I’m at the World Convention of the Christian Churches and attended the Bader Lecture. This year, Ashley and Anji Barker of Urban Neighbors of Hope. Ashley and John Hayes wrote the book Submerge several years back, based on the commitment they have made to urban ministry. The main difference between their ministry and other urban ministry programs is that they actually walk the walk – they moved into the urban center (Springvale, an inner-urban slum in Australia) and not only lives there, they lived on the same subsistence income as their neighbors. It’s a ministry of peer-to-peer that demonstrates the commitment of the mission. Today, Ashley, Anji, and their two children have relocated to a slum in Bangkok and are working and living in a similar manner (their describe their flat as approximately the size of four double beds pushed together).
Their lecture was particularly instructive, especially in terms of the urbanization of our world and the typical Christian response. First, a word about the slums. Approximately 1 billion people currently reside in slums and that number is expected to double by 2030. Why are the number of people living in slums rising so quickly? Perhaps because we’ve reached the urbanized tipping point. According to the UN, sometime between January and July of this year the number people living in urban areas grew to the point that there are now more people living in urban centers than in rural areas. The migration to urban centers will continue to rapidly increase in the foreseeable future and the church needs to be thinking seriously about this issue.
One last thought about Ashley and Anji’s lecture. He asked us a question:
“Did Jesus spend time with the poor?”
We all affirmed that indeed he had. Significant time with the poor. Then he asked:
“Does Jesus expect the church to spend time with the poor?”
We all nodded emphatically. Yes indeedy, the church is called to come alongside the poor, and the goal remains Acts 4:34. So then he asked, “How many of you are spending significant time during your week in the presence of the poor?”
Silence. According to Ash, this is far from uncommon, especially as the downtown churches flee from the urban centers to relocate in the “safe” and more “convenient” suburbs. Indeed, only 2% of Christians spend any time with the poor.
Two Percent. 2%. Two out of one hundred.
And there are over a billion living in slums and over half of our global population has emigrated to urban centers. How will we faithfully reach these people at this rate? The answer: We won’t. What are we going to do about it? Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? We’re not going to do it by continuing to do what we’ve been doing. Something’s going to have to change and I suspect that change will have to begin with us … and by us I mean you and me. Personal commitment. Us. Together.