by David Zac Niringiye
When Jeff Anderson arrived in Manila with Action International Ministries in 1985, his goal was simple: to be a “street worker.” After language school, two years later Jeff joined a handful of fellow team members in a ministry to street people in the red-light district of Ermita.
When Jeff Anderson arrived in Manila with Action International Ministries in 1985, his goal was simple: to be a “street worker.” After language school, two years later Jeff joined a handful of fellow team members in a ministry to street people in the red-light district of Ermita. In a complex city teeming today with nearly 2 million people, Jeff began to wonder, “What are the local churches doing to reach the street people in their areas of ministry?” And an even more unsettling question occurred to him: “Why am I out here on the streets working almost alone?”
Workers like Anderson are hardly alone now. Roger Greenway, professor of world missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich., says he and other urban ministry advocates such as Harvey Conn and Ray Bakke “felt kind of lonely” when they were “beating the drum” for change from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Mission agencies—traditionally focused on reaching the world’s shrinking rural areas—have woken up and smelled the asphalt.
“’Real missions’ was out in the boonies somewhere, and the city was not where most mission leaders were thinking,” he said. “I think the mission organizations have pretty much turned the corner on that. They would be pretty blinded not to see where the world has gone. The cities are where the great centers of population are now, and even the unreached people movement . . . has had to recognize that all these tribal groups have their representatives in the city today and very often are more receptive and open to the gospel.”
According to the World Bank, in 1950 there were just two urban areas with populations above 10 million, Greater London and New York. Two years ago, there were 14. In 2015, the bank predicts, 27 such megalopolises will exist. From 1960 to 1992, the British news journal The Economist reports, the number of urban residents increased by 1.4 billion worldwide. In the next 15 years, another billion will be added to their ranks. Most of the growth is occurring, quite naturally, in the non-Western world, where the annual urban increase matches the national population of Spain. By the end of the 1990s, 17 of the globe’s 21 megacities will be in the so-called Third World. About half the world’s population now lives in the city, a proportion that is rising day by day.
BEYOND NUMBERS AND SPIRITS
But the city’s significance goes beyond simple numbers, urban strategists such as Bakke contend. Bakke, senior associate of the Chicago-based organization International Urban Associates and a resident of the inner city for the last 35 years, says a theological “chasm” has opened between certain groups attempting to reach the city for Christ. Although Bakke says it is hard to generalize, a missiological gap yawns between the older Lausanne movement, which emphasizes an integrated spirituality of proclamation and demonstration of the gospel, and the newer, mainly proclamation group, he says, which is comprised of those such as author John Dawson, the AD2000 and Beyond Movement, March for Jesus, and so on. This latter group is targeting cities, Bakke says, “because that’s where the people are. So ‘city’ is not the main ingredient. In fact, the city is just incidental. If the people were in the jungle, they’d be in the jungle.”
Greenway notes the temptation of some leaders such as Peter Wagner, Dawson, and Ed Silvoso to take supernatural short-cuts through the maze of urban problems. Saying he rejoices in the interest in, and prayer for, cities generated by last October’s “Praying Through the Window II” emphasis on the “100 Gateway Cities,” he nevertheless worries about the “hype” and “faddism” of the movement.
“I think they are going overboard and neglecting some of the things that we’ve been saying about understanding cities, not only in terms of spiritual dimensions, but also in terms of what it meanstobring discipleship and spiritual light to a city,” Greenway said. “. . . . There is a lot more to urbanmissions than simply identifying who the spirits are. There’s a lot of study that has to be done—serious demographic research, trying to understand the city systemically, and seeking to develop a church in the urban world that is contextualized to urban realities and will be a transformational agent within that urban world.”
NEED FOR NETWORKING
Interviews with several urban missionaries and strategists around the world indicate that Jeff Ander-son’s awareness of the need for networking in transforming the city is spreading.
Anderson, urban street ministries director and disaster relief and development coordinator for Action Philippines, decided he needed to equip Filipinos to do the work alongside the missionaries. In 1991 Action conducted a survey of local churches and agencies, which led to the formation of a network called Urban Street Ministries, Inc. Comprised primarily of locals from churches and agencies who are working with street people or who are planning to do so, ministries include camping, Christmas and Easter outreaches, and medical clinics. The network has expanded beyond Manila into Cebu City, Angeles City, and Olongapo City.
