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Our Local Mission Field

For too long suburban believers have ignored the physical and spiritual needs of the inner city.

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8, NKJV).

For years we have heard well-meaning expositors of the Word interpret the "Jerusalem" of Acts 1:8 as the network of relationships, the neighborhood or geographic area surrounding our place of abode. We have been encouraged to witness in our sphere of influence and move beyond that sphere of influence to those "uttermost parts" that lie in regions beyond our homeland's shores.

While I believe in preaching the gospel to those in my sphere of influence first, and though I believe in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, sociological and cultural shifts of the last half-century have clouded our understanding of our "Jerusalems." Jerusalem was a city, while Judea and Samaria were regions beyond the city. One Bible dictionary speaks of Judea as a region whose boundaries constantly changed throughout her history.

The gospel began first in a city, moved to the suburbs (places outside the city with constantly changing boundaries), rural regions and outlying towns and then to the undefined "uttermost parts." With the massive, post-World War II people shift to suburbia in the United States, our Jerusalems have suffered economically and spiritually. We have settled into our three-bedroom, 2-1/2 -bath homes in Judea and send millions of dollars to some overseas ghetto while passing over the one next door.

We must address the stark realities of our inner cities. I contend that it is much easier for our comfortable suburban church culture to send a few fearless saints and dollars overseas to save the heathen we only see in missionary slide shows than it is for us to deal with the stark realities of our inner-city Jerusalems. Our Judea and Samaria have become too posh for us to face those, who in our flight from Jerusalem, were left behind.

In our departure, we mistakenly believed that suburbia offered us immunity from the problems of inner-city America. We have also revealed our bigotry in categorizing the sins of the impoverished, usually minority, inner-city dwellers as more heinous than the polished and refined middle-class suburban versions of the same sins.

Tragically, we were wrong. In our allowing the core of our inner cities to rot, the rottenness has permeated the whole place. There are now no real or imagined safe places--those suburban and rural enclaves once thought immune to the fruit of our ignored and usually abandoned inner core. We forgot that "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).

So we are shocked when we see suburban white children gun down other white children, while generations of the same have gone largely unnoticed among African American, Hispanic and Asian inner-city youth. The suburbanite and rural American always needed the blood of Christ as much as the ghetto dweller. It is time we return to the cities to prove that the same gospel we have taken to the world can win our own Jerusalems.

A movement back to the cities. Dallas is a microcosm of what is taking place nationally: a movement back to the cities. It is a small turning back of the post-World War II tide to the suburbs. Some of our most blighted neighborhoods are experiencing a renaissance of sorts as factories and office buildings are renovated to accommodate a daily-growing, new urban population. But as developers restore the core of the inner cities for the rich, the poor who were abandoned there now find themselves unwelcome.

The homeless who were once relegated to an empty main street now find themselves arrested for sleeping in doorways of high-rent apartments that only months ago were neglected facades. The housing project that was once considered worthless real estate is now torn down to accommodate the high-end condominium.

The business community is rediscovering our Jerusalem, while the church is largely ignoring the tide of humanity that is being once again affected by another middle-class people movement. It is imperative that we as believers turn our hearts and hands back to our Jerusalems before the regentrification of our cities displaces and further marginalizes the present population.


Inner-city ministry is different from our suburban version:

1. Don't enter in with a colonial, missionary, hit-and-run mentality. Short-term projects and outreaches are wonderful, but will not have the long-term effect on the community that a well-thought-out strategy for economic, social, educational and spiritual grassroots empowerment will have. For example, many preachers have taken the prosperity gospel to the inner city and have raised the hopes of the masses to believe in some magical formula for getting rich.

While I believe in prosperity and God's blessing on our faithfulness to give generously, this is only half the picture. A longer-term goal would be to supplement balanced biblical teaching with the application of economic empowerment principals, such as budgeting, debt reduction, credit repair and investing and saving.

2. Don't ignore the strength that has always been present in people from even the most blighted communities. Many inner-city dwellers have great faith. Somehow, when you don't know where your next meal or rent payment is coming from, you either turn to crime or turn to God. Every neighborhood has pillars of strength: the grandmother who takes in crack babies, the small church with the soup kitchen, or the God-fearing mother attempting to raise her babies in a neighborhood full of drug dealers and prostitutes.

The colonial mentality says, "We have all the answers; you have none, and without us you are lost." This will never win the city. Our cities are not some field foreign to our passing shadow. Our role is to find and support the pillars of strength that have always been there, and work with them to fulfill their dreams and visions for their community.

3. Leave the sanitized, suburban gospel at home. Discover the needs of the community and apply the unchanging power of the gospel to the need. If the blood of Christ has saved and delivered the demonized idol worshipers of the "uttermost parts" for generations, will it not work among those in our own Jerusalem?

Even as a foreign missionary applies the gospel to the context of the local culture, language and ethnicity he is attempting to reach, we need to realize that the inner city also has its unique cultural and linguistic context in which the Christ of the gospel needs to be communicated.

It is time that we return to our Jerusalem. As a modern-day Nehemiah church we need to rebuild the walls around our inner cities. God needs a new generation of men and women: Ones who in one hand will carry the sword of the Lord, the gospel, while in the other hand work a practical plan (see Neh. 4:16).

When those of us from Judea and Samaria join with those faithful ones from Jerusalem with a common "mind to work" (Neh. 4:6), we will not only see the walls rise, but also the cities that were once desolate become inhabitable places once again.

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