God so loves the city!
The Bible begins with a garden and ends with a city. Its pages are full of God’s love and concern for people everywhere.
Look at God’s concern for Sodom, a city seeped in wickedness. Abraham bargains with God over the fate of Sodom and its inhabitants. God reveals that He is no less concerned about their fate. He would save the city if there were 10 righteous people in it. The collective lifestyle of that city had the inevitability of judgment hanging over it. And God sent angels to warn that city of what could happen if it did not repent.
God sent Jonah to warn Nineveh. In spite of the wavering and timidness of the evangelist, the city repented, accepted God’s proclamation, and averted judgment.
God sent young men into the schools and government offices of Babylon to master their style, but not their lifestyle. He sent visions to emperor after emperor, revealing for generations to come the ebb and flow of history, culminating in the triumph of God’s kingdom and sovereignty over every human attempt to build great cities and greater kingdoms.
God led David to choose Jerusalem, a Canaanite city with a history of disrepute, as the capital of Israel. He wanted Jerusalem to be a model city, where righteousness would dwell, justice would prevail, and where witness to the rest of the world would be the abiding focus. Jerusalem betrayed its mandate, turned out the prophets, crucified the Son—and yet God’s love for it was so great that the headquarters of the new earth is named the New Jerusalem.
The entire Old Testament was written in urban settings of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Sumeria, Nineveh, Sidon, Tyre, and Babylon. The New Testament is no different. Jesus ministered in urban Galilee, in Decapolis, Tyre, Sidon, Phoenicia, Jericho, and Jerusalem. Pauline missions covered the great cities of the Roman empire: Antioch, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Colossae, Rome, and many more. John’s Revelation describes the great controversy between God and Satan in very urban terms, a conflict between cities.
Such was God’s love and concern for the masses of people languishing in cities during biblical times. His concern is no less to the millions of people dwelling in our great metropolises today.
The pull of the cities
Although cities have had their attraction and adventure ever since Cain built the first one (Genesis 4:17), only recently have they become great centers of population. Even as late as 200 years ago, 97 percent of the world’s population was rural. At the turn of the century, in spite of the growing industrial revolution, the urban population was only 15 percent. But today as we approach the 21st century, roughly half the population of the world lives in cities—in concrete jungles, in urban anonymity, in a desperate struggle to work, eat, and sleep, with very little of social and spiritual interactions.
The world today is largely urban: 3,450 cities with over 100,000 population, 330 cities of more than a million inhabitants, 45 metropolises of four million plus, and 12 supergiants of more than 10 million. Further, urban growth is skyrocketing, at twice the rate of rural growth, owing to migration and high birthrates. A city the size of Seattle is born, each year, within Mexico City.
Of these cities, at least 235 have no knowledge of Christ. We cannot ignore them as though our Christian journey is some superhighway bypassing the crowded population centers. They are primary targets for Christian mission.
They are primary targets because the cities influence the rest of the country. They control the media, influence the government, run great educational centers, and operate a network of industry, commerce, and transportation. Indeed, rural life has become captive to urban influence.
With such growing metropolitan trends, the commission of Jesus to go, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:19) comes with a commanding, new urgency. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has begun to take this global mission seriously.
It is happening already
Dateline Seoul. Kirk and Sherry teach English as a second language in a school in Korea. It is a full-time job. But after school they share God’s good news with their students and answer questions that their classroom stories and lifestyle raise. They are making a dent in a city of 16 million and a country that is 66 percent Buddhist.
Dateline Calcutta. Sandy was in her early twenties and bored. She wanted to be a Christian and she wanted adventure. She wanted them together. There had to be more to “church” than sitting in a pew and listening to a monologue each week. Where was God working and might have an opening for her? Mother Teresa came to mind immediately.
Mother Teresa challenged the world by her commitment to the poor and dying in Calcutta. Hopelessly overcrowded and growing daily, with one of the highest population densities in the world, and where the street is home for thousands, the city offers a thousand ways to minister. “Find something small to do,” Mother Teresa says, “and do it with love.”
And that was what Sandy chose to do. She has found the will and the spirit of love to bring a little cheer to the poor and suffering of Calcutta. Something small, yes, but something that carries the good news of God.
Dateline Geneva: They are almost all young and far from home. These are Adventist young people whose work or marriage has brought them to this city of John Calvin, and they are witnessing with joy and creativity. This is the English Seventh-day Adventist church in Geneva. An energetic group of young people, they come together each Sabbath for worship, study and fellowship, to strengthen one another in their individual and collective witness to Jesus. The service is not traditional, but it is familiar. The leadership style is egalitarian and clearly marked with servanthood.
Theirs is a voice of joyful commitment and Christian concern in a city known for its commercialism and international bureaucracy. These young people don’t have to be here on Sabbath; they want to be here.
For every such heartwarming story, there are hundreds that tear the core of our hearts. Consider three such urban plights.
Poverty. The urban poor in developing countries live in absolutely chaotic conditions. An entire family is crowded in a room about the size of a double bed. They live in utter squalor, without toilet or bathing facilities, breathing not air but pollution. Drinking water is far from pure. The little vegetables they get are laced with industrial toxins.