Anderson says the urban “Lone Ranger” model is no longer adequate; cities are simply too complex for solitary churches and organizations. “As a missionary, I have come to realize that I need to multiply myself in other people and let them work,” he stated. “My job is to equip others and let them minister to the families and children in their areas of the city. . . . People and ministries tend to burn out or become isolated from their ministry context if they do not link up with other people for the purpose of sharing resources and staying in contact with the people around them.”
“Team ranger” models are becoming much more popular in both evangelistic and social ministry. South Asian Concern, a Surrey, England-based ministry focusing both on the 18 million people of the South Asian diaspora as well as the Indian subcontinent, has trained Asian and non-Asian local churches in London, Delhi, Mombassa, Manila, and elsewhere. SAC training usually has four elements, according to Ram Gidoomal, chairman: A for awareness, B for bridge-building, C for cross-cultural communication, and D for discipling. “We feel in the diaspora that we must mobilize non-Asian churches, because out of those 18 million South Asians, a very tiny percentage are Christians,” Gidoomal said. “You’re talking maybe 1 or 2 percent. There is no way that they on their own are going to reach the other 98 percent.”
Gidoomal says relationships are the key to reaching the hitherto neglected professional and middle classes SAC targets. The ministry trains several churches in the same region from different denominations at the same time. Church members invite Asian friends to an outreach event. “What’s working is groups of churches which commit to work together and pray together; groups of churches which then strategically tackle a neighborhood,” Gidoomal said. “They invite people to this one function; there is a follow-up Bible study for inquirers.”
To reach the vast, largely unreached Hindu stronghold of northern India (where the state of Uttar Pradesh has about 140 million people), South Asian Concern and other organizations such as Interserve have united on a Partnership for North India. Prayer, research, and church planting have begun in several states.
Similar to SAC, African-Asian Concern Kenya (ASCKEN) reaches out to people from the Indian subcontinent living in that east African state. ASCKEN encourages prayer, publishes newsletters and testimonies, trains Christians how to evangelize, sponsors outreaches, and maintains a collection of ministry resources. John Shane, who directs the Urban Ministries Support Group in Nairobi and who is a missionary with Mission to the World (Presbyterian Church in America) and SIM International, has high praise for another ministry. “Rooms of Refuge is an exciting outreach to Samburu and Maasai peoples living in Nairobi,” Shane said. “The roomsreferred to are all in the slum and function as places of rest, Bible study, and evangelism for Maa-speaking believers.”
Another example of partnership, the Kenya Unreached Peoples Network, brings together many churches and agencies. KUPNET, while not exclusively urban, does have an urban component. The network Shane directs does research on African urbanization and attempts to help churches and missionaries working in the cities.
“You are going to see more groups working together in one form or the other, not necessarily along World Council (of Churches) structural ecumenical lines, but more along relational, functional ecumenical lines,” Shane said. “(Networking) will factor more and more into the church’s response to the exploding cities. I think we are seeing that come up in Africa with networks in different cities.”
EVANGELISM AND SOCIAL ACTION
Community development associations, like the 1,200-member U.S.-based Christian Community Development Association, where evangelical churches and other groups come together to renew a poor region both spiritually and economically, are also rising like skyscrapers. For example, Bakke cites the work of Preston Washington, an evangelical pastor who has formed a coalition of 58 churches in Harlem, N.Y., to rebuild the area. With a budget of $115 million, the group has constructed 1,500 units of housing. In Chicago, the Bethel Lutheran Church, with an annual budget of $12 million, has built over 1,000 houses. And the Lawndale Community Church in Chicago’s rough Lawndale community has 140 employees, an $8.5 million budget, and 100 pieces of property. Beginning in Philadelphia in 1981, a community development foundation started by the Deliverance Evangelistic Church leveraged $1 million into $23 million, bought the old Connie Mack Stadium, and built a shopping center called Hope Plaza, where businesses such as McDonald’s come in to teach job skills.
“They just dedicated, two years ago, their magnificent 5,100-seat sanctuary,” Bakke said. “The pulpit is at home plate so the pastor can knock a homer every Sunday!”
