Reading my friend Aaron Smith’s book ‘Thriving in the City’ has helped me to process some things that I have been struggling with in the last few months on our church planting journey. These same things are causing tension for our neighbours as they try to move forward in their faith journey.
In Aaron’s words, a healthy way of understanding urban poverty is to see it as a distortion of God’s original design. It is one of the negative effects of the fall of humanity. This is not meant to disparage the poor themselves. Yes the urban poor have their fair share of sins but the existence of urban poor communities is an indictment of all society. Urban neighbourhoods are not beyond redemption.
We by the worlds standards are wealthy people. We have many choices available to us that are simply not available to our neighbours. The local schools are under resourced and overwhelmed with behaviour issues, violence in schools, family breakdown, drugs and other issues. Its not easy to prepare kids for college. Teenagers have to work to support their families, to get the bills paid each month. We know some teenagers who work 5 evenings a week after school. Crime is sometimes an easy way out. Some people choose to smoke because it helps to keep them calm and helps with hunger, it’s cheaper than buying food. Processed and fast foods are cheap and readily available. Sometimes homes are not even recognised by the city because the landlord won’t make efforts to meet local building codes. Homes can be at risk of being destroyed. Its very difficult to get out of the cycle of short term thinking, going from one crisis to the next, if you think your house might be knocked down.
I am learning that the only response to these types of issues is to humbly offer emotional and practical support to help people make better but more difficult choices, and by joining with them sometimes to make more choices available. Also prayer and fasting – a lot of interceding. It’s easy to rush to judgement, to become impatient with people. It’s hard to persevere and go back to the same people and keep believing something different for them, especially when they have disappointed you by making another poor choice. This type of transformation takes time but our neighbourhood is not beyond redemption.