Reflecting Jesus in our Cities

Wednesday, September 9, 2020/Categories: Conference News

I can recall an incident in my undergrad where I dropped the small mirror I had bought to use for shaving. It broke in two places, but the back cover held it together so it was still useable. However, for the rest of the semester, I had to turn it at different angles to see my face.


As with my broken mirror, the city’s true identity is also obscured. On the one hand, “cities have gotten a bad rap and are known as resource hogs,” [i] seen as “health hazards, desperate places, shantytowns replete with environmental risks, and crime.” [ii] On the other hand, “a city is firmly established as the center of influence in trade, politics, and power.” [iii]


The United Nations estimates project that “by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities.” [iv] Dr. Skip Bell notes, “The city is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for the church to respond with love and care to urban populations’ challenges. Christians should bring their influence into urban centers as they live, work, play, socialize, and worship in their neighbourhood.” [v] We need to ask ourselves, are we viewing the city as an opportunity, or are we fleeing in desperation?


As we look at the cities and their daily challenges, it is hard for us to imagine we were created to reflect God’s image. Like a broken mirror, these challenges obscure our vision of ourselves. Genesis reminds us—“God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27, NIV). Our identity as bearers of God’s image is foundational to our understanding of the work of urban mission. Let me explain.


You may know the Latin words missio Dei, meaning “mission of God, or the sending of God. This concept originates from the Hebrew word salah and the Greek word apostello, which simply means to send.”[1] The question then arises, what is God sending us to do? 


While we are sent to do many things as a church, I will focus on two. First, we are sent to represent God’s image in our communities; second, we are sent to restore the image of God in our communities.


Sent to represent: 

Dr. Grant LeMarquand notes that the “…mission begins prior to the fall. The mission of God, the mission of humanity is not primarily about fixing things—it is first of all about representing the life of God in the world in all that we do.”[2] Paul adds that we are Christ’s ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). The apostle Peter echoes this sentiment, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV). Our mission thus begins by representing God’s image to the world through our daily lives.


Sent to restore: 

Second, the church has been sent to restore God’s image in our fallen world. The prophet Jeremiah delivers God’s command to Israel: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV). Even in captivity, God was using Israel to bless the city of Babylon. Jesus echoed this notion when describing His mission on earth, a mission we are called to emulate. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:18-19, NKJV).


Fast forward to 2020—a year of unexpected turns and challenges. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the global shutdown of our church buildings, businesses, schools, and other service areas. We have seen an increased threat of domestic violence, mostly against women and children.[3] We have witnessed unfortunate incidents of police brutality and racial injustice against the black community; names like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and many others are etched into our collective memory. We have seen a blaze of outrage and global protests as people demand systemic change to a construct designed to oppress and marginalize Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. With all that is happening in the world around us, what does the missio Dei look like in our cities?


Ellen White is resolute on our need for urban mission. She writes, “The Lord is calling upon the men and women who have the light of truth for this time to engage in genuine, personal missionary work. Especially are the church members living in the cities to exercise, in all humility, their God-given talents in laboring with those who are willing to hear the message that should come to the world at this time.”[4] [E1] 


She continues, “The neglected work in our cities testifies to the lack of Christ-like energy among believers. Let all awake to the need of establishing Christian missions in the cities.”[5]


Due to the dynamic nature of cities, people and culture, she stresses the need to be creative and innovative in ministry: “Means will be devised to reach hearts. Some of the methods used in this work will be different from the methods used in the work in the past; but let no one, because of this, block the way by criticism.”[6]


The notion that God is not in a community until we have an Adventist Church is misguided and arrogant. God is already working in those communities, whether Adventists are there or not. David Bosch says it best, “The missiological concept, missio Dei, acknowledges that mission is primarily the initiative and prerogative of God, and that the church is called to participate in this endeavor with the Triune God.” [7]


Please don’t miss this point—God is already working in our urban spaces. Moreover, communities with 2,500 or more people can be classified as urban areas.[8] By this definition, urban areas go far beyond the downtown core or a busy city; they can include outlying towns and suburban neighborhoods. We must consider how we can partner with God in this extensive work.


Adventist Community Services shares with us four levels in which we can fulfill God’s mission to our communities. 


Level 1—Through relief: This involves directly supplying food, clothing or housing to someone in urgent need.[9] We observe that most churches operate at this level. Relief is also known as compassion work (see Matthew 25).


Level 2—Through individual development: This includes transformational ministries that empower a person to improve their physical, emotional, intellectual, relational or social status.[10] Individual development could mean teaching job skills, hosting classes on parenting or financial planning, or mentoring children and young adults



Level 3—Through community development: This renews the building blocks of a healthy community, such as housing, health care and education.[11]


Level 4—Through structural change: This means transforming inequitable political, economic, environmental, or cultural institutions and systems.[12] This stage is where long-term, sustainable changes are made for communities to experience equal access to that region’s services and opportunities. Highlighted here is the work of social justice, where churches can call for systemic changes in policing, job security, housing policies and education reform.


The Bible says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NKJV). The missio Dei is a sending into all the world, and God wants us to partner with Him in this call of restoration.


I eventually changed my broken mirror and saw my face clearly. God’s mission for us as His church is to transform the city by restoring God’s image through our presence and our service. By doing this, we see a clearer vision of God in our lives and our communities. This is urban mission.


Author: R. Orlando Pule, Director, Family Life

[2] Grant LeMarrquand, “The Mission of God in the Biblical Story,” https://www.tsm.edu/wp-content/uploads/LeMarquand%20-%20From%20Creation%20to%20New%20Creation.pdf (accessed August 31, 2020)

[3] Jonathan Forani, “Domestic violence increases with ‘stay home’ pandemic response,” CTV News, April 6, 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/domestic-violence-increases-with-stay-home-pandemic-response-1.4885597 (accessed August 31, 2020)

[4] E. G. White, Medical Ministry, pg. 332 

[5] E. G. White, Review and Herald, February 4, 1904, par. 6.

[7] David Bosch, 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 392.

[8] https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/urban-area/

[9]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55003b33e4b0542f7571ba64/t/556f084be4b0cca786c883fd/1433339979694/ACS_Project_Application.pdf, pg. 11.

[10] Ibid, pg. 11.

[11] Ibid, pg. 11.

[12] Ibid, pg. 11.

 [E1]The structure of this sentence is slightly confusing. Consider incorporating sections of the text into your own sentence instead for clarity.

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