Something is going on here in Jacksonville, Florida (JAX). It's big. . .really big. It won't be on the news tonight. Most of the people in our communities don't know this is happening. Many don't care, at least right now they don't, but I pray they will.
Something's happening in Portland, Oregon (PDX), too. It's a similar story, but on a different backdrop. Most likely, the majority of Portlandians do not know it's happening in their city either. However, they will.
God is at work in these cities in a mighty way.
Last week I traveled to Portland with a good friend, Neil Jimenez. This journey was strange. We knew we had to go, but weren't sure why. About a year ago, Wes Hughes from the Northwest Baptist Convention tweeted to me while I was attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. While at this convention, the North American Mission Board was unveiling their "Send: North America" emphasis. The buzz was all about church planting.
So, Wes, while still in the Portland area, tweets over 100 people attending the convention (you could tell who was there by the #SBC2011 people were using) about joining other Baptists in the Northwest to support church planting there.
I responded, thinking Wes was in Phoenix. Since he wasn't we tweeted back and forth and I told him that I would be interested in seeing how our fellowship could connect across the country in Phoenix in this movement of church planting.
So. . .about a year later, Neil and I ended up in Portland with Wes, walking through the numerous communities and meeting with church planters.
What I found surprising was that of the 100+ tweets Wes sent out to SBC attendees about joining them in Portland, he only received one reply. Mine.
So, we travel to Portland last week. We began meeting with church planters and denominational leaders almost immediately. We were getting a crash course on the makeup and diversity of Portland. It's a beautiful city, but not Jacksonville. In fact, their unofficial motto that appears in numerous places is "Keep Portland Weird." I figured I'd fit right in.
Each church planter we met with would ask me "So. . .why are you here?"
I finally figured out the answer. We were there to discover what God is already at work doing and seeking to find how we can support our church planters and missionaries and get in this great story.
There are great differences between Portland and Jacksonville.
- The geography is very different. While Mt. Hood looms on the horizon in PDX, I shared with our new friends that the tallest mountain in Florida is Space Mountain.
- JAX has been rated as the least walkable city in America. PDX is one of the most walkable.
- It rains all the time in PDX. It rains a lot here, but not every day (except for those few weeks in the summer when church groups are trying to schedule recreation for youth camps.)
- There's a "Southern Fried Christian" veneer to JAX. Not so in PDX.
- JAX is conservative politically. PDX prides itself on not being so.
- JAX is a football city. PDX is a basketball city (I really enjoyed that.)
- You can pump your own gas in JAX. Not so in PDX or any other city in Oregon. It's a state law.
- JAX has the River Run. PDX has a nude bike race.
- JAX has the beach. PDX is about 45 minutes from the coast.
- JAX has Starbucks. PDX does too, but Portlanders would rather be at Stumptown Coffee or one of the hundreds of independent coffee shops.
- JAX has a lot of bicyclists. Everyone (it seems) rides bikes in PDX.
- JAX has Whataburger. PDX has Burgerville.
- JAX has read Blue Like Jazz. PDX has lived it.
There are other differences, but even with all of these, I noticed some interesting similarities.
- JAX & PDX are both port cities.
- JAX & PDX both have a good college population.
- JAX has Folio Weekly. PDX has the Mercury. They're basically the same paper and have a lot of readers, especially younger adults.
- JAX & PDX both have rivers running through the city.
- JAX & PDX both have many pre-Christians.
- JAX & PDX both have artisan districts.
- JAX & PDX both have a network of believers praying for the city.
- JAX & PDX both have homeless people.
- JAX & PDX both have families in trouble.
- JAX & PDX both have people with drug and alcohol problems.
- JAX & PDX both have residents trying to figure out what life is all about.
- JAX & PDX are both very spiritual cities. (I didn't say Christian.)
- JAX & PDX both have church planters working in the urban core and suburban areas.
So, why were we there?
I believe we traveled to Portland because God desires our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) and other churches in the Jacksonville area to connect with the church planters in the Portland/Vancouver, WA area.
Some would say "There are enough lost people around here. We need to focus on Jacksonville."
While that's true, that's a pretty small and limiting statement. God's church (remember, it's not a building) is bigger than Jacksonville. For some reason, I believe God has strategically placed us in a position to minister to and with those believers in Portland. Why Portland? To be honest, I really don't know, but I believe it's clearly Portland.
I do believe it's more than putting mission teams together to travel to Portland, though that may happen. I believe it begins with prayer (actually begins, sustains and ends with prayer) and God will then reveal how we can be His instruments in our city and Portland.
I'm pretty sure traditional mission trips and church events based on the attractional model are not the answer.
So, join me in praying for Portland (and Jacksonville, too) as we seek together to push back the darkness.
Let's win the city! (or cities!)
This story is still being written.
(BTW - yes, that's a picture of a dude wearing Spock ears and Scotty's shirt while playing bagpipes and riding a unicycle down the sidewalk in one of Portland's 20 minute communities.)