Greetings from Kansas City, Missouri, USA. I am attending a Regional Leadership Conference and have been invited to be a part of a panel focused on “Mission to the Cities.” It is such an honor to speak about this topic along with many urban mission leaders and General Superintendents as part of the panel.
Each one of us will be giving a short introduction to our ministry context, and I wanted to share with you what I will be saying at the opening of the panel:
Good morning! ¡Buenos días!
I’m a Nazarene missionary in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. My family and I have lived in five different countries in the last 15 years, and now we are coordinating an initiative called Genesis. Genesis seeks to bring a new beginning to the big cities of the Mesoamerica Region, which is ironic, because just 8 years ago, I hardly cared about urban mission.
We began our missionary career by living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and San José, Costa Rica: two huge cities with lots and lots of need. And, of course, as a missionary, I was passionate about winning the world for Christ! But during that time if you were to have asked me why cities are important to God, I would have stammered and faltered. Aren’t all places important to God? What’s the big deal about cities?
It wasn’t until 2011 when my family and I moved to Panama City, Panama, that I started to get it. You see, we went from living in a house to living on the 19th floor of a high-rise. The view was amazing. Because of a healthy fear of heights, I did not go out on our balcony often, but one night I did. I thought about all those lights representing one person, or even one family. And in that moment – I don’t know where it came from, but – for the first time I stretched out my arms and I whispered the prayer that now I have prayed a thousand times: Lord, give us the city!
About that time, our region was researching where we, as a Nazarene Church, were strongest and where we were weakest, geographically-speaking. We found out that 79% of our region lives in an urban context, but only 29% of our Nazarenes are there! In other words, in the most populated places, we have the fewest Nazarenes. We realized that ministry in our region had to be ministry to the urban core. We have spent the last eight years training urban missionaries and equipping our existing churches to creatively reach their cities. Maybe later we will explore how urban ministry needs to look different compared to rural and suburban ministry.
Some of you are wondering: “But that’s your region. What does that have to do with us?” Well, the statistics in the USA and Canada are a bit different. This region is actually the most urban of any in the world. Nearly 9 out of every 10 people in these two countries lives in a city of 100,000 or more!
As a Church of the Nazarene in the USA/Canada, we are not quite as rural and suburban as the Mesoamerica Region. Still, did you know that Nazarene membership is .17% of the total population in our big cities? In other words, not even 1 of every 500 urban dwellers in Canada and the USA is a Nazarene.
That may be more statistics than you were bargaining for. So let’s simplify it.
We have a lot of work to do.
And that work must be in the cities.
As author and pastor in New York, Tim Keller, says, “We don’t need churches only in cities. We need them everywhere there are people. Therefore, we need them especially in cities.”