by Brandon O’Brien
I grew up in small-town Arkansas and passed most of the weekends, holidays, and summer vacations of my childhood in rural Arkansas and Louisiana. After college, my wife and I lived in the Chicago suburbs for nearly a decade before moving, briefly, back to Arkansas. Now we live in Manhattan. While my wife grew up in Singapore and is a “city girl” by upbringing, New York City was an entirely unfamiliar place for both of us and our two young children. Like everyone, I have my preferences. But I have sincerely enjoyed living in all of these different places and, more to the point, we have found deep friendship in and experienced profound hospitality from people from rural, small-town, suburban, and urban America . . . people who are ethnically different from us, who have different political opinions, and who experience different economic realities. I’ve defended all these people when Christians in other places say disparaging things about them.
Which is all to say, I’m invested. Or, to use a good country idiom, I have “a dog in this fight.”
Not only have I lived in each of these regions, but I’ve also been involved in ministry in each. I pastored a small church in rural Arkansas during and after college. I served as a deacon at our suburban church in Illinois and worked in Christian publishing for a magazine dedicated to equipping pastors for ministry. I earned degrees in Christian history with a plan to teach in a Christian college or seminary, which is what led me back to Arkansas, where I helped launch a satellite campus for my alma mater.
In 2017 my family moved to Manhattan, where I am the Director of Content Development and Distribution for Redeemer City to City, an organization that provides specialized training and support for church planters who are starting new churches in cities around the world.
We live in a historic moment in which Christians across America are divided by regional values rather than being united by Christian values; they feel neglected, wherever they live when the realities of others elsewhere receive attention. We are basing our most important decisions on beliefs about others that aren’t founded in facts but in spin and hearsay. We need an exercise in empathy. We need to find common cause. And we need to emphasize our shared identity in Christ over our divided identity as citizens of different parts of the country. I’m writing from the firm conviction that no one else will do it. It has to be the church.
Adapted from Not From Around Here: What Unites Us, What Divides Us, And How We Can Move Forward by Brandon O’Brien (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.