Open Letters to the City-Dweller

"While you are in Los Angeles (however long that may be), God is speaking through you to a city that desperately needs the life-giving hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ...Here are two open letters: to those who are in the city temporarily, and to those who are here for the long-haul."    

Let me begin with a confession: I have not always loved this city. In fact, quite the opposite is true (perhaps you’ve picked up on that in some of my writing). But over time, by God’s power and grace, I have come to love Los Angeles. I fight to love this place on a daily basis, and it’s not a natural love. But by God’s grace, Los Angeles has become home.

My hope is that you would fight to love this city while you are here, too.

Los Angeles is a place of constant movement. People are always coming and going; the city is never stagnant. What is often forgotten is that God is constantly moving in the city as well. Colossians 1:6 describes the gospel as “bearing fruit and increasing.” Our message of hope in Jesus Christ isn’t cold, lifeless, and static, but is alive, active, and powerful. Our city never stops moving, and neither do God and His Word.

What's more, God is using His people as the primary means of advancing His gospel.

We are ambassadors of Christ, God making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20). So if you are a follower of Christ, then God is appealing to the world through you, and the message of the gospel advances in our city through your witness. At every moment, and in every place. While you are here (however long that may be), God is speaking through you to a city that desperately needs the life-giving hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With that in mind, here are two open letters, the first to those who are in the city temporarily and the second to those who are here for the long-haul.

Dear Temporary City-Dweller:
Hello, and goodbye (soon). Most likely you already know that there is a limit to your time here, maybe a few months or maybe a few years. You may be eager to consume all of the city’s delights and pack in as much of the appealing aspects of city life as possible before your time is up. Or you may simply be counting the days, hours, and minutes until you can finally pack up your U-haul.

I have a few suggestions on how to enrich your numbered days in our city.

There is a tension between where you are temporarily and where you will be going permanently. But please, while you are here, be here. Scripture (especially the New Testament) is filled with communal commands that end with the phrase “one another”—love one another, serve one another, pray for one another, bear each others burdens, etc. (see Colossians 3:12-17 for a few). These commands are not conditional to where you live or how long you are there. Wherever you are, for however long, there is a community of believers who need you—and you need them,  too. Wherever you are, for however long, there is always a population of people who don’t know the gospel who need you—and you need them, too. Faithfully invest in the people around you. Serve those around you, and allow those around you to serve you. Engage. Try not to dangle that foot out the door that you know you will be walking through very soon. We need you here while you are here. It may seem hard and it may feel fruitless, but keep in mind that your relationships exist for something bigger. Allow God to use you while you are here. I doubt you will look back and regret living as faithfully as possible during this season in the city.

Carry With You
Take what you have learned here and carry it with you. If you invest well in your time here, then you will have something to take with you when you leave. Tell others of His grace and goodness. Spread your experiences of grace, hope, and love in the city with the new community that you’ll be joining. On a personal note, several times we have heard our former L.A. friends share with us the ways that living in L.A. has impacted them. They’ve been able to pass on some of their experiences with their new communities and bless those around them with what they gained while they were here. God can use you to enrich your new community with your experience in the city, too. You must allow God to use you here in order for that to happen.

Don’t leave and forget about us; leave and plead with God on our behalf. Pray for us, our city, our church. Pray that Christians would invest here and people would become Christians here. Pray for church plants and the faithfulness of Christian witness. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few" (Luke 10:2). This is more true in cities, where people abound and churches are often scarce. Pray for the gospel to bear fruit and increase in our neighborhoods and communities. As someone who lived here and has moved away you will have a unique perspective on our city; don’t forget us.

Dear Permanent City-Dweller:
I know how difficult it is to live in a place where people come and go so frequently. It takes time to build meaningful relationships and it can be frustrating to watch people pack up over, and over, and over again. Starting over with new cycles of relationships is exhausting; the ceaseless sting of goodbye feels unfair.

But may I encourage you (and myself) to not lose sight of the important role we play in this under-churched place. Here are a few of my suggestions on how to enrich your life in the city.

Don’t hesitate to invest in others, even the ones who you know are temporary. Many people arrive in this city without community and are so desperate for meaningful relationships. And even though it can feel exhausting to continue to build relationships that will only last for a season, that’s part of our responsibility if we live here. People are wired for community, and we can offer that in a city where loneliness is rampant. I used to believe that I could only manage a limited amount of relationships and then would hit a maximum capacity. I would manage my relationships this way. And though it’s true that I cannot have deep community with every single person out there, to think that I “cap off” relationally at a certain point is just untrue. God is constantly ushering new faces into all of our lives, and it is important for us to be open to what God would have for those new relationships. To be faithful in our relationships means that we think beyond our own interests (or perceived “capacities”) in these relationships.

Carry With You
Yes, people are always leaving. And yes, it can be hard. But there is something to be said about what we gain when people leave. We can take what we have learned and pour that into others. In this frame of mind, we are reminded once again of the gospel’s movement, not just in our city, but around the world. Don't forget that God is at work throughout our world, that many communities are desperately in need of faithful Christian witness, and that the gospel is bearing fruit and increasing wherever Christians live. We ought to allow the movement of Christians out of our city to lift our eyes to the global God we worship, whose heart beats for lost souls in every corner of our world.

As we wave goodbye to so many, we have a special opportunity to pray for the advance of the gospel all across the globe. Close friends who used to live in L.A. now live in Missouri, South Carolina, Florida, and Utah (to name a few). We have personal knowledge of the gospel that is bearing fruit and growing in those communities, and we have access to accurate prayer needs. Once people leave, the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality appears all too quickly for me. I rarely take the time to check in and see how the transition to their new home is going; I quickly become absorbed by all that is going on in front of me here. But we should strive to send our people off well and encourage them in their transitions. Prayer is a huge part of that. In all of our efforts to maintain our relationships in the city, let’s not forget to pray for those who leave us.

May we all be sensitive to God’s activity in and through our city, and live as faithfully as possible for as long as we are here.