Changing Direction When We Follow Jesus: Reflections on the Chicago River at St. Patrick’s Day by Christina Walker

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My husband and I live in downtown Chicago. Since I work at Wheaton College, people often ask, “Why don’t you live in the suburbs? Isn’t it a hassle to commute every day?” And from those who live in another state and only know the city from the news, we often hear, “Is it safe to live in Chicago?”

Living in the city was an intentional choice for us. We wanted to rub shoulders with men and women from all different backgrounds who might be open to hearing about God’s love and his invitation into a relationship. Plus it’s fun! We love the hustle and bustle of the city, the cultural variety of people who live here, and the great activities that happen throughout the year.

As just one example, every year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the local Plumbers’ Union dyes the Chicago River green. This tradition is more than 50 years old and draws over 400,000 spectators to the banks of our river. Some years are a little more interesting than others. In 2013, we stood by the Wrigley Building and saw a flying leprechaun! Admittedly, most of the people who gather are just there to party, but it’s a tradition that we love to attend.

What makes the whole process most amazing to me is where the plumbers put the vegetable-based dye: at the mouth of the river by Lake Michigan. Then the dye flows back through the city, slowly turning the river green. Your see, the Chicago River flows backwards, away from the lake. Until the dye starts to mingle with the water, you don’t really see the direction the water is moving. Once that emerald color starts to mix in, you can begin to trace the currents moving west.

This reversed flow is because in the 1800s as the city boomed, the Chicago River was polluted with waste and sewage carrying waterborne diseases, especially cholera. As it flowed into the blue waters of Lake Michigan, the river transported that filth right into the city’s primary source of drinking water, causing frequent epidemics.

Desperate to find a way to clean up the river, city officials embarked on a crazy plan. A 28-mile span of land separated the south bend of the Chicago River from the Des Plaines River, which flowed towards the Mississippi. On January 2, 1900, after eight years of digging by 8,500 workers, a crane scooped the last remaining chunk of dirt out of the way. The foul water poured through, forever changing the direction and water quality of the Chicago River. In 1999, the American Society of Civil Engineers chose this project as the “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium.”

This year for the St. Patrick’s holiday, we have some family coming up to visit. As I was looking for the parade details online, I ended up on a website that included some history of Patrick’s life.

In about 405 AD, when he was 16 years old, Patrick was captured in a raid and taken to Ireland as a slave. After about six years, he escaped and returned home. In his mid-40s, he felt called to go back to the land of his former captors and bring them the good news of Christ. Rather than harbor malice, he forgave those who had wronged him and committed to serving the Irish people. God blessed his ministry and soon Ireland, a previously pagan land, was considered one of Europe’s Christian centers.

As I was reviewing his story, thinking about how Patrick turned around and went back to Ireland as a witness, my brain did that thing which sometimes happens where two disparate thoughts suddenly collide and create a new connection.

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Source: Christianity Today