Ron Sider, author of numerous books on the Christian’s social responsibility and a professor of theology and cultures at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, says that in the past quarter century Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern (1973) and the Lausanne Covenant (1974) have helped swing the evangelical pendulum toward a biblical balance of both evangelism and social action. He says there are growing numbers of what he calls “wholistic” ministries—serving the whole person—in both inner-city and middle-class communities around the world.
“I think we’re just on the edge of an explosion on that,” Sider said. “There’s widespread agreement of the leadership level that we must converge. There’s increasing evidence that it really works very powerfully. I think the result is that we are going to see in the next 10 to 20 years large numbers of successful church plants and congregations developing that are wholistic.”
In his 1994 book Cup of Water, Bread of Life, Sider details ten “wholistic” ministries from around the world, including in Bali, Chicago, Denver, India, London, New Zealand, and elsewhere, showing that his is not simply a U.S. concern. Sider names eight common elements: (1) unconditional commitment to Christ; (2) a passion for outreach; (3); commitment to the poor; (4) concern for the whole person in community; (5) programs developed to equip Christians to form friendships with non-Christians; (6) living among the poor; (7) partnership with other Christians; and (8) the presence of the Spirit.
“We are really overcoming—we’re not there yet—but we are making significant progress in overcoming the dreadful imbalance that has run through a good bit of this century,” Sider said. “When you look at the stats and say, ‘Where are the people who don’t know Christ and have never heard of Christ?,’ they’re in the 10/40 Window. That’s where most of the poor are as well. It’s pretty obvious that central to ourevangelism of these people has to be a concern for the whole person.”
LIFE IN THE BIG CITY
And, others might add, the whole person in community. The urban setting leaves an indelible imprint on people and provides unique challenges to missionaries. Shane lists modernity, diversity, and pluralism among those realities with which churches and missions must grapple when they come to the city. Timothy Monsma, director of Cities for Christ Worldwide (Escondido, Calif.), adds church-state relations, corruption, ethnic hatred, and lack of educational opportunities and resources, problems which he says are more pronounced in the city. “Somebody in Indonesia said to me once, ‘We need more Daniels in this country,’” Monsma said. “He meant more people who are willing to stand up for the Lord in difficult situations.”
Because the city is so kaleidoscopic in terms of its needs, several strategists say workers accomplish the most when they narrow their focus. Monsma, who is also editor of the quarterly City Watch bulletin and Africa director for Action International Ministries (Bothell, Wash.), recommends that urban missionary surveyors start by trying to locate the unreached peoples there, instead of first counting the Christians, because raw numbers of believers can’t tell whether non-Christian groups are hearing the gospel. “The Lord knows who are his,” Monsma said, “But in my mind, it is more important to know those who are not his . . . so that the gospel might be presented to them.”
Bakke says the most effective urban evangelists divide audiences into ethnic and linguistic units and no longer expect the city to come to a single venue for a one-size-fits-all message. Some groups appear more or less open to the gospel according to their economic class, for example.
“Cities are huge subsets, and we make mistakes when we approach them with a single strategy,” Bakke said. “The church I think is learning today to be much more aware of what in business we call markets and audiences.”
Thinking small, or dividing the task into bite-sized chunks, may have particular relevance for the urban church’s future structure. Greenway praises cell (or “meta”) churches, while warning of the dangers inherent in a lack of centralized teaching.
“It’s just possible that this is the most urbanized, contextualized urban expression of how the church is going to look in the 21st century,” Greenway said. “The effectiveness will largely be determined by the quality of teaching that comes from the top down to all the cells, and the degree to which the basic things that the church is all about—proclamation of the Word, instruction, discipleship, koinonia, service to the community—are all promoted at a local cell level. If the meta church can facilitate a whole lot of outreach—evangelistic outreach, service outreach, demonstrating the gospel through word and deed in a trillion neighborhoods where cells are planted—then we are going to see a church structure that is very adapted to the city and urban realities.”
One thing’s for sure. Christians such as Jeff Anderson working on the streets of the world’s great cities are finding the asphalt increasingly crowded with other believers.
Copyright © 1996 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.