect this will be popular among some, and if God wants it to happen it will be up to him.

  5. ajppobrien permalink

    A well written and very thought provoking
    piece of writing Anna.

  6. Sadly, today there seem to be more fleers than engagers. Jonathan Cahn calls the fleers, “collaborators.” Check out his 8-minute video halfway down the article at the following site:

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