As we were preparing to go to our regular Tuesday evening prayer meeting tonight, our son Christopher asked me, "Why do you want me to be surrounded by poor people?"
In some ways, it struck me as an odd question. When did he discover that most of the people in our congregation were poor? He has been attending the Contact Church all of his life, but only recently has he mentioned the poverty of our members. How does he understand poverty? Has he noticed the condition of the apartment complexes that we visit? Does he remember the homeless man that we used to pick up and bring to church with us when he was younger? Have his friends at church mentioned the violence that they have witnessed and experienced? Has he noticed the prayer requests dealing with drug abuse, gang violence, and suicidal thoughts? Does he feel inferior to his friends at school because he worships with an urban ministry? Does he feel superior to his friends at church because he lives more of a middle class lifestyle?
I plan on exploring those questions with my son over the next few days, but I thought it would be good to answer his question about why we are raising our son in an urban ministry.
First, Janet and I want Christopher to be exposed to modern heroes of the faith. Many members of the Contact Church (including many poor members) are true heroes. They run to help people whom others would rather avoid. They are willing to cross the yellow tape of a crime scene in order to take the good news to people who need it. They will deal patiently with the struggling drunk or drug addict. They will comfort the victim of childhood sexual abuse. They will counsel a struggling couple to remain committed to each other. They will keep showing up for the woman with emotional problems. They will provide the food, clothing, and furniture needed by someone who is struggling financially. They will tell the hard truths of the gospel in a gracious manner to someone who would rather not hear them. They will encourage others to do good while quickly forgiving them for doing wrong. They do not give up. We want our son to see such men and women in action. We want him to admire their good qualities and to try to emulate them.
Second, we want our son to be exposed to the ugly side of sin. If he learns about alcohol, drugs, and sex outside of marriage from the media alone, he may never see the consequences of living outside of God's standards until it is too late. In urban ministry, he can see the consequences all the time. He can see how difficult it can be to be controlled by alcohol or drugs. He can hear the prayers of the men and women who cry out in despair. He can see some of the problems faced by our members who have not adhered to biblical sexual ethics, from emotional problems to single parenthood to incurable and deadly diseases. While he will see God's love and forgiveness extended, he will see how sin can take its toll on men and women even after they have been forgiven. We want our son to learn to see beyond the temptations of sin to see the consequences of sin.
I understand that risks are involved in our strategy. We could fail. But we could fail by avoiding the poor also.
I pray that we succeed. I want nothing more than to see my son become a genuine follower of Christ. I want to be able to echo the words of the apostle John someday: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4).