One of happiest memories of my youth happened one summer Sunday when I was 11 or 12-years-old. For reasons I forgotten, my Dad and I skipped worship that morning at my home church, Media Presbyterian Church. And for more reasons I’ve lost, he and I went together to worship at the Old Pine Presbyterian Church in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. The old sanctuary of that congregation is among the most beautiful of many lovely Presbyterian sanctuaries in and around Philadelphia. I remember worshipping God there that morning. Afterwards, my Dad and walked towards Second Street. We found an ethic food festival in Head House Square. We had lunch. I don’t remember much more than that but that time with my Dad has always stayed with me and I actually point to it as a birthplace of my concern for cities.
According to one of our mission partners, Urban Mosaic, “Over the past decades hundreds of millions of people have moved to cities in hope of a better future. Yet, every single day, over 100,000 of them end up in an urban slum. By now, 1.3 billion people live in urban poor communities. In 2050 close to 40% of the world's population will live in a slum.” Most of those billion plus people live on less than $2 a day. By 2050 nearly 75% of the world’s population will live in cities. The needs and the suffering found in cities are great; and Christians belong in the city.
My visit to Philadelphia with my father many summers ago planted something within me. I’ve always been comfortable in cities and love the vibrancy that fills the streets of cities. I love the culture and the beauty and the food of cities. I am drawn to the countless stories one finds among the people of cities.
Last week I spent a week in Philadelphia as a member of the High School Mission Team. We lived last week in a small, crowded house in North Broad Street. Two other church youth groups shared quarters with us. There were two showers for 40 people. We had minimal air conditioning and we slept in narrow bunk rooms with a few fans. It was a mission trip.
And yet . . . it was the best week of the year for me. Our group made our way all over the city from southwest Philadelphia, where we helped with a week-long summer camp to Northern Liberties where we did landscaping and cooked a meal for another mission team. I was in parts of Philadelphia where I don’t often go, like the depressed neighbors of Kennsington and Hunting Park. We also found several lovely parks, previously unknown to me.
When I was leading summer youth mission trips, I planned for our kids to go to cities every other year. On off years we would travel to more rural places in Appalachia. While the poverty in rural America is alarming and in need of lots of help, I know that our young people will more likely live in or near an American city. I want our young people to have a heart for the city. For as we heard this past Sunday, God loves cities: But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4: 12)
For a good summary of the challenges of urban poverty follow this link to the website of Urban Mosaic: http://www.urbanmosaic.net/global-urban-poverty