Jesus did not command his disciples to pray for the harvest – that was already plentiful, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (Jn. 4:35). He asked his disciples, rather, to pray for the workers needed to attend to a ripe harvest (Luke 10:2). The call upon Christ’s disciples to pray for the release of workers, as well as to tend to the harvest themselves is clear.
In a world that is 50% urban, and a church that is still catching up to this reality, the need to pray for Christian leaders to respond to a new urban world which is inching toward a planet where 1/4 are slum dwellers has never been greater. There are some signs of hope emerging alongside some significant challenges. From these hopes and challenges we must form calls to action. Over the next three blog entries I’ll be exploring the hopes, challenges and actions required to release rich and poor alike into kingdom transformation in the slums.
Signs of Hope
Youthful altruism: In the west there is a noticeable rise in the concern for justice, the move toward activism, and an interest in addressing the thorny issues surrounding desperate urban poverty. This is being expressed in a variety of ways, including scores of young people re-locating to high crime, high-poverty locations within western countries. In Canada, for instance, an organization called MoveIn has mobilized more than 200 households of mostly young people to buy or rent property in some of the most deprived neighborhoods in the country in just three short years. Organizations like the Eden Network in the UK and The Simple Way in the US are seeing a similar movement of altruistic young people re-locating in order to “be the change they want to see in the world.”
Majority World rising: Likewise, Majority World believers have mobilizing over the last 30 years to address the situation in slum communities. Dr. Viv Grigg, Associate Professor at Azusa Pacific University, estimates that there are now 50,000 pastors and missionaries from among the urban poor who are ministering in slums around the world, where there were very few 30 years ago when he moved into a Manila slum. My friends Nigel and Trish Branken who live in a South African shantytown, say that not only are affluent youth are expressing interest in experiencing life and service among the poor, but some poor youth who have been able to move out of their shantytown are returning in order to work for Kingdom transformation. Studies done in the 80’s and 90’s reported very few Protestant churches located in the slums of the developing world. It would seem that phenomenon is rapidly changing.
The Testimony of History: I take courage in the fact that God has consistently sparked revival and change on the margins of empire. Whether slaves and women in the first century, Welsh coal miners in 1904, or 21st century Dalits in India, God loves to move powerfully among those deemed “least” by those considered “greatest.” God has also been happy for the last 2,000 years to mobilize young people who've not yet made their fortunes and entrenched themselves in this world to places considered geographically, sociologically, culturally or spiritually distant from their places of origin. St. Francis of Assisi was 26 when he began to attract other youth to his radical life of simplicity and service. Teresa of Kolkata, Amy Carmichael, St. Patrick, and most of those in the nineteenth century Student Volunteer Movement were all quite young when venturing overseas. The history of the “Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven,” is a history of the poor, the excluded and the marginalized in partnership with the young and the restless.
As we consider the massive challenges of a Planet of Slums, these are things which give me hope that the Lord of the harvest is on the move.