My favorite thing about Barista is the porch out front. Nearly twice the size of the coffee shop itself, it overlooks NW 13th, running through the heart of the Pearl District. It’s one of my favorite places in the city to sit and people watch. The great part about the Pearl District is that it’s filled with all types of people, from all corners of the socioeconomic spectrum. I’ve lived here for eight years, and I’ve fallen in love with this city. From the culture, to the music scene. From the breweries, to the coffee shops. From the obsessive recycling, to the world’s largest used bookstore. It has everything. There’s nowhere else I’d rather live. It’s beautiful.
But it’s also broken.
Portland is fiercely independent. We want to eat local food, wear local clothes, listen to local music, and ride bikes everywhere we go. I love that about us. We are passionate about justice. We want to feel like we are making a difference, and that our actions do something amazing. It’s important to us. It matters. We take life seriously. We care about the environment. We gather, we protest, we make our voices heard, and we do all those things while living in one of the most beautiful places in America.
Portland is also one of the hotbeds of human trafficking in the United States. The I-5 corridor runs right through the heart of the city, and as such, Portland is teeming with men who buy and sell women. Let me be more specific. Portland is teeming with men who buy and sell girls. The average age of girls who are trafficked in the Portland metro area is 12 years old. Let that sink in. 12 years old. As justice-minded as Portland can be, it is wicked. Broken and wicked.
Portland has, depending on which report you read, more strip clubs per capita than any city in the United States. There was an ABC News story recently that profiled the sex industry in our city, and labeled it “Pornland.” From the Annual Naked Bike Ride (thousands of people riding their bikes naked through the streets) to the absurd amount of strip clubs (more than even Las Vegas.) One report listed Portland as having 1 strip club for every 9,578 people. To put that in perspective, Las Vegas was listed as having 1 for every 33,000 residents. There are few towns in America where sex is commercialized in as big a way as it is here in Portland. As a dad of two daughters, this terrifies me.
Again, I-5 runs right through Portland, and because of this, a quick run through any of the parks in the Portland area will turn up an untold amount of homeless individuals. In parks, doorways, under bridges, and on benches. Last report I read, there were over 15,000 homeless individuals in the Portland metro area. Even worse, 26% of them were under the age of 23, and 64% under the age of 44. 2/3 of the homeless in Portland were under 44.That’s not a statistic, that’s an epidemic.
So why stay? Why stay in a city with such a porn problem, a homeless epidemic, and that buys/sells young girls in such huge numbers? Why not move to some quaint, quiet town in the midwest? It certainly would be cheaper.
Because to put it simply, Jesus has called us to this city. Our family is called to this beautiful, broken group of people. We are called to partner with a local church to help shed a light in the darkness. It’s our responsibility to help put an end to the horrific practice of purchasing and selling of young girls. It’s our responsibility to do whatever we can do to make sure there isn’t a single homeless person in Portland. It’s our job to help see to it that anybody who needs access to mental health care, can get it when they need it.
There’s a passage in the book of Luke that has always struck me. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem after the triumphal entry. As he comes into the city, the scriptures say “he saw the city, and wept over it.”
When was the last time I wept over my city? When was the last time I saw the brokenness and darkness in Portland and was moved with compassion? I am living in Portland because Jesus has called me here to bring his kingdom. I am living in Portland because Jesus has called me to live here, work here, do life here, rejoice with my city, and mourn with my city.
Not everybody is called to this city. Some are called to Seattle, or Phoenix, or Fargo, or Lexington. Big cities, small cities, and everything in between. Our cities are beautiful in their own way, and unfortunately, they are completely broken as well. We are called to push on the cracks and let the light in. As a local pastor says, “we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding.”