10 years ago I was a high school senior. I had visited a Christian college in Indiana and was convinced it was God's will for me to go there. I was going to be a Youth Pastor. My mother coerced me to apply to the University of Akron as a back-up plan.
10 years ago I did not want to attend the University of Akron. I did not want to have anything to do with Akron. I wanted to leave this city for something newer, bigger, and better.
That was not the case. The Christian college I had been accepted into proved to be too expensive and I was granted a good scholarship to Akron. My back-up plan was now my life plan.
I cannot tell you when it happened, but my attitude changed as Akron's landscape changed. It wasn't necessarily the construction of a new Student Union, Honors Complex, or the Recreation and Wellness Center. It was necessarily the improvements to downtown: Lockview and Lock 3, Musica, and the other new restaurants that were somehow all new to me. Sometime between changing my major, working at summer camps, and volunteering throughout the city, I fell in love with the city of Akron.
By the end of my collegiate years, I was an avid Akronite. I championed the city whenever possible, recommending the University of Akron to aspiring seniors, promoting local restaurants, and sharing secret Akron locations that I had discovered. Subconsciously, I knew that if I wanted to grow as a leader in the city, I would have to leave it for a time.
So I did. I ventured to Philadelphia, volunteered there, partnered with community organizations, learned about urban theology, wrestled with simplicity in a complex world, and returned to Akron ready to put into practice the many things I had learned. I didn't know it, but God had brought me back to South Street Ministries.
10 years ago, I completed my Eagle Scout project at South Street Ministries. My project helped start South Street's bike shop. I completed my project and sequestered myself at the University of Akron and collegiate life. However after college and after Philly, there I was again at bike shop, now volunteering with the program twice a week to help kids assemble bikes. It was the fruition of my Eagle Scout project years after the project itself.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Jeremiah 29. The most popular verse in Jeremiah is Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. But that verse isn't my favorite. (actually that verse is often taken out of context â€“ it is a word of hope to a people entering a 70 year period of exile, of being refugees in a land not their own, not simply a kitsch verse to put on graduation cards)
No, my favorite verse in Jeremiah is Jeremiah 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
This verse has guided my work as an urban developer and advocate at South Street. It has guided my decision to marry and stay in the city. The call to seek the shalom (the peace) and prosperity of Akron has become a dominant theme of my life.
I recently visited the new Bridgestone Firestone site on Main Street. When its construction started I was resentful; the park where I had spent my youth watching fireworks and local parades was becoming an industry site. Upon its completion (and grand opening April 14th) I have a different understanding. I understand the jobs and stability a company bring to the city. I understand the legacy of Firestone in Akron and the importance of its continued presence in the city. I understand urban partnerships, corporate philanthropy, and community development.
I never went to that Christian college, nor did I receive a degree to be a Youth Pastor. However, the city has served as my classroom, seminary, and youth group. And I am a better man for it.