As a white male in today’s culture, I am unfortunately afforded the inherent privilege of choice in responding to the racial and social injustices pervading our culture. But as a white Christian male, a response is not optional.
Every year the Charlotte Fellows take a mission trip to Chattanooga to work with an organization called Hope for the Inner City, a cross-cultural ministry. In the weeks leading up to our trip, we read through different quotes, Scripture verses, and thinkers on the topic of cross-cultural missions and the significance of racial diversity.
As we engaged with the material, my mind kept returning to a thought put forth by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision. In his book The Hole In Our Gospel, he shares how his friend went through the entire Bible, cutting out pages that had any reference to social or racial justice. By the time he was finished cutting, there was barely any Bible remaining.
Cross-cultural ministry is messy—it takes a level of intentionality that our comfort-craving souls have trouble detaching from. It also takes time—time that could be spent doing millions of other things. Couple it with cyclical poverty, lawlessness, a soaring infant mortality rate, and a lack of basic resources, and you have one of the biggest dilemmas staring down Christianity in North America. How do we, as the church, respond?
Hope for the Inner City (HFIC) stands as a beacon in the midst of one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. For one week, our Fellows cohort was provided a much needed glimpse into the life of a holistic parachurch ministry. HFIC seeks to restore dignity in the lives of their neighbors by not only meeting their spiritual needs, but also the community’s desperate physical needs as well. Just one day spent with the folks of HFIC provided a peek into the daily opportunities created when the body of Christ lives out Philippians 2:3—in humility, considering others better than themselves. The organization invests in the neighborhood through leadership development, crisis intervention, an on-site dental clinic, and an urban community garden.
One of the more powerful moments of the trip came on our last day in the city. We had the opportunity to attend the Jobs for Life end-of-program celebration. Jobs for Life provides the tools and support in helping the inner-city residents escape chronic joblessness and subsequent poverty. As a result of the program, we witnessed the tangible results of daily faithfulness— faithfulness from the leaders of the program as well as from the participants, who took a big step towards self-sufficiency by showing up every week.
While we were able to serve and encourage our brothers and sisters ministering to the urban poor, it was the presence of the staff at Hope for the Inner City that had a lasting impact on my understanding of Christ. During our first Bible Club, an after-school program for the kids in the community combined with biblical teaching through songs and skits, our team saw a picture of the unconditional love of Christ. While one of the Fellows gave a talk on the Creation story, the kids were out of control. It seemed as if her words were falling on deaf ears without any concept of obedience. For the five minutes she spoke, the rebellion of the kids drowned out the message of hope that we desperately wanted them to hear.
As we brought up the frustration that came out of that time at the end of the day, our fearless leader throughout the week, Ace, didn’t blink an eye. He was used to the behavior, and reminded us that when there is no sense of hope or purpose, there is no reason to obey. And then we realized the irony of those five minutes—that the defiance showed by those children is a microcosm of how we all are towards the Lord. While He calls us to be His own and yearns for us to listen, we often ignore him. In reality, eternal hope is ours in Christ. This was a beautiful mystery that came to life in a gym on the East Side of Chattanooga.
Roughly five months ago, I moved into the inner city of Detroit and joined a church that is facing many of the same sad realities that HFIC faces every day. I am learning that there is certainly no shortcut to racial justice, and that cross-cultural ministry is still very hard. In fact, many days, I am wondering what I am actually contributing as a privileged white male. But I am convinced that the daily faithfulness displayed by the folks in Chattanooga is the same daily faithfulness that Christ calls us to—wherever we happen to be.