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This post is a re-publication of “Nowhere to Go… Nothing to Do”, though 9 years later, it’s acutely relevant today. Sadly, like other urban areas of the USA, our city of Durham has experienced 10 shootings with multiple people injured and 2 deaths over the last few days. City kids, like always, need places to go and something to do, outta da hood.

Richard and Michael are pre-teen city kids who live, as many say, in da hood.  They have nowhere to go – and nothing to do.  It’s not because they don’t want to. Actually, every time I talk with them they hint around hoping I’ll take them somewhere.

Here’s the usual conversation

“Hey guys, what’s up?”
“Nothing.”
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing.”
“Where are you going?”
“Nowhere.”
“Why?”
“Because — there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do.”

Richard and Michael are just two of many city kids who feel trapped and imprisoned inside their own neighborhood. It’s understandable — there are bars around their apartment buildings.  These bars are not intended to keep intruders out, but to slow down and trap criminals during police pursuits. Richard and Michael’s neighborhood is infested with drugs and crime.

“I hear the ball bouncing outside,” Richard says, “and I want to play.  But mom won’t let me go to the courts ‘cause stuff’s happening out there — you know.” Yet in the midst of fear and distrust, Richard’s mom and others like her are receptive to Bible clubs and events for their children.  Especially when those events allow their children to spend time outside of the neighborhood.

Over the past thirty years, the opportunity to reach city kids has grown immensely. Taking advantage of what God can do, we should make the most of every opportunity to teach them the Bible, but we should also remember that they want to do other stuff too.

The truth is — city kids get talked to, yelled at, and fussed at most of the day.  We need to spend time with them — doing what they want to do and sometimes going where they want to go.  Our activities do not have to be religious in nature all the time, but the outcome will be!

Each time we go somewhere together kids ask me questions, like, “Have you ever been in prison?” or “Is that lady your girlfriend?”  Then, they tell me things about themselves and their families.  Instantly, without a prepared Bible lesson, we have a divine teaching moment.

Where to Go and What to Do?

Sporting Events

Take them to a high school or college game, organize a neighborhood pick-up game, enroll them in a league, sponsor them for a sports camp, or organize a sports outreach.

I took a group of twelve Asian and Hispanic city kids to a Duke – UNC basketball game once. Perhaps it was because both teams wore blue and white, but these kids did not even know which team was Duke or UNC. These are some of the best teams in the country by the way. The kids loved it! It was not so much the game, but the snack bar, the picking at each other, and embracing the cultural differences between each other.

After the game we all slid down a big hill to get to our car. This all paved a way for an open discussion about making fun of others and how Chinese were different from Mexicans. I was able to share God’s plan and purpose for all people.

The outing opened up a unique court to play on. The kids were the players and I became their coach for a few hours. Numerous outings and activities are available for the teacher looking for a classroom that connects with city kids.

Arts/Entertainment

Couple a Bible club with an art class, organize/plan a mural project for a community wall, enroll kids in a cultural arts center class, or produce your own drama, dance, or a creative art form for presentation in the community.

Food/Shopping

Bake cookies, a favorite food, watch a movie, take them to the mall or open-air market and have a “looking day”, or walk down the street with a group of kids to the nearest convenience store.  Give them each a couple of dollars to spend while they hang out.

Special or Surprise Activities

Ride horses, go fishing, or rake leaves.  These would be things (stuff) that city kids typically never get to do.

UNC students serve in Durham before spring semester begins

A group of UNC students sacrificed their last few days of winter break to develop a heart for the city of Durham and serve with CEF in under resourced communities. RUF campus ministries, led by Daniel Mason, gave of their time, energy, and heart for 15 hours each day the week of Jan. 4-7. The group experienced a bus tour of Durham, tutored at the Youth Life Center, and helped kids at the Liberty St. Apts complete a photography project they began last March.

UNC student assisting child writing a caption for the photos he will submit to the kid's club project.

The students were usually divided into three teams, which participated in prayer walks, Good News Club flier distribution, and began service projects to be completed during the MLK Day of Service Jan. 17th. The 15 Tarheel students were able to meet, listen, and Q/A with community, business, and ministry leaders at Joe’s Diner in Old East Durham. The next day they meet leaders from World Relief, DurhamCares, Carpe Diem, and BlessDurham. After a full day and Good News Club® on Friday, the group reflected over their experiences with CEF staff at the Tobacco Road Cafe’.

This and other current information can be obtained at http://gospeltokids.org web site of the CEF Durham Area chapter.

A call for unselfish collaboration within the regional Church

This 4-part article has the essence of the following statements:

The citizens of our city like others have nurtured division and isolation, which resemble the words of the late Sen. Bobby Kennedy, “…men with whom we share a city, but not a community.  Men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort…”

Yet, I will state, recently I’ve seen ordinary people doing extraordinary things empowered by Almighty God… reconciliation and biblical transformation is happening when ordinary people (called the Church or Body) work together in collaboration with each other and God.

There is lament, a plea, and hope for contemporary renewal — radical, but authentic  faith within the Church as I state in part 3 and 4: 
I see emerging a generation and community who thrives on social relationships and longs for authentic experiences with God…  What if, as Jesus prayed, we ministered together as a unified Church — poor with affluent, mega with storefront, older believers with younger… ?

These are the ordinary people doing extraordinary things who are also saying, Enough is enough! Stop the bleeding.  “Stop dividing the Body… severing its limbs and discarding some of its body parts…”

Final edition: Part 4 with entire article for your convenience

Don’t you hate it when a good working relationship with someone falls apart?  It seemed so right and possessed so much potential.  There were extraordinary moments of success.  You may have experienced an extremely difficult time when you supported each other.  There was a unique bond.  However, life’s circumstances or a mindset change divided you and destroyed what could have been.

Part 1 – A Current Reflection

Now at 56, I’m often reminded of significant relationships that were cut short.  I also think of current friendships that have enormous potential for doing great things together.  I ask myself, How did I fail in the past?  What could I have done differently?  How can I foster sustainable relationships today?  I believe these are some of the same questions the Church should be asking itself today on its mission.

Some of the answers or at least a few thoughts to get the discussion started can be found in the words of a current friend, Chris Rice, “A divided world needs people with vision, spiritual maturity and daily skills integral to reconciliation.  The church needs fresh resources – a mix of biblical vision, skills in social and historical analysis, and practical gifts of spirituality and social leadership – in order to pursue reconciliation in real places, from congregations to communities.”

People and reconciliation are key words in Chris Rice’s statement.  But no person, organization, or church congregation is equipped to supply the needed resources described.  Ordinary people can do extraordinary things empowered by Almighty God.  Thus, reconciliation and biblical transformation happens when ordinary people work together in collaboration with each other and God.  Even if our friends say it in different ways, the essence of these words is what everyone wants to see happen in our city… people working together to solve our mutual problems.

Part 2 – A Past Reality

Unfortunately, history of the Church and our society reveals a different story.  Sen. Bobby Kennedy eloquently stated this reality about people, relationships, and violence in America during a 1968 speech only a few weeks before his assassination:

“…We learn at the last to look at our brothers as alien.  Alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community.  Men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort.  We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.  Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done too great… to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours…”

I agree with Kennedy and others who lament over the relational abandonment of our society.  Bluntly, it means divided, separate, or indifferent we will fall, but the Gospel gives hope that together we can stand.  What would it look like… what blessing awaits the Church if it were to live together in unity (Psalm 133) and functions as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16)?

As another friend and author, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, recently quoted a 9th century Benedictine monk, “We must always be on the lookout for Christ’s twofold coming, the one when he comes day after day to stir our consciences, and the other when we shall have to give an account of everything we have done.  He comes to us now in order that his future coming may find us prepared.”  Will the Church, which includes every Christian and every congregation, heed these reminders and follow the countless examples of what it means to live and minister in a divided world?  Yes, we must remember the reality of our past if we’re to progress going forward.  Where do I see this happening?

I see emerging a generation and community who thrives on social relationships and longs for authentic experiences with God.  This is an expanding population of radical and revolutionary Christians willing to live and minister in this simple way — as Jesus taught and modeled.  A correction has begun in their hearts and a plea for action is upon many of their lips.  Will this restoration impact the Church?  Will their cry be heard in our city?

Part 3 – A Future Restoration

Therefore, It’s because of this reality and our history that I’ve asked the Church a series of questions over the past two years: What if the Church at Durham took seriously its responsibility for taking the Gospel to city kids and their families?  What if for 10 years a collaboration of churches and ministries comprehensively served the most physically and spiritually needy or under-resourced communities in Durham?

And by the way, these are the communities with no voice − where crime and evil have dominated life for way too long − where kids are not expected to succeed and adults are viewed with little value in solving its own problems.

What if peculiar doctrines of Scripture and Christian service in the community no long brought name-recognition or spiritual arrogance?  What if the Church set aside its differences and used its diverse strengths for compassionate and intelligent ministry to our city?  What if, as Jesus prayed, we ministered together as a unified Church — poor with affluent, mega with storefront, older believers with younger, etc?  These questions scream out for answers from each person as well as from the congregations that make up the regional Church at Durham.

