"We have a vision to MULTIPLY an
URBAN WORKER FORCE in our urban centres.
WE ARE ASKING the Lord of the harvest
to SEND LABOURERS to work in our urban trenches."
Jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael had a song “Big Town Blues.” A phrase he sang paints a vivid picture.
“I’m in a bargain basement with a sidewalk skyline.”
Children growing up in the core of urban centres may look out the window of a basement apartment and see the sidewalk.
I want to invite you to be part of the sunrise on the sidewalk skyline. Over 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban centres in major population hubs. The gap between the haves and have-nots is a growing chasm. The rich get richer and the poor get by with less.
If Canada were the rich man in Jesus’ parable, then the urban poor are our beggar by the gate. You may not see them, though. We have great security systems, geographic barriers and locked-up churches to keep the beggars out on the street.
City planners and business people work hard to create presentations on the major downtown streets. BIAs (Business Improvement Areas) are co-operative efforts between City Hall and the local business people of a given neighbourhood. Both want to see taxpayer dollars spent to beautify and improve the face of the city. When people go downtown, they need to feel safe, visually intrigued, and interested in spending their money. Sculptures, murals, architecture, and green space combine with public transit systems, traffic routes, entertainment and parking garages to give people a pleasant face on the city. To the chagrin of some city fathers, the homeless, the mentally ill and the ill-equipped also show up to share the space. Police, social services and missions dot the streetscape to facilitate the neediest and the most unfortunate.
When you get behind the “movie set facade” of downtown, you encounter the real “downtown” where the poor live.
I pastor New Song Church, historically one of Windsor’s tougher neighbourhoods with its share of social challenges. My building is an old bar on a dingy street. There is more plywood on the commercial buildings of my neighbourhood than there are windows.
When you go on the back streets and alleys of our cities, you discover living conditions not visible to the passerby. In Windsor, the AIDS committee has a needle exchange program that collects up to 200,000 used syringes per year from drug users exchanging dirty needles for a clean kit. That is 200,000 needles annually that would have otherwise been dropped in alleys, parks and garbage containers.
A friend of mine who used to work for Compassion Canada was with me when we visited a couple who lived in the neighbourhood. The living conditions were deplorable. The furnace was not working, the bathroom lacked hot water, and the clutter and filth were overwhelming. My friend remarked afterward that it was worse than the poverty he had seen in developing countries, where they at least managed to keep things reasonably clean and tidy.
When you get to the real downtown, there are children like Kenny, who, at 10 years of age, has tried crack and steals everything he can. Kenny goes with his mom in the wee hours of the night to make drug deliveries. Kenny drops by the church to drink coffee. Kenny came to camp with us and still needs Jesus.
When you go downtown, make a detour. Behind the facade you will find the real downtown. Pray for the sun to rise on the sidewalk skyline.
Kevin Rogers is the Urban Centres co-ordinator for Mission Canada, the national mission agency of the PAOC. He is also the founding and lead pastor of New Song Church in downtown Windsor, Ont. You can read more of Kevin’s musings at The Orphan Age: Loners Learning About Community at http://www.revkevinrogers.blogspot.ca.
AT WORK IN THE NATION
Ejay Tupe is one of Mission Canada’s most recently appointed workers, placed in the urban core of Toronto, and brings years of urban ministry experience to the team. Ejay has ministered to countless marginalized youth and young adults, journeying with some to help them better their housing, employment and education situations. It is Ejay’s desire to bring Christ into every setting he finds himself in. Poverty and injustice are very visible in Toronto’s urban core. Every day the rich, the poor, and the middle class intersect and interact, unaware that in God’s vision, each belongs to the other.
Many care about the condition of a city and the activities that happen therein, yet few are able to bring a daily positive influence to the lives of those who find themselves either on the streets or in challenging life situations. So many need hope for tomorrow, and a hope for living found in Jesus. For this reason, it is crucial that Mission Canada place workers in these gaps of our nation—people who know the city well, have the networks, and can bring life-transforming change to those who need it most. Ejay is here—in the heart of the city—because we must be there.
Nine cities. Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hamilton. More than half of Canada’s population live in these nine cities. And, because a majority of immigrants choose to settle in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, over 35 per of Canadians live in these three cities alone.
Cities have unique social and cultural dynamics and share common issues: population density, social and ethnic diversity, economic disparity, immigration needs, the meshing of commerce, education, and the arts, homelessness and poverty, wealth and prosperity. Life in the city core is complex. “One size fits all” rarely applies to ministry in the urban core.
Because four out of five Canadians live in a metropolitan area, Mission Canada needs more workers in Canada’s cities. We need fresh expressions of the gospel. We need more Christ followers who are willing and available to share daily life in meaningful ways with those who call the city home. We must be about engaging the stranger on the street and finding ways to do life together. People are everywhere in the city. Jesus always found Himself among the people, and so must we, integrating daily life with ministry and mission.
Who will go to the urban core of Canada’s cities? Who will innovate? Who will pray? Who will embed themselves for the sake of those who need to see Jesus lived out? Will you? If interested, connect with us at Mission Canada, the national mission agency of the PAOC, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear what God may be saying to your heart.