There are several times that I can pinpoint exactly what I was doing when I heard tragic news. When the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked in the summer of 1998, it was in the early morning hours here in the states. I was on my parents’ couch having never gone to bed because I was studying for an exam in one of my college summer school classes. I remember watching the events unfold as I watched the news on cable.
In November 1998, as a junior in college at the University of Texas at Austin, I was up early at 3 a.m. to study for a class and I first heard that the wood stack for the bonfire our rival school, Texas A&M, was building as part of their tradition during the week building up to our annual football game against one another had collapsed. I had many friends who were students at A&M and my immediate concern was to their whereabouts and well-being.
9/11. Very few Americans alive that day will ever forget where they were when they heard the news of planes flying through the Twin Towers and their subsequent collapse. I was three weeks into my seminary education at Southwestern Seminary and watched the events of the morning unfold with my Principles of Teaching class.
Last year on April 15 at 2:50 p.m., I sent out a Tweet reminding ladies that Friday, April 19 was the last day to apply for our September mission trip to Boston. No less than three minutes later one of our ministry assistants who is an avid runner came around the corner and said, “There was a bombing at the Boston Marathon!” I remember thinking, “What?” and immediately my thoughts turned to my friend, Sarah, a college friend who was in Boston on a mission trip with her church. I immediately texted her, “Where are you?” and she replied, “We left the finish line 20 minutes before the bomb went off.”
Our nation won’t forget the events of that April 15 week when the citizens of Boston were not only terrorized, but three citizens were killed in the blasts, more than 260 people were injured or maimed, an MIT security officer was killed, a resident was hijacked, there was a showdown with police in the middle of the night, almost one million people were on lockdown, and the week ended with the surviving 19-year-old suspect hiding in a boat in the backyard of a Watertown resident.
It was a tense and scary time not only in Boston, but across the country as police and the FBI searched frantically for the suspect.
Five weeks later I was in Boston mapping out our September mission trip. I left the Medford/Sommerville communities north of Boston and took the subway to the Downtown Boston area to meet up with my mother who was in Boston for a conference. Upon exiting the Copley Station stop, about a block east of one of the bombing sites on April 15, this is what I stumbled upon:
Hundreds and hundreds of shoes.
The shoes belonged to runners whose shoes were left behind as they were running in the marathon. Each pair of shoes represented a life that was forever changed that day.
From my mom’s hotel room in Downton Boston, which was block south of the marathon’s finish line, I could still see the yellow paint marking the end of the race across Boylston Street. It was highlighted by the yellow police tape roping off the restaurant where the bomb went off. In the city there was a sense of great despair because of what had taken place and mourning was still heavy.
I love Boston. I’m not entirely certain if it is the history, the quaintness, or the people, but Boston is one of my favorite cities in all of America.
And, Bostonians love their sports. Whether it is baseball, basketball, football or hockey, you can rest assured that the “B Strong” logo will be highly visible and “Sweet Caroline” will play loud and strong.
But, I think the reality is that I love Boston because I am really inspired by our church planting missionaries that serve in the Greater Boston-area so faithfully. Our mission team last year was privileged to work alongside Redemption Hill Church in Medford, just north of Boston.
Redemption Hill was launched in the summer of 2010 by a group of Southeastern Seminary graduates. The group, which included three families and a single lady, spent several years in prayer before moving to the Greater Boston area to plant a church. They selected Medford, a community north of Boston near the Mystic River and home to Tufts Univeristy.
This group began to get involved in the community and build relationships. They got to know the people and began to serve and love them in the name of Jesus Christ.
And their presence is making a great difference. In the four years since their church launched they have shared the Gospel, led men, women and children to faith in Christ, discipled them and sent them out to disciple others.
Last year as our team was at a subway station near Medford handing out Redemption Hill information cards and packages of gum we wore bright red shirts that said, “SERVE MEDFORD.” I remember standing outside the station trying desparately to hand out the cards and the gum at the same time to people that were exiting the station and a busload of people who had just pulled up when I heard in an unmistakable Boston accent,
“OH MY GOODNESS IT’S THE PEOPLE ON A HILL.”
I truly didn’t know if I should laugh out loud or what because she was right on two counts – the Redemption Hill count and the Matthew 5:14-16 count.
I have thought a lot over the last year about the Matthew 5:14-16 count. Redemption Hill is doing exactly as Christ commands us in these verses, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
This same lady stopped, and in the middle of Thursday afternoon subway stampedes, began to talk to us and ask various questions about Jesus. It struck me that she was comfortable asking these questions because the church staff and its members were intentional about not only sharing the love of Christ verbally, but also showing the love of Christ practically. She knew that we were a safe place because of her understanding of the people from the church.
Our group experienced a lot during those four days in September, but one thing that I left Boston with that weekend (aside from great memories with our awesome mission team) was that Boston is not without hope. Though tragedy struck last year and forever changed the lives of many residents, the Gospel and the true hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ is transforming the city of Boston in a different way – a way that gives life, both abundant and eternal.