Part 4 – A Lament, Plea, and Hope

Durham needs those willing to enter the pain and suffering of its people… those with a vision, which has been turned into a passion of service unto the Lord.  These are the ordinary people doing extraordinary things who are also saying, Enough is enough! Stop the bleeding.  Chris Heuertz stated in a 2010 sermon while in Durham, “Stop dividing the Body… severing its limbs and discarding some of its body parts as if they were insignificant or unimportant.”

A Lament for the Church

Oh Lord the bleeding has gone on for way too long.
I repent of my disobedience and contributing to the
lack of unity within the Body.  Forgive me oh God!

Your arm is not short nor weak to fulfill Your prayer
that we will be one as You and Your Father are One.
Oh Lord, so many do not believe in You because they
see the Church divided and separated from humanity.

Oh Lord, cleanse us of this great sin. Bring us together.
Create in us a pure heart and unify our actions oh Lord that we may join You in the work we are called to do.  Bring glory to Yourself as we glorify You in our unified expressions of the Gospel: justice, mercy, and humility.

A Plea for Action

Lamentation, restlessness, and a plea for action from the Church typically expresses radical Christians.  We have an authentic faith, but need a developing community to facilitate authentic or biblical expressions of the Gospel.  In possessing the greatest truth, we must show the greatest love, the heart of Christ, to accurately express the Gospel in words and deeds.  This is the greatest proof, which the Church and our city needs.  The proof that God really did …so love the world… that God’s plans are …not to harm you, but plans to give you hope and a future.  Our city will clearly understand this when it sees the Church believing, loving, and working together collaboratively with Christ-centered unity as it engages the culture of our city.  This is the proof Durham needs to welcome  Christ as God of our city.

Community-based kingdom building and collaborative ministry were clear in the New Testament where 39 of 40 explicit powers of the Holy Spirit were displayed in local communities.  All but 2-3 miracles of Christ were done in the community marketplace where people lived… not in worship gatherings or meetings. The proof of God through the Church is expressed in communities.

This proof is diminished if the Church is divided and segregated into non-collaborative congregations.  However, the Church is strongest and biblical when it collaboratively builds Christian community within local communities of our city.  There are several local initiatives gaining traction which show the greatest proof in Durham.

A Present Hope

When times are tough and a biblical response is needed, the Bible says, “…but the people who do know their God shall be strong, and do great exploits.” Daniel 11:32 Hope is present in Durham.  God’s people are initiating and sustaining many Gospel-centered efforts.  Here are some examples of the most collaborative initiatives building Christian community and hope in our city.

Pray for Durham is an initiative to have every street prayed over everyday by hundreds of concerned Christians for spiritual air supremacy over the city.  Durham Ministers in Prayer and Transformation Durham are meeting weekly and focus their prayer on Durham and not personal needs.  CEF, Reality Ministries, Urban Hope, and the Youth Life Foundation are working with children and youth in schools and neighborhoods daily.  Bull City Outreach ministers to the homeless and hungry; Frontlinez Ministries holds monthly block parties; and JusticeMatters, a Christian non-profit, provides pro-bono legal services to those living within the same communities where the above ministries serve.

In addition, ABCD is an emerging group of intermediary Christian community developers, which empowers community assets while providing a supportive learning environment, resources, and tools to those who transform communities.  The last two examples of hope are using a web-based approach to uniquely connect the regional Church and the city to each other and opportunities to serve its fellow-man.  DurhamCares is helping our city love its neighbors and engage in serving each other, building relationships across cultural boundaries, and transforming our community through committed involvement.  Bless Durham exists to be a communication hub for the Body of Christ and bless Durham through the strategic coordination of efforts and relationships within our community.

Many of these church, marketplace, and non-profit ministers are part of an urban network, which meets regularly to seek diverse ways of collaboration in ministry and share its resources for the development of Christian communities in Durham over the next 10 years.  The Church working together will stand… develop many initiatives like these, and do even greater exploits.

Over the past two years I’ve been captivated by the Scriptures and conversations with other Christians about the reality of authentic revival and spiritual transformation of our city. The discussions were usually filled with passion and restlessness. Leonard Ravenhill says in Why Revival Tarries, “The two prerequisites to successful Christian living are vision and passion, both of which are born in and maintained by prayer.”

A deep longing for a fresh move of God was evident in those people. I began to intersect with others from many perspectives and walks of life, which had passion, vision, and compelling prayer lives. Truly a revolutionary spirit was emerging in Durham.  Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole called this a “deep restlessness about what it means to live faithfully in a broken and divided world” in their book, Reconciling All Things. Embracing this reality I began to investigate my ministry history with CEF as well as my own life.

Reflection

Despite the great work of churches and ministries over the years, why was I not sensing an imminent revival ― a change in apathetic attitudes outside or inside the church? Why was there little evidence of biblical transformation, in which I believed in and hoped would come? Was it too late? What was missing? Was I even thinking clearly or biblically?

