Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” Acts 18:9, 10.
But there’s no way I can move to Tokyo or New York or Sao Paulo-I’m stuck here at home.” Aren’t we all? So here are two simple strategies to mobilize yourself for God’s cities.
Strategy 1. Begin with the city closest to you. It’s hardly as exotic as Rio, but it’s a city close to home. If God’s heart broke for Nineveh and Jerusalem, He has a heart for your city, too. As today’s text today reminds us, God has many of His people inside our cities. How many is many? Enough for Jesus to have given His life, of course. And that means we can no longer sit comfortably, obliviously by on the outskirts of a suburb and pretend that’s all there is. We can rejoice that the GI generation conquered “inner space” and the boomers “outer space” and GenXers “cyberspace”-but it’s time to move to the top of our agenda, the final frontier to be conquered for God: “urban space.” Let’s be honest. We’ve done well, nationally and globally, in the villages and in the country, and not too badly in the suburbs. But our record in the cities is abysmal. They are yet unconquered for Christ and His kingdom. That’s why a new generation is desperately needed to seize this last frontier for Him! New pioneers, new missionaries of the third millennium. No need to cross the sea or even the country. Begin in the city nearest to you.
What can we do? For some, to be faithful to the God of Jonah’s calling will mean transferring membership from a beloved home church to a needy inner-city church. For others, it will be the radical vision of planting a brand-new church in one of those urban centers. For still others, it will be the organization of teams of volunteers to begin inner-city street ministries (praying door to door, starting neighborhood story hours for children). Our university congregation has embarked on all three of these efforts. The point? We can talk about the great needs of the world’s great cities, but if we aren’t doing anything to make a difference with the city God has planted us closest to, what good is it? So why not call up a friend, another member of your congregation, your pastor, and invite somebody-anybody to join you in seeking the “my people” God has in that city of yours?
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. 2 Cor. 8:11, 12, NIV
A second strategy for assisting God in reaching the cities of earth may be easily overlooked. It’s the strategy for when you can’t go. It’s essential even when you can go.
Strategy 2. Give for the cities around you. The practical reality is that everyone can’t transfer their lives to a city. Family obligations, career choices, professional responsibilities, educational pursuits, financial reasons-there are obviously legitimate and manifold reasons we can’t all become missionaries to an inner city or an urban center. But the fact remains that all of us can give-we can all make a financial investment in God’s mission for the cities of earth. In fact, the success of our mission in our home churches is directly proportionate to our investment in the global mission of the kingdom. The phrase was “reflex influence.” Remember when your doctor took that silver mallet and “whacked” your knee to see if your leg would reflexively jerk (which it did, making you feel rather foolish and out of control)? The doctor’s action produced a corresponding reaction on your part. Giving to the wider mission of the kingdom works the same way. Investing in city missions far away from us actually has a reflex influence on the success of our mission in our own community. “Externally focused churches” (as one team of writers puts it)-churches that focus on the-wider needs of the world around them-experience reflexive growth and vitality. It’s certainly counterintuitive, since saving your resources for your home church would seem the prudent response. But in God’s kingdom it’s the reverse–if you want to save yourself, you must lose yourself.
So what would happen if you began to designate some of your offerings for inner-city missions? Can’t join a street ministry? Help fund one. Can’t volunteer for a soup kitchen? Why not help support one financially? Can’t go on television yourself? There are a dozen worthy radio and TV ministries seeking to reach earth’s cities in this generation. “Urban space” is our last frontier, and you can help fund its conquest for God. “Let your heart be tender and your vision dear; see mankind as God sees, serve Him far and near. Let your heart be broken by a brother’s pain; share your rich resources, give and give again” (The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, no. 575).