The Tale of Two Cities

A short distance can make a huge difference.

Two nights ago, my wife and I decided to buy some fruit and groceries. We had arrived in San Antonio two days earlier and are located in one of San Antonio’s downtown hotels, not far away from the convention center. Google Maps had supplied the walking directions—it was only 1.4 miles (2.25 kilometers) along one of the major east-west streets crossing the city. We always enjoy a pleasant walk—though the humid 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit (32-plus degrees Celsius) temperatures were challenging, even at 7 o’clock at night.

The first couple hundreds of yards (meters) were uneventful. Many hotels, some restaurants, few people on the road.

The situation changed dramatically halfway through our journey. The panorama changed. We were walking along discarded industrial buildings with broken glass windows and graffiti sprayed all over the walls that were still standing. Houses with boarded-up windows and overgrown grass were interspersed with inhabited small homes that seemed to stand by faith, at times leaning precariously and often lacking the comforts of air conditioning. At some, people seeking to escape the stifling heat sat on the front steps, trying to catch a breeze. People stared at us questioningly; some greeted us; most seemed to look through us. My wife had become strangely quiet and slightly nervous. Her upbringing in apartheid-era South Africa had conditioned her to instinctively distinguish between neighborhoods. Were we on the wrong side of town? Suddenly, location, location, location was not just an important mantra of real estate agents but felt really important for us as we made our way to the supermarket.

A short distance can make a huge difference.

General Conference sessions seem to develop their own dynamics. Anticipating momentous decisions creates a sense of importance and prominence that may not correspond to the
real significance. To be sure, the quinquennial gathering of Seventh-day Adventists from all around the globe is momentous—even beyond the decisions and elections that are taking place. It marks the coming together of a global body of believers united in anticipation of Earth’s greatest moment—the Day of all days. It speaks to this movement’s vitality and its global impact. It does not, however, represent the only reality of this community of faith.

Beyond the big delegate hotels and air-conditioned convention centers of this world there are thousands of congregations, big and small, that serve on the “other side of town.” They serve as Jesus’ hands and feet in trying contexts. They know their neighbors in poverty-stricken slums; they live in war-torn jungles; they worship the Creator and Savior under adverse circumstances; they preach the Word, the Incarnate and the written, in ways that can be understood by the cultures they are part of.

They also look to San Antonio, and they have been praying for this moment in time. They rely on the delegates of this session not to forget the other side of town.

By the way, we found the supermarket and were able to restock. As we made our way back to our hotel, we spoke about fears and anticipation and perceptions. We did not get accosted. We passed numerous houses of worship in that part of San Antonio. Most of them were small humble structures that, like the place they inhabited, needed more paint and more resources.

A short distance can make a huge difference. Our trip across San Antonio was a good reminder not to forget the “other side of town.”