There are small two towns just off I-96 between our home and Chicago, and we’ve driven by the exit sign probably more than a hundred times over the past 25 years. One is St. Joseph, and the other is Benton Harbor. They are known as “The Twin Cities” and are only separated by the St. Joseph River, so in my mind, I always thought of them as basically the same town. In fact, because of their proximity, I confused their reputations. Sadly, Benton Harbor has the lowest per capita income of any town in the state, with over 40% of the population being below the poverty level. The town also has a reputation for being crime-ridden and a place to avoid…rather like the south side of Chicago: Don’t venture in unless you’re prepared for the possibility of being mugged or shot. However, not long ago, Joel showed us a photo of a beach in St. Joseph that looked so appealing Alan and I decided to do something we’ve never done before: We stopped by to check out St. Joseph on our way home from Warren Dunes.
We were amazed…and delighted! St. Joseph is a beautiful little resort town. Last Saturday, they were having an auto show with a parade of old cars. How fun! They also had a great farmers’ market loaded with everything that makes an open-air market mouth-watering and delicious. They have a downtown area lined with restaurants and shops as cute as that in Holland, Michigan. They have their own neighborhood of classic old homes that looks like Heritage Hill here in Grand Rapids. They have a free splash pad at their ” Whirlpool Centennial Park,” and a gorgeous waterfront at Silver Beach Park that rivals that of our all-time favorite getaway, Grand Haven. In fact, the parking lot at the beach was full, and we had to park some blocks away down a quiet side street. However, that worked out just fine, because it gave us a good chance to have our own walking tour of the downtown area and waterfront, and Alan’s nose tracked down a delightful roof-top cafe for some fresh perch fish’n’chips.
All told, we had an A+ experience and marveled that in all these years we’d totally overlooked this little gem of a beachfront resort because of their “twin” city’s reputation. Now the harder question is: Why is one city thriving while the other is failing?, and I don’t know the answer to that. They’re both too far from home for me to try to get involved in solving that problem. (And, we have plenty of poverty and crime right here in GR.) But, the easier question is this: What or who else am I avoiding because of an undeserved bad reputation? Am I missing out on getting to know someone just because they are related to someone with a bad reputation? May I (we) learn to be more discerning, evaluating each potential friend according to their own character, not the character of their “family.” The Bible sets the right example: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20). “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).