I love my mission field.
Back when I was 17 and 18 looking for the right place to re-locate and attend college, I was wary about Springfield, Missouri. First, it was too easy. It’s the city where both my parents went to school (Evangel and SMSU, now MSU) and the city where most nice little pentecostal kids from my area migrated (due to the presence of Evangel, CBC and AGTS.)
Second, it was too small. I had gotten used to living in substantial metropolitan areas… Kansas City, and Tulsa before that. But Springfield is by all accounts a small city. Perhaps large among the small cities, but still.
Third, the whole city looked like Glenstone to me. For the initiated, let me explain that most of the main thoroughfares in Springfield are lined with strip malls and cluttered with their super-tall road signs. Glenstone is the worst… this description is true for a solid 7 or 8 miles, and people drive on it as if they’re trying to read every word on every sign. When I looked at Springfield, I didn’t see any of the urban fabric or historic significance that usually draws me to a city: I just saw strip malls and road signs.
Glenstone is also the street where Evangel’s campus is located, and Evangel is where I ended up enrolling, to study music. So Glenstone was an ever-present reminder of how Springfield and I were essentially incompatible.
Another feature of Springfield that you may have picked up on already is that it is a veritable mecca of higher education. Word has it there are 11 colleges, and 30-40,000 college students, depending on how you count. This has the very advantageous effect of bringing in bright young minds from around the country, many of whom are determined to leave Springfield upon graduation. But, you know, you meet that special guy or girl, who is graduating one or two years after you… so you graduate, you get a job, find a place, make some friends, establish a routine. And by the time that special someone has graduated it’s just a lot easier to stay put. So Springfield manages to hold onto some of those bright minds, and that’s no small thing for such a small city.
In addition to that, it turned out the Springfield did actually have some urban fabric after all. It’s just that it was torn, stained and at one point it was almost ripped to shreds.
In the 70s and 80s, the city got into its head that many of the historic buildings Downtown were a hazard and/or an eyesore. By the time anybody saw otherwise, the architectural legacy of our Center-City was in danger of fading to black, and the 90s were a time of desolation for what should be the liveliest part of town.
There are two specific districts of Center-City Springfield that are worth mentioning here: Downtown proper, and Commercial Street. The former was established as the city of Springfield in 1838, and the latter as the city of North Springfield in 1871. The two merged as the single city of Springfield in 1887. These are the two most significant historic urban districts of the city, and which I have the most stories about.
So I’m going to take you on a photographic tour over the next several posts, showing you pictures of our mission field, telling the stories behind them, and giving you a sense on the map of the location of each one. To start you off, here are two maps that gives you some perspective on the location of Downtown and Commercial Street in relation to each other, and to Springfield at large. Here is a map of Springfield, with the boundaries of the following map outlined in red: