Big cities…it seems people either like them or they don’t. I tend to be of the later persuasion. I grew up on the outskirts of a big city, Los Angeles, and lived in the heart of the 5th largest city in the world, Seoul, South Korea. I don’t find them exciting and pulsing with energy. Instead I find them crowded, dirty, loud, crime-ridden, did I mention crowded…but I’m asking God to change my outlook, especially after reading an article, yesterday, entitled The Challenge of the Cities by Roger S. Greenway. I’d like to share some of what he said.
Cities are the new frontier of Christian missions. Because of their size, influence, diversity, and needs, cities present enormous challenges. To neglect cities would be a strategic mistake, because, as cities go, the world goes. They are the centers of political power, economic activity, communication, scientific research, academic instruction, and moral and religious influences. Whatever happens in cities affects entire nations. When Christ’s kingdom advances in cities, the number of people worshipping and serving the true God multiplies.
Over the last two decades, the world has seen the largest population movement in history, that of migration from rural areas to cities. In America we tend to think we have the large cities…Los Angeles, New York. But we are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, by the year 2015, 33 cities are expected to have more than eight million people living in them and 19 of those cities will be in Asia.
To give you an example of the numbers, here are the 33 cities with their population in millions (and this only includes the city proper, not any of the wider metropolitan areas that surround it):
Dhaka (19.0), Bangladesh; Beijing(19.4), Shanghai (15.1), Tianjin (10.4), Shenyang (9.4), China; Tokyo (28.7), Osaka (11.6), Japan; Seoul (13.1), Korea; Bangkok (13.9), Thailand; Mumbai (27.4), New Delhi (17.6), Calcutta (17.6), Hyderabad (10.4), Madras (8.4), India; Jakarta (21.2), Indonesia; Karachi (20.6), Lahore (10.6), Pakistan; Manila (14.7), Philippines; Lagos (24.4), Nigeria; Kinshasa (13.9), Zaire; Cairo (14.5), Egypt; Paris (9.6), France; Teheran (14.6), Iran; Moscow (9.2), Russia; Istanbul (12.3), Turkey; Mexico City (18.8), Mexico; New York (17.6), Los Angeles (14.3), United States; Bueno Aires (12.4), Argentina; Sao Paulo (20.8), Rio de Janeiro (11.6), Brazil; Lima (12.1), Peru.
As you can see…the cities are gigantic and growing every day. Unfortunately, some of the worst suffering is found among people who have recently arrived in cities. The ghettos of New York and Los Angeles pale in comparison to what you will find in Bangkok, Calcutta or Dhaka.
Yet, God is and can do tremendous works in these cities if we will only walk in obedience to where He is calling the Church, because there is an openness to the Gospel in the cities. As a general rule, people who are recently dislocated (which describes a large part of mega cities where the population continues to grow as people from the country move to the city), and are experiencing major changes in their lives, are more open to the Gospel than they were before. New people in the cities are open to new ideas, including ideas about God and religion. And as a result, God is behind the migration of masses of people to the cities, allowing the people He loves to journey to a place where they will be more open to hearing about Him, if only people will tell them.
God is creating new opportunities for spreading the Gospel among unreached people coming from remote towns and villages. It is our task to take hold of the opportunity and carry out Christ’s missionary command. Through urbanization, God is drawing people from every race, tribe and language to places where they can be reached with the Gospel.
This is what really hit me…missionaries, instead of going to a remote rural location to reach an unreached people group, can go to cities where there are representatives from thousands of people groups, representatives that because of their difficult lifestyles are more open to the Gospel than they might have been while living in their rural homes. The opportunities in the city are tremendous if God’s people will have the wisdom and courage to reap the harvest.
But it takes sacrifice on many believer’s hearts to go to the cities. Traditionally, most mission work was done in rural areas. In the past, that made sense because most people lived in rural communities. But the biggest challenge is now in cities, and there we find a shortage of workers. Many missionaries are so disturbed by the noise and traffic in cities, the pollution, social problems, crime and crowded housing, that they prefer working in rural areas. Unreached villages certainly need to hear the Gospel. But in view of the masses of unsaved and unchurched people in cities, more attention must be given to urban centers.
God’s heart for cities is not absent in the Bible either. Urban missions began with the story of Jonah being led to Nineveh, much of Christ’s ministry was done in poor urban conditions in Jerusalem, and the missionary strategy of Paul was completely urban.
Our response should not depend on whether we prefer to live in cities or not. As it was for Jonah, and no doubt for Paul, the question is whether we will go where workers are needed and where God wants us to go.
If what I have shared has touched your heart in any way for the cities and the billions who need a Savior there, please read tomorrow as I will share some practical steps each of us can take in our desire to reach the cities for Christ.