Humanity has existed on earth for thousands of years, yet we are just now beginning to experience a kind of community that has never before existed: the slum community. The fact that one million people live in a ditch outside of Nairobi, Kenya, huddled under corrugated-tin sheets is something new to the human experience. Most slums are less than fifty years old but they collectively hold one billion of the earth’s people (14% of the world’s population).
What you’re studying now is relevant to the poverty pandemic. Because urban poverty is so complex, nearly every field of study is important to alleviating this scourge. We must come at poverty from every side. Here’s what I mean:
Art and Beauty
Our ability to be moved by a sculpture or painting, by a piece of music or a dance, by architecture or fashion, even to be enraptured by a culinary masterpiece is due to the fact that we bear a striking resemblance to the God who made the universe in elegance, artistry and grace. Art is part of our design—part of how we are made to express things for which words fail.
Our poor neighbors are as artistic as anyone, yet because of their circumstances they do not often have the capacity in their lives to produce or enjoy art. They are robbed of the joy and sometimes the necessity of engaging in artistic pursuits. It is a theft of their humanity and of the Divine mark on their soul. But when the kingdom comes, art happens.
Pieces like the above by Blu from Italy and others are featured on the blog Art in Slums.
Much of the world’s poverty today is passed down generation to generation by indebtedness, keeping whole family lines trapped in a cycle of destitution. Serving the World’s Poor, Profitably looks at how to leverage wealth creation within poor communities and keep that wealth circulating inside those communities.
Most slum communities develop without a master plan in mind. But how do communities develop? Who determines where homes and shops and bus lines are placed? Can the interplay of home, work, play and services be arranged in a way to maximize “life?” Where are the urban developers who have a heart for our neighbors who are poor and know how to involve them in the decisions that impact their neighborhoods?
Read: Slum Surveys Are Giving 'Invisible' Inhabitants a Say in Urban Planning
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). God not only draws near to us, he becomes one of us in Jesus. That is how the Father sent the Son and that is how the Son sends his followers. If incarnation is the process of becoming “real” to those whom God has called us, then our economic status must remain part of the equation as we become “real” to people who live in slum communities.
Oscar Muriu, Urbana 09
Race and Ethnicity
To engage the process of transformation in slum communities without recognizing the reality of ethnic hatred is seriously shortsighted. Mega-cities are collections of ethnic enclaves pressed tightly together. And where you find a slum community you will often find an ethnic underclass and sometimes violent ethnic tensions that run in multiple directions. We must not forget to address ethnicity as we seek the shalom of the city.
Read: Kibera Residents Wary of Ethnic Politics
We may eradicate slums, create jobs, and open affordable housing for the current generation but then be immediately inundated by the unfathomable army of children who live in a veritable hell on earth. They will bring with them into adulthood all the abuse which has been heaped on them. How will they know what it is to devote themselves to a spouse and to children, or to extend trust and acceptance to others, or to live in a way that does not take advantage of those who are weaker if they themselves have never experienced such things? These problems are difficult to unravel and the solutions even more complex. With the help of God and God’s people, there must be hope for children on the margins.
Read the LA Times blog post on the UNICEF report
Where you find poverty and poor housing, you often find sickness and disease. Any attempt to address the quagmire of urban poverty must have a basic appreciation for the health issues that wrap themselves around the poor like a python.
Read: The Hidden Crisis in Urban Slums
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