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Why Urban Ministry?

Today I had lunch with someone who was trying to get to know me and he asked me, “why urban ministry?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question. I don’t think I had any choice really, but someone not knowing me or my background might assume that I did. I know some great men and women of God who did not come from the city, or the inner city, but have been called to it and are being greatly used by God. I can’t pretend that my particular background makes me effective, or that it has somehow resulted in a unique holiness that would allow me to be powerfully used by the Spirit. I believe God gives gifts the way he wants them, not that God goes looking for people with gifts and hopes they will respond to his call. I believe he gave me a set of gifts and in his mercy gave me a set of experiences, and training, to prepare me for what I do. I believe that without holiness and faith and a real of work of the Spirit nothing significant gets done, unless God is going to do something in spite of what we are. If you think of me pray for that, for holiness and to be used by the Spirit of God. Urban ministry of course is my life. It is how I came to Jesus in the projects of Newark, NJ. I hold that as a unique present from God, as well as being raised in a single parent home. These are my credentials, “street cred” if you will. As I tried to answer the question I began to feel passion rise within me, as I told him we all have to own what is happening in our cities, in my city. This is my despair, that as Americans, as Christians, we don’t own it. That certain zip codes of our city (Chattanooga) have some of the highest rates of violence in the country, that we have a high unwed pregnancy rate, high infant mortality, high obesity and diabetes. That after all these years of ministry in Chattanooga (over forty) we still have the same intractable problems in some of the same neighborhoods. And we don’t own it, as if we can hide in our homes and neighborhoods and pretend these are not my problems, this is not my city, this is not my country. At this point I could no longer speak because I realized I was about to burst into tears and I just stared at the wall for a few minutes. It was a surprise to me as I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know just reciting these things would move me, hurt me so. And I was glad it did and I am unashamed to feel it. I am ashamed I have done so little and seem to be so ineffective. Then I see faces in my mind, of those who are coming to church, those who are serving Jesus here, those who are given work, and food, and education, and Jesus. Then I am glad again, until the next time when I think where we have not come, where some still are, what still remains undone. It was a good conversation because we were working on another organization to help the poor, the sick, the ones in need. I wish we would all cry a little bit, and do a damn bit more.

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