The Lament of Nehemiah
There’s a book in the Old Testament that tells about a mighty work of God to repair a ruined city. In the 5th century BC, Nehemiah, a public servant working for King Artaxerxes of Persia, received distressing news about his hometown of Jerusalem. It was news that shook him to the core. The Jewish exiles had returned and were in deep distress because their city’s wall of protection was destroyed and its gates had been burned with fire.
When Nehemiah heard about the suffering of his people, he sat down and wept. He mourned and fasted and prayed for days before the God of heaven.
There is disturbing news about a Nehemiah-like crisis taking place in our own Twin Cities. Unfortunately, the majority of our citizens are oblivious to what’s going on. In fact, a recent Star Tribune headline announced: “It’s Official: Twin Cities are the Best Place to Live in the United States.”
That’s great news for most of us. It’s just not true for all of us.
The motto of the Wall Street Journal is “the daily diary of the American dream.” Over the last year, for the families in the inner-city, the motto of our city’s newspaper could be, “the daily diary of the American nightmare.”
Minneapolis Violent Crime Rising Sharply
Nehemiah’s prayer takes ownership of the root of the crisis…
Minnesota Schools Failing Students of Color
In November, the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results showed, on far too many measures, that Minnesota has become a laggard instead of a leader when it comes to educating students of color. This past fall, a new nationwide study confirmed that Minneapolis schools, public and charter, had the lowest high school graduation rate among the 50 largest cities in our country. Our neighborhood schools are actually failing more children than they graduate.
…unless someone is moved to tears and intervenes like Nehemiah.
Black Household Incomes Plunge in Minnesota
The Minneapolis Foundation reported that “the racial income gap in our state is wider today than it was at the time of the March on Washington in 1963.” Minnesota now trails Mississippi when it comes to median household income for black families.
What this means is that a typical Hope Academy kindergarten student lives in a single parent household. Her mom is probably working for $9.50/hour and is need of food stamps to make ends meet. Along with a third of her classmates, her mom speaks a language other than English in the home. More than 10% of her classmate’s parents are struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction, and at least one student in the class will be homeless sometime during the year.
Overcoming Calloused Hearts
Few of us can fail to be moved by these tragic stories. They imply that far too many inner-city children are growing up in traumatic and impoverished homes that will sadly go on reproducing themselves generation after generation unless someone is moved to tears and intervenes like Nehemiah.
And yet, it’s easy to become calloused and indifferent to these harsh realities. The problems are so immense, and the solutions so apparently complicated that we can all become numb to even asking the question: “How could we make the Twin Cities the best place to live for all our citizens?”
The Nehemiah Solution
Thankfully, Nehemiah’s points us toward a solution. First, remembering the steadfast love of God, he confessed his people’s corporate sins. And secondly, he took decisive action. Notice how Nehemiah’s prayer takes ownership of the root of the crisis: our corporate sin of forsaking God’s laws.
Nehemiah prayed: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commandments,…I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you….O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of the king.”
And then with God’s help, Nehemiah launched a massive effort to rebuild his city.
The miseducation of inner city youth is one of the most critical social justice issues of our day. Our inner-city is in trouble. The situation is desperate, but it is not hopeless. There is hope in a return to Almighty God.
We need to engage this crisis together with humble, broken-hearted, prayerful action. There is great brokenness. And yet, with God’s help, there is great hope. The gospel is still the power of God to repair what has been torn; to rebuild what has been broken; to redeem what has been forfeited, and to rescue what has been lost.
“There is hope for your future,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:17a, ESV)
Russ Gregg has served as Head of School at Hope Academy since its founding in 2000.