I’ve lived in Washington, DC, for three years now, but I was first exposed to this city through the American Studies Program (ASP), a semester-in-the-city “study abroad” program during my junior year of college. That’s when I fell in love with the District and decided that it was where I wanted to be once I finished school.
One of my first nights in DC, the ASP faculty held an orientation dinner. At that dinner, the faculty walked us through what they called “the tale of two cities: Washington, and DC.”
“Washington,” they explained, is our country’s political center. It’s home to agencies, programs, non-profits and non-governmental organizations that operate both domestically and abroad. People move to Washington from all across the country to build power, earn influence and change the world.
The city they called “DC,” on the other hand, is a more human city. It’s vibrant and constantly changing, filled with people from various places and diverse walks of life. It’s a city divided into four quadrants that are incredibly different from one another, yet each is important to understanding the whole.
I had never thought of Washington, DC, in that way before, as a place that juggled two distinct identities in one tiny location.
As part of our orientation, we were split into groups and tasked with a photo scavenger hunt. We had different locations around the city that we needed to find, and we had to visit at least one in each quadrant. One Saturday, my group and I decided that we were going to explore Northwest DC and Southeast DC—two quadrants that could not have been more different. Northwest DC has an older, more established, wealthier crowd than Southeast, which has a higher population of lower income families and is a bit rough around the edges. We started our day wandering around the foreign embassies near the Dupont Circle Metro station then capriciously decided that some landmark in Anacostia a neighborhood in Southeast DC, should be our next stop.
Anacostia was once a thriving residential neighborhood, suburban in character, but in recent years crime rates have spiked and it had become one of DC’s rougher neighborhoods. The contrast between the Dupont Circle and Anacostia was striking and has stuck with me ever since. It seemed almost impossible that one city could house such a drastic gap between the haves and the have-nots. Moreover, it astounded me that this type of divide could exist a stone’s throw away from our Nation’s capitol building, where legislators are constantly looking for ways to boost employment, lower crime rates and generally make this country better for the people who live here.
As my semester in the District progressed, I asked myself: How should I be responding to these issues as a Christian? The Bible calls us to care for the poor and to advocate for those who don’t have a voice themselves, but am I actually responding to that call? I’ve been wrestling with these questions ever since my semester in DC, and I can’t say that I have a consistent answer. But they are in the back of my mind, reminding me that as I work in a position of power, I have a duty to care and advocate for those who are not in the same situation as myself.
“Knowledge of implies a responsibility to.” This was another phrase that seems to be stuck on repeat from my semester out here. We were challenged with the idea that if you have knowledge of something, whether good or bad, you have an obligation to it. It’s the flip-side of the saying “ignorance is bliss.” Knowledge of the problems facing DC makes me in some way responsible for working toward a solution. Knowledge of the gospel means that I have a responsibility to respond to respond to my city’s problems in light of the gospel’s truths.
I’m a girl who likes action items, but I really have no idea what this actually looks like. But I guess that’s part of the challenge for all of us—to figure out the way that each of us should be responding to the gospel in the contexts of our own situations.