What is the solution? Just wring our hands and condemn the perpetrators? Adopt babies on a mass scale? Or is the answer a personal involvement, a face-to-face mission that would alleviate human suffering and make a difference in the lives of the people in the immediate neighborhood? How about running an orphanage, building a school, holding adult literacy classes, cleaning the environment, providing clean drinking water, and teaching and building facilities for better hygiene and sanitation? Being an intentional Christian involves these and more in order to transform the situation by demonstrating what the kingdom of God is all about.
Political refugees. On a quiet Sabbath afternoon in Frankfurt, I was taking a walk. Over the brow of a small hill I heard strange, wild music. Not rock or even new age, but wild with a sense of joy mixed with homesickness. In the glade before me I saw about 70 men, dressed in baggy pants, musicians playing large drums, flutes, and stringed instruments while the group linked arms over shoulders and danced out their national identity.
I slowly approached the group and found one who could speak English. Soon I learned that they were Kurdish refugees from northern Iraq. They were hoping to find a new life in a new and strange land.
Who will go and dance with these people? Who will link arms over shoulders and attempt the intricate footwork that may be the first steps into friendship and understanding? Who will become a “non-resident” missionary to the Iraqi Kurds by moving to Frankfurt, if necessary, learning their language and customs, and entering their world, share Jesus as a real, powerful, and loving Friend? Or must they continue to dance in despair?
Children of gloom. She was 16 years old and had been working in the city for a year. Her 14-year-old sister worked beside her. As we talked over tea she asked me, “If I get AIDS, how long will I live?”
Their parents had sold them into prostitution. Now they were working in a cheap, roadside brothel. The owner was friendly enough (she poured more tea) but the work was degrading and frightening. The chances for infection were enormous.
I reflected on her living conditions, looked into her face, and told her, “possibly two years.” Her expression of fear and hopelessness haunted me for days. There is hope, however. The madam told me that if they could pay off the debt in any other way, that would be fine. But who will set up a small business, or provide loans for sewing machines or other labor incentives that will provide enough to lift them from their pit of despair? Hope must take practical form to be real.
What shall we do?
Many such stories of urban poverty, hunger, homelessness, childhood plights, political atrocities, racial and tribal horrors around the world can be narrated. No shortage in that area at all. But the real issue is, “What shall we do?” Is there something you, as an Adventist student or a professional, can do to continue the journey of mercy that Jesus began long ago? Here are some ways:
1. Get involved in small-group ministries. Start with three or four persons with something in common. Pledge to serve Jesus and hold one another accountable. Take on a joint task of service and support one another with prayer and encouragement. Become involved in your own community.
2. Start storefront ministries. With the help of a few, start your own services in an urban storefront. Clean it up, borrow some chairs and songbooks, use portable instruments, visit the neighborhood, and start a worship service that meets the spiritual needs of local people.
3. Organize a people-group ministry. Find out what “people groups” around you do not have a church. A people group is any group that identifies themselves as “us” by language, life-style, occupation, disability, etc. One pastor I know resigned his pastorate to work the racetracks. Most of the workers there rarely get more than a mile from the track and have no church or spiritual outlet. You may have to learn a new language and eat some new foods.
4. Organize a van ministry. Van ministry is ideal for urban work, as it provides flexibility. It could be used to provide food for the hungry, visitation for the lonely, healing for the sick, and ministry for the spiritually needy.
5. Begin a tutoring ministry. Children often need help in their school work. Nothing is more helpful to them and nothing keeps them away from mischief as organized tutorials. Adult literacy or teaching the national language to recent immigrants is another part of this work that will bring dignity to many in the community.
6. Open a drug rehabilitation work. Tough work, but needed. Be prepared for lots of apparent failure that is really just very slow progress. Rent facilities if you need to. Make it a spiritual ministry, not just another psychological prop.
7. Start a street kid ministry. Our cities are flooded with street kids, wandering without aim and getting into trouble. Find out where they are, make friends, offer some tutoring, or organize some games. Introduce drug-prevention programs. One university music student in Bucharest organizes street kids into a chorale and has them doing public concerts.
8. Initiate AIDS awareness. Make young people aware of the risk of AIDS. Organize support groups and offer healing ministries to those who have the disease and to their families.
9. Join the Adventist Community Service Centers. These centers are not the hangout of the “older sisters” in the church but must be turned into centers of hope, joy, and service, involving the whole church, particularly its young.
10. Support the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. Volunteer for a few months, intern for a couple of years, become a regional director or project manager. Find a whole new career in the development field, transforming the world one person at a time, one village at a time. If ADRA is filled, there are lots of other PVOs (Private Volunteer Organizations) doing similar things who need your help in changing the world.
11. Tentmaking ministry. Take the gospel where no Christian has ever gone before. Take your “secular” training and find a job in an unreached or “creative access” country where you can live and work as an intentional Christian, making friends, sharing the good news about Jesus, making disciples, and planting churches. Your church has a program designed to facilitate and train you for this. Contact Global Partnerships at Andrews University.
The church is important. The congregation is a great place for worship and celebration, for nurture and support. But the most important thing that Christians do is outside the four walls of the church. Take your relationship with Jesus out into the world that desperately needs to meet Him, understand Him, be loved and saved by Him.
Bruce Campbell Moyer (STD, San Francisco Theological Seminary) is the director of the Center for Global Mission. His address: Andrews University; Berrien Springs, Michigan 49104; U.S.A. Fax: 616-471-6252.