I was first introduced to the idea of citywide poverty when I went to Fresno in 2007. There I saw how people could live their lives in hopelessness of never breaking out of this dangerous cycle. They lived lives of brokenness and emptiness. But within the city there was hope. There was awareness. There were people who lived there who cared about the people, about their problems, about their issues, and fought hard to do something about it. Fresno has changed because of the people who invested their time, their money, and their lives into the well being of a city.
Now I think it is time to do the same for San Bernardino. Much like Fresno, San Bernardino is largely ignored by people in the state. Few know where this city is, who lives here, and that there is even a college here. But there are thousands that call this place their home, if even their last remaining hope. Housing is cheap here, cheaper than a lot of other places. So people with no where else to go because rent is too high and no job anyway, come to San Bernardino to find this cheap housing. But they are disappointed when they too cannot find a job and are living paycheck to paycheck.
San Bernardino is the poorest city in the state of California, the second poorest in the nation. In an article published by The Sun they said, "34.6 of the city’s residents live below the poverty level, ranking it first in the state’s among those with a population of 200,000 or more and second nationally behind Detroit, according to findings by the U.S. Census Bureau." The study was done in 2010.
Yes the city was hit hard by the recession, but wasn’t everywhere else? Things took a turn for the worse all the way back in 1994 when the Norton Air Force Based closed. More than 10,000 military and civilian workers lost their jobs. Neighborhoods were abandoned and since then San Bernardino’s economy has been spiraling downward. The poverty level only increase as more big-time companies packed up and left. Most of the jobs that the companies provided required little education and few skills. But when they packed up their bags, they left behind a community with little education and poor job skills.
In the article, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, Kent Paxton, calls for the churches and non-profit organizations to step up and partner with the city. But like everyone one else in this town, the churches are feeling the financial hardship as well. The article states that "Mike Mathias, an associate pastor at Victory Outreach San Bernardino, said one of the most common prayer requests from people at the church is that they would find a job."
Of the 5 California cities with the largest percentage in poverty, San Bernardino is the smallest city. I think that makes it easily forgotten. Fresno (30.2% living in poverty) has almost twice the population, and Los Angeles (21.6%) has almost 18 times the population. While there are more people living in poverty in this other cities, it breaks my heart to see that the city of San Bernardino to be so high in poverty. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and so close to very rich neighborhoods. But here it lies, close to decay and ruins, with hopelessness running high. You can almost breathe the hopelessness in. And it’s with this that I get angry at the injustice of the city's poverty. It is because the big business moved that there are no jobs. And the way our country is going, you need more and more education to get a good job. The people here don't have that. So what hope is left?
I am one of the few who have a job here. I am of the rare case who moved here to this city because I have a job. I live here in this place of poverty and while I live in what many may consider the "better" part of town, the poverty nevertheless still affects everyone around me. I buy my groceries from the one grocery store that is fortune close to my house. I see the large amount of fast food restaurants here because there is no money base for nicer places to eat. I see the run down roads and hear the sirens that my neighbors hear. And I am one of the fortunate ones to have a job. I came here only because I have a job and that is rare. I am clearly in the minority of the working class.
I don’t know what to do. There is so much I don't know about this place. I know more about Fresno and LA than I do about San Bernardino. This town is just coming into my own life having lived only for a few months. I always knew it was here but I just had no idea the desperation that runs through the streets in this city. It is hard to be here and not know what to do. I am the "fix it" type of person. But where do I start.
So I am asking you to join me in praying for this city. I have seen the amazing power and wonder that the body of Christ can do for a city in need. Look at Fresno – God called people to move to that city and invest their lives in its governments, in its schools, in its business, and in its people. I am asking that you pray for this city, that God will send people to move here. That God will send a Christina fellowship to be a major presence at Cal State San Bernardino’s campus because that is lacking. That God will raise a community of relocators to come here, to this city.That we would see the change that we are seeing in Fresno, here. Because that is all that I can think of to do right now, is to pray.
I was watching Community recently and I was struck by how much Abed refers to life as a movie. We watch the show, smile and laugh because we think he is silly for trying so hard to fit life into a movie script. It was until this morning that I realized how I wish it could be true.
When we watch movies about doing difficult things, whether it be playing on a crappy sports team, teaching in an inner city school, living in a dangerous community, evangelizing to our dear friends, starting our first year of college - the hard part seems to only last for an hour. Thing start out fine, then get difficult and then after a music montage - the guy runs to the girl, the teacher figures out how to make her class love her with a powerful speech, the sports team finds that player to inspire everyone else, or Jeff makes a speech to the study group to wrap up the episode.
But there is no music montage in life. The hard stuff does not go away in an hour. It remains for days, weeks, months, or maybe even years. And it doesn't happen in an instant. It is frustrating to know that and cliche to say it. When things are hard we have endure the pain and the frustration. Things may not be resolved in a manner of moments. There may not even be a perfect solution and my "fix it now" mentality is often challenged. I want the solutions to my problems, like they do in the movies. I need my speech maker to make the speech that magically makes my students behave. But in real schools - no amount of powerful speeches changes a whole classes mind.
No, there is not no music montage in life. It is often very silent.