Open Road Press

Troubling Reminders

Part VI of a six-part series on the Bishops’ bicycle tour on the shores of Lake Michigan

The last night of our tour brought us face-to-face with the symptoms as well as the consequences of the underground drug trade. We’ve toured through depressed areas before, but we usually have a warning. This time would be different. Troubling reminders of social unrest lay ahead.

A Mystery Unfolds

We cycled late in the day and decided to book a motel slightly off route to avoid the expensive ones nearer the shore. As city limits crept up, we detected trouble.

Abandoned streets prefaced this story. Crumbling asphalt revealed brick roads from a more prosperous past underneath it. Dinged-up cars blared foreboding music and screeched to abrupt stops before speeding away on their overused shocks.

Fresh graffiti donned a modern but boarded-up building, with the shadow of a Walgreen’s sign still etched on its face. A stop for a restroom break at a dollar store felt like airport security. Inside, to the sound of an automated recording from the corporate security team, Debbie found no bathroom services that might further jeopardize the store’s merchandise and its profits.

Perpetual Misery

At dinner that evening, the waiter presided over our history lesson about the area. The trouble began back in the days of Al Capone. With its strategic location, the city facilitates the drug pipeline between Chicago and Detroit.

Despite accommodating the worldwide headquarters for a major corporation, the city can’t seem to prosper. Its people are stuck in a vicious cycle that has been difficult to break. The painful consequences of their forefathers’ sins have been passed on from generation to generation.

Those who benefit most from that successful business reside outside city limits. They live across the river, in a sister city with demographics, crime rates, and prosperity that are polar opposite to the city we were in. Or so the story went.

Hope Amid Despair

The area’s “dark” ambiance, however, confirmed our server’s tales. While the Christian missions that we saw on our ride through town were important symbols of hope, they could have been telltale signs of the trouble that surrounded them. Regardless, we had sensed poverty, commotion, and a spirit of unruliness. Those vibes beckoned the same feelings of uneasiness we’ve had in other locales. An online search later confirmed our suspicions. We had just bicycled through the city with the highest per-capita crime rate in the state of Michigan.

Places like these leave you hungry to learn how and why their brokenness arose. They also leave you feeling sorry for who pays the price and what they endure. Traveling through impoverished and crime-ridden areas act as important but troubling reminders that people–sometimes innocent and trapped people–are hurting.

These encounters seem to point to an overriding spiritual malaise–and the power of the cross to break the chains. Nevertheless, the tragic battle persists.

On our flight out of the city the next morning, a group on the street was singing praises to God. Their joy under the conditions lifted our spirits. Behold, God’s Light shines in the darkness!

If you bring on enough light, it will eradicate darkness, just as when you flip on a light switch in a pitch black room. God’s Light came to earth over 2,000 years ago to die for us. He died and came back to life so that we might be reconciled to God and one another. His name is Jesus, and He brings hope for a better tomorrow.

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