Amy Rager is the wife of church planter, Barry Rager, and the mother of four young, energetic children. She and her family served in established churches for eight years before relocating to urban Indianapolis in 2013 to plant New Circle Church. Amy writes regularly for flourish.me. You can connect with her on Twitter @amylrager.
Moving inside the limits of any major city can be a complicated decision for women, and especially for moms. There can be many difficulties to making the inner city home: school options, safety concerns and a higher cost-of-living to name a few. These challenges can be enough to keep many families in rural areas or the suburbs. But add in major news coverage of disturbing events like that of a pregnant pastor’s wife murdered in her home and living in the city can look like a significant risk.
I didn’t know Amanda Blackburn but I wish I had; she and I had a lot in common. I live in Indianapolis, am a church planter’s wife, and a mother to small children, just as Amanda was. Her death hit home. I questioned whether all those people who told us we were making a mistake moving into the heart of a city with a crime rate 109% higher than the national average, were right.
Were we being too reckless for the sake of the Gospel?
Thankfully, I was quickly reminded that our family is exactly where we need to be, but I also have the advantage of experiential wisdom. I have lived in this city, met the people deemed "too dangerous to minister to" (which, by the way, can be in any town or city) and grown to love them. I have navigated the hard conversations living in the city sometimes requires with my kids. I have seen and experienced God making a way for us here. But a lot of women have not. Untold numbers of potential, missional-city-dwellers are internalizing Amanda's murder as yet another sign that “the city” is not for them.
Yes, Amanda Blackburn’s death should move us; but it should move us toward action, not fear.
Amanda’s death shows us that the need within the inner city is very real. Cities are full of people who need Jesus. And yes, a concentration of people plus less resources plus higher injustice does often equal more exasperated, vile offenses, but is that the end of the equation?
What if Christian urbanites could subtract some of the injustice of the inner city and add some resources to it? What if those who bear His name stopped interacting with the city in fear and instead offered their love, focus and time? Multiplying the presence of the ambassadors of reconciliation in America's cities could have an unimaginable impact.
To reach the world we have to reach its cities. We can't let fear keep us from advancing His kingdom, regardless of where we live.
Listen to what the Word says:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
"For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." 1 John 4:4b
Do those verses imply that we should simply trust God and not take practical steps to protect ourselves in our ministries? Of course not. Jesus instructed his disciples in the following way:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves . . . Have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:16, 26-31).
We are admonished to be wise and surely we should take precautions, but as we learned through Amanda Blackburn’s murder, sometimes God does allow tragedy to touch His children. We will never be guaranteed safety, whether we live in rural Arkansas or in the heart of New York City, but we can trust the good purposes of our loving Father who does all things well. He is worthy of our trust, our obedience, our confidence, and, if He deems it necessary, our lives.
If God has given you a passion for the millions residing in a city, don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end. Your Father is there to catch you and guide you through the waters, or, catch you and take you home.
If your daughter or the woman you are discipling begins to feel called to urban ministry, don't let fear stifle what God might accomplish through her. Equip her and give her wise counsel concerning safety, but do so with hope and confidence in the Lord.
Tragedies like Amanda's death need to be processed through the lens of God's sovereign, kind reign. An already tragic loss will only become more tragic if we allow it to foster a bias against the key to reaching all places for Christ – living in our cities with Gospel intentionality.