CITY TRANSFORMATION

He is awakened into a small warm room in a home built as part of the new housing community on Clay St. in the old 4th ward.  It is early spring and he sits at the table to eat breakfast.  His father reads from a book he has heard every morning since he could remember, a book that tells the story of a new reality that will one day be fully realized but that the city of Annapolis and the broader area is experiencing in tangible ways today.  His dad was unemployed but has now started a small construction business with help from the city who is offering micro loans for entrepreneurial activities and in return those businesses offer a certain amount of hours to helping fix peoples’ homes who are in need.  The boy walks out onto a newly paved Clay St. with a sense of anticipation.  There are restored 1930’s lampposts and the homes are painted with bright blues and greens.  This morning, like every morning, he eats breakfast and his backpack is filled with homework that was completed the night before.  

There is no fear in his heart as he leaves his home because the crime that once ravaged the streets has been replaced with shalom.  The corner drug dealers have been replaced with fruit stands and the men who used to linger on the streets like a disease have been restored or have fled like beasts at first light.  The boy walks to school and as he crosses West Street he sees people in generous conversation who are from different socio-economic backgrounds, sharing stories, sharing life.  Smiles fill their faces; love, joy and peace mark their words.  The air is clearer than it has ever been and the waterways surrounding the city of Annapolis are cleaner than they have record of.  As the boy walks to school neighbors greet him, men and women walking to work, many are on bikes.  And then he hears a familiar name, a name he has heard often, since he was a young boy and his father returned home after previously abandoning his wife and children. 

Those days are long gone and that name he hears brings a sense of awe and wonder to his imagination, a feeling of strength deep within him and to the imagination of the city.  This name is both whispered and spoken out, the boy can’t walk but a few blocks without hearing talk of this name.  He walks down West Street and looks at businesses that have been restored, flourishing and contributing to thriving economy.  He sees his friends from Murray Hill who too are on their way to the local Elementary school.  Enrollment has skyrocketed and diversified over the past ten years and the educational system is thriving.  The boy walks around church circle to peer down Main Street and see the bay sparkling with the morning sun.  The city has been transformed, the boys story is just one example.  But what has happened?

What has happened is that the name of this man, this man of wonder, this man of power, whose name the boy heard on the street has taken up residency into the city.  And the city has recognized his presence and he is no ordinary man, in fact, the people speak of him as a king and with him has come a kingdom, and that kingdom is now, being established in the city.  The friends of the king arrived with sincerity, love, strength and energy (that is not typical) from the Spirit of the king. And everything has changed.  Impossible things have happened, things that no one might dream of, miracles some might say.  The air and waterways are just one example.  Couples who were once divorced are back together, there is an attitude of charity and hope in the atmosphere, in fact you could say the entire atmosphere of the city has changed. 

Hope has replaced despair, what was once segregated is now united, what was once lost is now found, what was once dead has now been brought back to life.  There are other stories too, stories of healing- physical, emotional, mental restoration, after years of suffering.  There is goodwill in the hearts, minds and bodies of people.  It feels like everything is being regenerated rather than decaying.  The city is out of debt and businesses are having success like no one could have predicted.  New experimental forms of art making and commerce are being developed in collaboration both for the sake of beauty and for the good of the city.  There is a level of belief in the air that no one thought possible and peoples’ lives are tangibly different all because this king called Jesus has taken up residence in the city. 

And the followers of this Jesus king seem to be more every day, His good news is being told and shown everywhere.  And as people receive this good news some are moved to tears, others are filled with joy, others have forgiven everyone that ever did anything wrong to them.  They are free people, people who seem to live, at times, in a different realm.

These followers are constantly meeting together in smaller communities- in homes, coffee shops, bars, parks and storefronts.  These communities come together that their lives might be formed around the king and to plot good, to engage the people of their neighborhoods with the hope of the king.  And they are relentless, their intent and pursuit is beyond the normal patterns of this world, they will stop at nothing to serve, heal and reach out to others.  And everyone can see it.  They seem to be a picture of what it means to be fully human, filled with life and love and no one can deny their words, deeds and strength.  Their dream, they say, is to show and tell everyone they know about Jesus and be reminded of him daily.  Why would they do this?  They say it is because they themselves have been changed by Jesus and his news of hope and they now live in freedom and forgiveness.  “What else can we do but share it with everyone they meet?” they say.  Some serve at the local homeless shelter, some walk the streets and pray, some have dinner parties that express the love of this king and others have game nights because laughing is part of this kingdom. Some simply open their homes as places of peace to serve their neighbors.  They share meals together, they share life together, they share stories of Jesus together and they pray.  And oh how they pray!  When they pray it is audacious the things they ask for and yet many of these very things are happening.  A new normal, a winsome reality that is stunning has been ushered into the city.  In fact there are some who don’t believe, they hate what is happening and often plot ill against these followers.  When that happens these followers don’t scoff, they don’t slander, they don’t isolate or gossip, they don’t fret or become defensive, they don’t become bitter, insecure or fearful, they don't argue or rant or accuse.  Rather they love in the face of adversity, they serve despite being yelled at, they bless instead of cursing and they continue to show and tell of this divine love.  It would be almost impossible to number these followers and their communities because there seem to be one in every neighborhood and on every block.  They are abandoned to this King and what the king is plotting next.  Their numbers grow without explanation, some have said the city is being awakened, whatever it is there is nothing like it as the city has never experienced this kind of transformation before.

The sun is going down, the boy comes in from a game of street football, his father gives him a hug and a kiss and puts him to bed.  “Tonight let’s pray for our neighbors, that they too might know our king”, his father says.  The boy prays with wind in his heart and his father wells up with tears of joy because he considers the day that what his son is tasting in the city today will be visceral forever.  His father knows these things because he met this king Jesus a few years earlier.  That is when everything changed for him, when he turned from his self-centered life and returned home to his wife and children.  Now He too has a vision, a dream of continued renewal for his own neighborhood and he is being encouraged and trained, and is now, in his own home, is leading of one of these communities, of hope.

Joey Tomassoni

Annapolis, MD
November 2011