August 2013 

The Next Big Thing (Part 2)
By John Ashmen

Earlier this month, in Part 1, I pointed out that homelessness has worked its way into the everyday vocabulary of rescue mission leaders. It’s front and center on the stage we’re viewing. But as history has shown us, at some point, we are going to rotate past homelessness to the next big thing.

To be clear, helping people find temporary or permanent accommodations—as well as helping people who are addicted find release from bondage—will always be part of what rescue missions do (even though many of the regulations coming at us today seem to be saying that the government doesn’t want rescue missions in the crisis-sheltering business). But missions that build their future primarily around the cause of ending homelessness could be limiting their options when life starts to move on.

So what might we be moving toward?

Dr. Ray Bakke’s general session remarks at our Orlando convention play on an infinite loop in my head: The world is migrating. Those in the southern hemisphere are moving north; those in the eastern hemisphere are moving west. More than half of all mankind now lives in cities. “World cities”—those made up of hundreds of ethnic groups (i.e., countries within cities)—are increasing in number. The planet’s major metropolitan areas are becoming the catch basins for the problems plaguing humanity. The foreign mission field is no longer overseas only; it is also in our own cities.

Ever since the Orlando event, it seems that confirmations of these occurrences are continually coming across my desk. A recent NPR report told about the more than 45.2 million people who were in situations of displacement around the world as of last year. A Breitbart headline less than two weeks ago read: “Middle Eastern and North African refugees are streaming into European Union countries fleeing widespread unrest, and many may soon try to come to America.”  I saw in the New York Times one week ago that America now has about 1.5 million immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who differ vastly from African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved. And if Roy Beck’s controversial immigration projections are correct, given current policies, another 300 million people will come to live in the United States in this century, doubling our current population.

With that in mind, consider what sociologists call the ethnic succession theory. It says that ethnic and racial groups moving to a new destination will likely settle in urban areas until achieving financial parity with certain economic classes already in those cities. In other words, cities are where the sojourners settle until they are stable and able to move into more desired residential areas. Then the next new ethnic group will settle in where the previous group was. The bottom line is that cities are ground zero for immigrant acclimation. And as I pointed out in the epilogue of Invisible Neighbors, most rescue missions today are not thinking about the already morphing makeup of cities in the twenty-first century, and what they might consider doing to play a major part in welcoming strangers—something else that makes the radical hospitality list in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25.

I recently came across a book by Nathanael Wolf titled The Gatekeepers (Faith Library, 2005). It further piqued my fascination with the concept of city gates. Wolf writes: “In the land of the Bible, where cities were walled for their defense, the gates were marketplaces. Because so many people had to pass through them, they were the most pro?table places to conduct business. [While visiting] the gates of old Jerusalem, I was impacted with so many powerful images. It was like taking a journey back in time. You could see resources and commodities of every imaginable sort being transported through the city gates. Flour for the bakers and leather for the cobblers were being conveyed on old wooden carts, much as they would have been thousands of years ago.

“In the Bible, city gates refer to the physical entry points where the resources and supplies ?owed into a city. When the book of Proverbs says that, ‘beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, [wisdom] cries aloud’ (Prov. 8:3, NIV), it now meant to me that wisdom could be found in the marketplace, the places where the resources ?owed.”

What if the missions as we know them today were to become city gate ministries of tomorrow? God has certainly placed us in the right locations to cry aloud with wisdom— to give direction to refugees and sojourners, to offer services for the poor and powerless, and to provide fellowship for the lonely and abandoned.

Maybe you are thinking that rescue missions already do this. My responses is that more and more missions are broadening their perspectives when it comes to their growing cities, but across the board, the majority have not fully embraced the idea of being their cities’ welcome centers for the strangers and strugglers who are coming and going.

Overseas, Berlin City Mission has welcome centers in all of the major train stations. When those who are lost (in every sense of the word) arrive, the mission outpost is where they can go to get their bearings and a cup of cold water. It is also where they will be encouraged and embraced with the love of Jesus.

Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham, Washington, is a progressive ministry that seems to serve with eyes wide open in this regard. Instead of having a day shelter that is just a place for street wanders to watch television, there’s is a hub of activity where 15 different agencies have set up shop. When you come in, there are no TVs drowning out conversation. You’ll find something of a U.S.O. atmosphere. Multiple board games are going on at various tables. In corners of the room, young and old have their stuffed chairs arranged in small circles, and they are engaged in conversations. Laughter sounds frequently. Children play nearby with age-appropriate toys. At the far end of the room, several traveling musicians are learning each other’s tunes on their guitars and harmonicas.

The always-staffed information counter at Lighthouse is more like a concierge desk. People are welcomed and their questions are answered. Maps and pamphlets are handed out freely. Those just arriving can learn what door or staircase to take for an eye exams or an AIDS test, to get fitted for a coat or a pair of shoes, to sign up for an English course or driver’s ed class, or to talk with a job recruiter or spiritual counselor. Radical hospitality abounds. Wisdom cries aloud. Leviticus 19:34—"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."—is exemplified.

Are others talking about immigration being the next big thing? World Relief recently formed a task force that has brought together 25 different Christian denominations and several nonprofit organizations to begin to instruct followers of Jesus about how to welcome strangers in a biblical manner. They are also exploring how to offer DHS training and legal services to undocumented workers. AGRM has been asked to jump into this task force. I’ve said yes.

Please do not hear me saying that you need to start moving your mission’s focus away from helping the homeless (and/or the addicted) in your community. Stay at it, but remembering my statement from Part 1: Rescue missions are not about connecting people to houses so their physical poverty can start to come to an end. We are about connecting people to a pursuing personal Savior so their spiritual and relational poverty can start to come to an end. And once that happens, the path to sustainable, self-supported living is more clearly marked and more brightly lit.

What I am saying here in Part 2 is that God may have an even bigger role for missions to play in our cities in the days ahead. We have to be attuned to the times and ready to rotate.


We Still Have a Chair for You at the CEO Summit

There is still time for you to join the crowd of CEOs registered to be in Panama City Beach for the CEO Summit, September 10–12. So far we have 60 people who will be on hand for this time of dialogue about deep issues.

Learn more about this important event, and register today!

Worldwide Forum Program Is Now in Place

April 22–24, 2014, will the first Global City Mission Network Worldwide Forum on the campus of Cairn University, near Philadelphia. Approximately 40 city mission leaders from around the world are being invited to participate and discuss what God is doing in their cities. Every delegate will be able to share his or her mission’s accomplishment, concerns, and opportunities, and participate in a universal idea exchange.

A limited number of seats—18, to be exact—are available at the table for AGRM-member CEOs. If you would like to be considered, contact Christine Matos. Invitations will go out in early September.

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