The wall around the Old City of Jerusalem, 2007. Photo by Heather.
Jerusalem had a call to action for its people commonly referred to as the Nehemiah principle. Formally a city of honor, the Holy City was destroyed and unprotected with broken walls and gates. God called Nehemiah to lead Israel in rebuilding the city walls, caring for and taking responsibility for their community. Christians today have a call to care for community. We are local church-focused as we serve individual communities.
“Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with the fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and will no longer be in disgrace.’ I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work.”
City walls don’t mean much to us these days. They just don’t. We might have highways wrapped around where we live, but there’s no structure with only a few entrances and exits keeping intruders away and the residents inside. Our country has precautions along the border, but it’s still not one continuous stone wall surrounding the United States. People reading this will remember the Berlin Wall and may have visited Great Wall of China, but for a significant number of Americans, those are things that happened a long time ago and in faraway places.
In Nehemiah’s time, city walls were a big deal. A really big deal. They protected a city and all the people in it. If a city didn’t have walls, it was embarrassing. It was a sign of weakness and vulnerability. We don’t build personal walls around our homes, but we protect our online bank accounts with passwords kept hidden and consider computer security breaches to be a big problem. City walls were like that. Not having them was a big problem and security breaches would have made the evening news for weeks. If there was such a thing as the evening news back then.
At the point in Israel’s history where we meet Nehemiah, things aren’t going as well as they could be going or had been going for the Israelites, God’s chosen and called people who had lived in Jerusalem with a city wall. After disobeying the Lord in ways that would catch the attention of even the most jaded and callous, God allowed the land to which He had called them to be invaded. They were brought into exile and lived under the rule of a foreign king. In a nutshell, they were put in timeout. During this season in their history, a king named Cyrus allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls.
Nonetheless, even though Nehemiah was granted permission, he still faced opposition. Opposition came from all sides: from those who were for Jerusalem and God’s people and those who were against the Israelites. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!
But that didn’t stop him. Nehemiah had incredible focus on the task at hand, the task to which the Lord had called him and was serving the local community of Jerusalem. He knew his purpose and would rely on God for all that he needed to fulfill that.
Being involved with foster care ministry can sometimes feel like trying to rebuild a city wall. It’s focusing time, attention, love, financial resources, relationship and talent on one child, one family and one church at a time. It might mean declining invitations to do what others may see as perfectly acceptable and beneficial social opportunities. It could mean choosing to not participate financially in one place when it comes to giving. It could mean deciding where one serves within a church…and where one does not serve. It’s focusing on the right here and right now of the children or community to which God has called you. And it’s local. Child by child. Family by family. And church by church.