We stood atop a towering bridge, stories above a deep, blue, lazy river that meandered under the run-down overpass. We had just walked a mile down this seemingly abandoned railroad track in the beating Cuban Sun, happily jumping back and forth on the rails, occasionally needing to make an extra effort to avoid debris or a missing section of track. I was a part of leading a group of high school students on a trip to the economically stunted country where we are providing support to local groups in whatever way we can. On this day, we had been planting coffee, but an afternoon walk led us to this bridge. The crystal blue water was affable and accepting from the shore, but from this elevated perspective, it seemed dangerous and deceptive.
I stood in silence, leaning over the guardrail, with the group gathered behind me at a distance, close enough to see the water themselves, but far enough away that they couldn’t hear my thoughts. My focus was on the drop. Their focus was on me. We were all silently asking the same question: Should we jump?
92% is many things. It is an A+ in school, it is the best free throw percentage of all time (Shoutout Steve Nash), and it is likely the humidity in Vancouver at any given moment. In this case, a 92% is the survival rate that would constitute a successful trip in my opinion. This was, by far, the most responsibility I had ever been given in my life, so I thought a 92% rate of survival was a reasonable goal.
The group I was responsible for was not new to me, in fact we had become very close, spending every Thursday night of the previous 5 years together. It was a small community youth group that met to serve others, grow spiritually, and simply have fun together. On any given Thursday, you could find us preparing meals for a school, catching up over Vietnamese, or getting kicked out of a mall for taking a scavenger hunt too far. We had shared much laughter, tears, and time over those 5 years.
I remember someone once telling me that, “People won’t remember what you say, but they will remember who you were.” I don’t know who said it to me, but it stuck (There are so many layers to the irony here, I know). But nonetheless, this person I’ve forgotten, whose words I haven’t, guided who I wanted to be as a leader to these young people.
One of the things I always encouraged the group to do was to take risks. Whenever somebody left on a trip, or was undertaking some sort of endeavour, my parting words were always, “Be safe, but not too safe.” I constantly pushed them to try new things, step out, and not to fear failure. This was one of the main things I wanted to impress upon the group and here I stood on top of this bridge with a chance to show, rather than tell.
Leaning over the rail, I began to consider the risk involved with taking this jump. I sent the tallest person around an embankment and down to the landing area to test the depth. He took a deep breath and went under for a while...we waited in silence… he resurfaced. “I can’t touch the bottom” he called up to us. I continued to ponder.
What is risk? What type of risk-taking did I want these students to take on? What type of risk is jumping off a bridge?
Risk is putting yourself in a situation knowing that there might be some sort of harm, danger, or loss involved. We often associate risk with physical danger, however, the more common situations we find ourselves in involve emotional risk. These are the types of risks I wanted these students to be taking.
Are you willing to risk your reputation by truly engaging with someone considered to be “below” you in social standing?
Are you willing to risk failure and humiliation by trying to greet someone in their language?
Are you willing to risk your own emotional stability by asking someone how they are doing? I mean truly asking them how they are doing and then sitting with them in their space, sharing their burdens?
My hope for City Collective is that we become a community constantly taking these risks. Risks where we know that what we stand to lose is worth losing if it means building somebody up, extending a hand, or including the excluded. Often times this loss is ourselves. Loss of reputation, loss of time, loss of material, however; a community built on self-sacrifice, willing to risk anything on behalf of others will always gain in the aggregate. This sounds a lot like the type of community Jesus wants for us; a community that knows there is no greater love than to lay down your life for others. A life lived for others. A life of perpetual risk.
So we could jump off this bridge, but what would the benefit be? It’s a risk that doesn’t benefit others and only puts ourselves in harm’s way, and though it was the type of risk we often associate with the word ‘risk’, it felt somewhat meaningless compared to some of the risks we were taking in our everyday lives.
This wasn’t risk, it was recklessness.
However, in a group of 13, I could still have one death and reach my 92% goal…