An Urban Cry For Help

By: Antipas Harris
Thursday, May 27th, 2010

The urban communities need more than a hand out or a hand up. The old approach of giving money and food to change conditions are just not the appropriate approach for lasting renewal. Urban communities need holistic treatment that includes support, relief, and education (tools) to help urban subjects to lift themselves up from the depravity encumbered upon them. Research shows that the problems are daisy-chained, resulting the proliferated debauchery.

The American Psychological Association reports that “The deepening economic crisis is profoundly impacting children, youth, and families. Its effects are rippling through the multiple contexts in which children and youth are situated. Within the nuclear family stressors such as job loss, home foreclosure, or loss in family savings place strain on parental relationships and on the family as a whole.” The APA indicates that families with extremely low incomes are going without necessities such as shelter, food, and healthcare. The APA anticipates that there will be a decline in higher education among youth, due to the need to secure employment to assist their families.

The issue of poverty, moreover, does not stand alone. Poverty is connected with problems such as drugs, violence, robbery, trafficking, prostitution etc.   Criminal gangs commit as much as 80 percent of the crime in many communities, according to law enforcement officials throughout the nation. “Typical gang-related crimes include alien smuggling, armed robbery, assault, auto theft; drug trafficking, extortion, fraud, home invasions, identity theft, murder, and weapons trafficking.”

There is also an observed connection between human trafficking and poverty. “The U.S. Department of State began monitoring trafficking in persons in 1994, when the issue began to be covered in the Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Originally, coverage focused on trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. The report coverage has broadened over the years, and U.S. embassies worldwide now routinely monitor and report on cases of trafficking in men, women, and children for all forms of forced labor, including agriculture, domestic service, construction work, and sweatshops, as well as trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation”. The U.S. State Department indicates that the rise in unemployment globally is a vulnerability that will lead to an increase in human trafficking due to workers being pushed into extreme poverty.

Connecting the problem of education with poverty, education Scholar Ruby K. Payne argues that the deterrent to achievement among urban individuals is often the by-product of poor support and provision during their childhood and teenage years. In her Framework for Understanding Poverty, Payne notes that a key component is, “a sponsor…. who shows them a different way or convinces them that they can live differently.” She further notes that people need mentors to teach them skills for escaping the traps of urban life or to provide resources to help lift them from the pits of pain and existential depravity. Urban youth need support and motivation to believe that they have a better future than the depravity they have known.

Harold L.  Hodgkins adds that “Low achievement is closely correlated with lack of resources.” The basis for promoting increased achievement as suggested by Payne and Hodgkins is the building of strong and supportive relationships with victims of urban problems and creating resources for them. Payne recommends an overhaul in education systems to respond to the lack of support and resources that prove maximum impact within urban communities.

Urban churches must focus on teaching principles for holistic achievement, helping youth (in particular) to overcome spiritual drought and disconcerting personal and communal social realities. Arzola says that an incarnational ministry that the Christ of the Gospels intended is one that places a premium on spiritual, personal, and social transformation.

However, some of the churches with financial resources necessary to address certain needs spend a lot of time and energy singing, preaching and/ or building more buildings nearby increasingly debased communities. Other urban churches are often several small storefronts within a few blocks. They are also frequently disconnected from the issues within the communities.

Both categories of churches (mega churches and storefronts) are often minimally engaged in combative efforts to reduce the increasing urban troubles that are crippling the holistic success among young people. Some of the urgent issues are promiscuity, sexual exploitation, gangs, drugs, HIV and AIDS, poverty, lack of quality education, broken families, and prison re-entry problems. Sadly, many of these issues remain minimally chartered territory for most churches.

In an article Ervin E. Hastey contends that an urban imperative hangs heavily over the church. A dramatic change, therefore, must affect mission efforts of churches. Mission is no longer a need in developing countries alone. The urban mission need is in the neighborhood of churches in both developed and developing countries. It is now impossible to think of reaching the world with the gospel of Christ without confronting the problems of an expanded urban world. What is the responsibility of the church in light of urban vitiation?

Agreeing with Hastey, it seems reasonable that if contemporary churches take Jesus’ mission in Luke 4 as their own, they must pursue strategies for community transformation. Scholar-practitioners such as Fernando Arzola Jr., John M. Perkins and Paul Louis Metzger are strong advocates for aggressive or prophetic Christian commitment to urban community transformation. Investing in holistic rehabilitation of the urban youth demographic insures a more optimistic future for the urban communities. Therefore, in Toward a Prophetic Youth Ministry Arzola contends that holistic treatment is required in urban community transformation. Therefore, “holistic ministry” is one that advocates for holistic transformation of the community surrounding the church, as well as the teens that enter the church. A “holistic ministry” does not isolate itself from the community. It does not treat issues within the community as items on the church menu. Holistic ministry delves into community transformation as holistic treatment is the is the DNA of holistic ministry. Holistic ministry embodies the liberating work of Christ for urban subjects, and all people, emancipating them from personal and spiritual bondage and empowering them to succeed in Christ’s name.

How do you understand the practical expectations of urban ministry? What can your church do for the community to help turn it around? What should an urban church look like? What does God expect?

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Antipas Harris
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