I’ve lived in Kansas most of my life. If you’ve never been to Kansas, let’s save some time and get all the jokes out of the way:
- No, there aren’t tornadoes every day.
- I don’t own any ruby slippers and have yet to see a flying monkey.
- We actually have buildings and highways in the midst of the wheat and corn.
- We do have electricity and Wi-Fi and Starbucks and cars and high-definition TVs.
- Locals won’t laugh if you make a “not in Kansas anymore” joke.
Yes, to most of the world, my home state is one you typically drive through and fly over. I get it: We don’t have mountains or beaches or huge cities or noteworthy landmarks. I remember kind of despising my hometown of Wichita growing up. Compared to the rest of the world, Wichita seemed boring and unremarkable. I dreamed of moving to a big, exciting city like New York or Chicago where real things happened.
Trust Us: We’re Cool!
In recent years, Wichita has experienced a bit of a rebirth. Seemingly out of nowhere, our local art scene has grown significantly. Cool architecture is springing up downtown. Our city flag has become a trendy staple on hipsters’ hoodies and housewives’ handbags. This week our downtown arena is hosting several NCAA tournament basketball games, and guests are flooding in from all over the place. Several magazines and websites have taken notice, and an overall sense of pride seems to be suddenly sweeping my city. Who knew: Wichita is actually kind of cool — and it’s in Kansas!
I’m not here to convince you of our coolness (but really — we’re cool!). Depending on where you’re from, you might think the same about your hometown. Maybe it barely shows up on maps, or maybe you are from a fun place where people love to visit. Either way, you probably feel at least a little sense of pride. Otherwise remarkable or not, there’s something special about your home.
Of course this isn’t new. That sense of identity from your hometown is even evident in Scripture. The apostle Paul was often referred to as “Paul of Tarsus,” and Jesus himself was often called “the Nazarene” based on his childhood home of Nazareth. There is a well-known story in the gospel of Luke where Jesus is teaching in Nazareth and the local leaders refuted him. I’m no biblical scholar, but don’t you think Jesus felt at least a hint of hurt and disappointment when He said, “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (Luke 4:24)?
These days a lot of people don’t end up spending their entire lives in the same town like they did generations ago. Just like anything else, I also think it’s healthy to not hold on too tightly to a specific geographic location. If God calls you elsewhere (like He did to Abraham and others throughout Scripture), you have to be willing and ready to pack up and leave. However, I think it’s healthy and beneficial to own and take pride in your hometown, for at least two reasons.
I’m a firm believer in overseas missions and supporting just causes around the world. I proudly sponsor a child through Compassion International and wholeheartedly support organizations and causes aiming to improve the lives of people whose situations are far worse than ours at home. The world is much, much larger than your zip code, and I think it’s healthy and important to keep a worldwide perspective.
However, I also believe that your largest and most significant impact is done locally. Writing a check or temporarily serving overseas is great, but you have a chance to make a real difference in the lives of the people you see every day. Your neighbors and co-workers and baristas and classmates get an up-close look at your life, and the way you interact with and treat them has the potential to be your greatest witness.
When I read the headlines these days, it’s clear to me our communities need kind faces and pure hearts willing to befriend outcasts and shine light through the darkness. When you hunker down and really invest in your town, you have an opportunity to make a true difference. It may not feel as rewarding as writing a big check or taking an Instagram-worthy selfie with orphans in Honduras, but I believe big change can happen over time on the local level, and that starts with you wherever you are.
Paul (of Tarsus) famously wrote in Philippians 4:11: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Whether you reside in the trendiest neighborhood in California, a picturesque cabin in Colorado or a very-not-so-exciting apartment in South Dakota, you have control over your attitude. Paul says “in any and every circumstance” (v. 12), the secret to fulfillment is contentment.
A wise leader once encouraged me to “prosper where you’re planted.” Maybe you’re hoping to “get out of Dodge” sooner than later, or maybe you have your eye on a new job or opportunity in a new city. I think that’s fine; however, in the meantime make the most of where you are. Do the hard work of learning to be content when it isn’t easy. If you’re not super thrilled with your surroundings, do what you can to make it a better place. Be a witness and an ambassador for Christ wherever you find yourself. Be a blessing to your community, no matter how cool or unexciting it seems.
Do you wonder how Paul was able to remain content in spite of being beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed and likely murdered? He shares the secret a few sentences later in a verse you probably have highlighted: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
OK, so maybe your town doesn’t have a Target or maybe it does have an overabundance of stoplights. Either way, you’ve very unlikely to face the obstacles Paul was able to overcome. And even if you do face those trials, the Bible is full of verses like these, reminding us that anything is possible with the strength available to us through Jesus.
So whether you find yourself in Hutchinson or Honolulu, Mayberry or Minneapolis, God has planted you there at this moment for a reason. He’s marked out good work for you to do there (Ephesians 2:10). And who knows? Maybe God purposely has you there “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
I have too much pride to end a post like this with a cheesy bumper sticker phrase like “Home is where the heart is” or (even worse) “There’s no place like home.” So instead, come visit Kansas. Just look out for the flying monkeys.