In much of my writing and speaking I try to make a case for the need for more people to relocate into the hard places - the slums and inner cities of the world.
With more than 1 billion people on earth today located in slums, it seems to me that the need is great and the Christian response is pathetically tiny.
But what if every follower of Jesus relocated into a slum or inner city? The problems of overcrowding and gentrification in impoverished communities would be made much MUCH worse. Not to mention, most of us would be miserable!
I remember a conversation with an earnest young university student after I had done some teaching with her fellowship group.
"Craig, I was moved by what you shared about God's heart for the poor," she said, eyebrows furrowed with confusion, "but I really sense God calling me to minister to young people here at the university. And they are mostly very affluent!"
"That's great." I said, with what I hoped was an encouraging nod and smile.
"But what about serving the poor?"
I explained to her that it's important to draw a distinction between living in solidarity with the poor, and living incarnationally amongst the poor.
Solidarity with folks at the bottom of the heap is not optional. It is something we are all called to as followers of the One who loved the poor and came to bring them good news.
Here are a few aspects of solidarity that we all need to consider:
- educating ourselves about poverty and injustice
- adjusting our lifestyles (downwards) to reflect the reality of poverty in the world
- finding ways to welcome and love people on the margins
- examining the ways in which we are complicit in systems of injustice
My hope for her was that she would live into her God-given passion to minister to the affluent young students, by teaching them everything Jesus taught. And that would surely include loving the poor, pursuing justice, embracing mercy, living simply and all the other ways that he taught us to care for and love others, especially those at the bottom of the heap.
I explained that living incarnationally amongst the poor, that is relocating into a poor community, is not something I think we should all be doing. Don't get me wrong, I think more of us should do it, I just don't think EVERYONE is called to do it.
So as you consider the calling God has on your life, please don't move into a slum... UNLESS, you sense God leading you in that direction. It is an important calling. A beautiful and difficult calling. But it's not for everyone.