Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me." - Jonah 1:1
Jonah was a man on the run. Unfortunately, he wasn't running to stay in shape. He was running away from his work and did all he could to dodge his boss—God. In the end Jonah had to go to Nineveh, the city where his work was located. But before he got there, he was thrown overboard from a ship, swallowed up by a large fish and then vomited onto solid ground. That's a lot to go through just for a morning commute.
Jonah was running because Nineveh was in his eyes dangerous, corrupt, and unsafe for his line of work. He was prepared to pay tolls to commute to a faraway city called Tarshish, rather than go to work in the town near his community.
Many of our own communities today are caught in "Nineveh" cycles of violence, isolation, poverty, poor health and fear. Communities inundated with violence face challenges trying to establish and maintain grocery stores, health professionals, quality teachers and businesses that will invest in employment and educational, economic and ecological revitalization.
People need safe opportunities to live, work and play. Violence is a public health issue and a spiritual one. It impacts the whole way of life for children who stay indoors when playgrounds are marketplaces for illegal activity, instigating patterns of childhood obesity due to lack of fitness and play.
God used Jonah to convert Nineveh from a place of violence to a place committed to a healthier lifestyle. Jonah couldn't see the hope at first. But through faith, Nineveh survived. Nineveh-like communities are reclaiming their blocks from violence with Community Watch Groups, churches, local police and town leaders to provide afterschool programs that offer nutritious meals, fitness programs and even safety services to walk children home from school.
The church and the community share in responsibility to face our Nineveh and speak truth to power as prophetic witnesses of God. As long as children and families are running for their lives, a culture of violence is a wellness, livelihood and a faith issue. Jonah wasn't allowed to run away from his calling to Nineveh, and neither can the church.
God we are running for our lives. Help us to run the race without fainting, discouragement or fear as we stand up to our Nineveh and declare "this is our home." We will not run from those who promote violence over peace. Do not abandon us as we run to you. Your strong arms can save us if it is your will. Amen.
Waltrina N. Middleton is the Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership Formation with the United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio.