Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holding Out Hope for Detroit

As far as American cities go, it would be hard to find another one that is having as rough a go at it as Detroit is right now. With an economy in steady deadline and a population that is half the size it was a half-century ago, Motown has certainly seen better days. Having just seen a mayor leave office after a well-publicized scandal and a professional football team that has become the butt of jokes in sports bars across the country, Detroit is a city that needs some hope. And needs it fast.

Although I didn't grow up in D-Town (I was raised outside of Detroit - an hour traveling northeast on I-94), my heart is with the Motor City. Some of my fondest memories of childhood are taking of trips downtown to Tiger Stadium, just blocks from where my dad has worked for years. My wife grew up mere minutes from Detroit and went to college in the heart of the city at Wayne State University. The blue-collar work ethic and grittiness of the city defines southeastern Michigan and, thus, is part of who I am.

Our home now is in central Florida but we feel the pain of fellow Michiganders. The auto industry is what made Detroit (and the state of Michigan) what it is and the decline of that same industry is what so affects it today. Other factors have contributed to its present state:

"The roots of Detroit's current plight go back decades. Court-ordered school busing and the 12th Street riots of 1967 accelerated an exodus of whites to the suburbs, and many middle-class blacks followed, shrinking the city's population from a peak of 1.8 million in the 1950s to half that now. About 83% of the current population is African American. Detroit's crime, poverty, unemployment and school dropout rates are among the worst of any major U.S. city. Car and home insurance rates are high. Chain grocery stores are absent, forcing many Detroiters to rely on high-priced corner stores. "There's always been a real can-do spirit among our people," said the Rev. Edgar Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church. "That's being beaten down right now. ... These times, unlike others, have sapped a lot of that spirit from them.""
Not only is it difficult to see the challenges that the current economic realities have brought to a large number of family and friends, but it affects us in a very direct and tangible way. As missionaries dependent upon the financial generosity of others, we feel the struggling economy as well. Over 3/4 of our financial support base is within southeastern Michigan so although our jobs might not be on the line, we feel it every time a financial partner gets laid off or loses their job.

Even with those realities, we are so thankful for those that give sacrificially so that we can engage in our ministry to college students. We have ministry partners that are on fixed or limited incomes but still give because they believe in what we do. They give because they recognize that eternity is in the balance for individuals and that their giving, no matter how small or large, makes a difference.

It is these types of people that make up the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. We are hard workers. We are people committed to our families. We are folks loyal to our employers. We are fans that stick through thick and thin with our teams (although the Lions are testing this truth.) And we are hard-nosed individuals that don't back down from a fight. It is this spirit that defines Detroit and the good people of Michigan.

I am proud to say that I am from Michigan and that I have kids (though they haven't really lived in the state) that know where their parents come from. Detroit is a city and Michigan is a state that possesses a rich history that has helped to shape America in so many ways. From the auto industry to the music of Motown. From the greatness that is Michigan Wolverine football to influencers like Malcolm X and Gerald Ford and Magic Johnson and Thomas Edison. From Coney Island hot dogs and Better Made chips to Vernors pop and paczis.

I'm confident that the faith and spirit of the residents of Detroit will one day help this great city to return to better days. I am in no way an economic expert so I really can't speculate on what has caused the Big Three of GM, Ford and Chrysler to bring things to where they stand today. I do know that in order to see Detroit return to its previous glory there needs to be better leadership in place across the board. The residents of Detroit and Michigan cannot elect people or support leaders of business that are high on eloquence but low on morals. The recent mayoral embarrassment and excesses of selected CEO's goes to show that morality does still matter.

It is times like these that many turn to a higher power to get them through their struggles. I trust that many will return to Jesus or, for some, turn to Him for the first time. Our cars may fail us, our money may run out and our sports teams may come up short, but I believe that God is not through with Detroit or its people yet. I'm still holding out hope...

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