From Burning Cities to a Burning Bush

Before or after reading this blog post, please read Exodus 1-4 and Nehemiah 1-2.

The initial ministry efforts of World Impact were birthed from the Watts riots in Los Angeles 50 years ago. A few years later World Impact became officially incorporated as an urban missions organization. This knowledge is helpful to understand because we can’t separate urban missions – which includes indigenous leadership development, the facilitating of urban church planting movements, and demonstrating compassion and justice – from what is going on in the city of Baltimore right now. If you research what led to the Watts riots in the mid 1960’s you will see the deep connections between what happened then and what is going on in Baltimore right now. We cannot act as if what we are seeing, both violent and nonviolent protest against police brutality, is something new. Under-resourced urban communities burning in the United States is not something that just came on the scene in the 21st century. Burning cities, class and racial divisions, broken power structures, and domestic poverty unfortunately should not surprise us. Can the Church simultaneously see burning cities and burning bush opportunities from God to advance a Kingdom of truth, transformation, reconciliation, justice, and eternal life?

World Impact exists because we saw not only Watts burning, but also the burning bush of God calling us to evangelism, discipleship, and holistic ministry among the urban poor. The burning bush of God is focused on both sin from an individual standpoint and systemic sin reflected in dysfunctional and broken power structures. The Black Church exists today because in the midst of the systemic sin of slavery, there were slaves that were able to see the burning bush of a God who saves and liberates. The Black Church was also a great pioneer of nonviolent Christ-centered resistance during the Civil Rights Era that brought both spiritual and social transformation. There is an evangelical and a Black Church heritage of seeing and acting upon God’s burning bush in order to transform lives and communities. We need this type of burning bush action like never before from the Church as we seek to advance the Kingdom of God.

Additionally, we must see those young people who are disenfranchised, angry, and lost as our children. We must missionally run to them with the love, compassion, truth, and grace of Christ. We must see past the anger to the potential of what they can become in Christ. This is the beginning of true urban ministry. In the spirit of Nehemiah, we, as the privileged (which includes me on some levels), must face our responsibility in why under-resourced communities have been how they are for so many years. This is not a process of self-shaming, but collective self-reflection so that we can work together to rebuild our cities based on biblical principles. This collective self-reflection also includes work to address not only broken communities but broken power structures and systems. World Impact has many initiatives deeply connected around these issues and I hope that you would join us and other urban ministries on the front lines to advance the Kingdom of God and empower the poor and marginalized.

Finally, we should acknowledge, pray for, and support the many local churches and Para Church ministries in the Baltimore Area working to bring peace and, as I’m writing this, are cleaning up and talking with people on the streets. We must also pray for pastors who are speaking in both prophetic and loving voices to police, community, and political leaders to bring about the systemic changes that are needed. There is an opportunity for the whole body of Christ to make a transforming impact.