I received an email recently from a dear friend who shares our passion for loving justice and mercy among America’s urban poor. In her email concerning a new initiative that Doug and I may play a part in, she says this: “We, so far, have not succeeded that way because gang kids and other urban affairs simply aren’t on anybody’s agenda. Africa has made the cut with the new evangelicals, but the American inner city, not.”
I found her words blunt and sobering and true.
A lot of churches and individuals “dip into” the inner-city thing, but few become true champions for change. I have seen time and time again how churches will ultimately opt for the “mission trip” experience/mentality, choosing South America and Africa or maybe Asia to ignite their members’ passion for ministry, and largely abandon any serious focus on neighbors who may live only fifteen miles away. As another friend said recently: “We’re big on the ‘sexy’ missions opportunities around here…”
One of the sad parts of my trip back to North Park in April (other than encounters with taxi-cabs), was seeing how the focus on that campus has shifted so dramatically away from direct involvement in loving their urban neighbors. When I was around, most every student was involved in some fashion with a volunteer opportunity to directly serve the Albany Park community. Today it seems that there are a very few committed students who give themselves to a dwindling number of service opportunities. Meanwhile, the cover of the most recent Alumni magazine touts the high number of students engaging children and families in distant lands through one and two-week mission trips.
I work for a global sending agency for missions throughout the world, and in no way do I desire to see less passion and interest for our neighbors in Africa, Asia and the like. In my own experience, traveling and seeing God’s work among people He loves in very different cultures and contexts than my own was transformative in my faith journey. But as a good friend who recently traveled to Africa as a medical missionary told me: that experience overseas changes the me that lives here; if my life does not somehow reorient and respond differently to the needs in my own backyard, then I am largely a hypocrite.
I wonder what others have to think about this…