I had no conclusive answers for these questions. I self-examined my own vision, passion, and prayer life by asking: Was I contributing to this spiritual malaise? Could in fact, our ministry be partly responsible for God withholding His blessing to our city? But during this struggle, I was soon reminded in another discussion, “Do not mistake God’s presumed inactivity as His lack of involvement or interest in our city.” His Words in Psalms 11-19, Isaiah 57-61, Mark 8, Luke 10, and John 4 as well as from trusted friends began to bring me needed wisdom and a clear understanding about what troubled me. I was also blessed with how to evaluate our ministry teams and an action plan to implement  ― it was simply ten biblical expressions of God’s Kingdom.

Realization

After the evaluation, questions were answered like: What was missing?

1. Focused prayer for spiritual transformation of the specific communities where we ministered.

2. Godly relationships with the indigenous people living in those communities.

3. A comprehensive, collaborative, and biblical ministry plan that fostered sustainability and Christian community development.

Evangelism with follow up and some special outreach events had been our plan through Child Evangelism Fellowship® for many years. It was done well. 80,000 lives were touched and heard the Good News and many of those received Christ as Savior during the past 17 years. But it was incomplete. Even when we conscientiously followed Micah 6:8 and Mark 16:15, I realized we were  falling short of expressing the Gospel as Jesus had instructed His disciples to do when He sent them out to every town and place where they were to go.

Refocus

I realized the focus of Jesus ministry and the heart of God was on people. Their worth, dignity, and living situation dictated ministry. My vision was sharpened on how God valued the people we were reaching, even in the most resource-challenged communities of Durham. As our team refocused, no longer were the people seen as objects or goals of our ministry, but essential conduits and leaders for the transformation of their own communities.

During the past two years, both ministers and residents have been enriched when they prayed, blessed, listened, learned, and ate together. This biblically relational approach has allowed us more effective evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development. Spiritual transformation becomes evident when these ten expressions of the Gospel are implemented. Now everything CEF Durham does will be community-based and guided by these 10 Keys of the Kingdom.

Are you ready to go inside? Good! But there are a few things you should know. First, this is not going to be a sightseeing tour of inner-city ministry. Second, ministering to city kids is real and risky but it places you where God is at work. Third, read Psalm 107:23-24 because it God saying, “This is the essence of life and the way ministry should be.” If you’re ready… These are the core lessons to learn and apply, which are necessary for the journey some call: “inner city ministry.”

Lesson #1

God is good in the hood. Many kids and their families who live in inner-city neighborhoods are aware they have extreme problems. They wish things were different. Many of these families respect God’s Word and believe in prayer. They respond to Christians who bring them help and hope. Often their response is temporary. But yours must never be.

Lesson #2

If you care enough to take the love of Christ inside you will have to prove it by loving city kids and their families. In Grace Matters, author Chris Rice quotes Lem Tucker, “He who has the greatest truth must show the greatest love, which is the greatest proof.” You must prove your love over and over for others to know you really care. Many well-meaning Christians have done great harm in the city by making promises to kids then leaving and never returning. If you love your city and the families living there you must keep your word.

Lesson #3

Your primary focus will be to build personal and ministry relationships. These relationships take time to develop and must be biblically based on equality, grace, trust and endurance. This is accomplished by visiting city kids and their families regularly in their own neighborhood. Soon your consistent presence will prove to their families that you care.

Lesson #4

Effective ministries to urban kids have learned that in order to impact children you must visit them.

  • Visits connect you with the child’s world—“You’re not afraid.”
  • Eighty percent of the children who attend your events come because you visited—“You let me know.”
  • Visits expand your personal ministry to each child—“You care about me.”
  • Visits project an image/testimony in the community—“Thank you for helping my kids.”

Spencer got a home visit every week. Soon he and his sister started attending Extra Good News, an inner-city Bible club in Durham, North Carolina. The faithfulness of his bus commander to visit, encourage and pray with the family led to Spencer becoming a teen helper, an active church member and later was involved in summer missions.

Lesson #5

Try these proven guidelines to successful visiting:

  • Set a time every week to visit—your program should revolve around weekly visitation.
  • Use a block-by-block approach to reach more kids.
  • Keep a record of information on each child and his family.
  • Visit every kid but spend extended time with selected individuals.
  • Be prepared to share the Gospel, listen or lend a helping hand.
  • Pray for children, parents and family needs.

Because a children’s worker followed this plan for weekly visitation, Nikki received help when she said, “My mom is always angry, I don’t know what to do.” Jade, a ten-year-old, had a heavy burden after watching the video Left Behind. She told her teacher, “I don’t want my mom to be left behind. Will you come tell her what you told me about Jesus?”

Floodgates for ministry burst wide open when you visit. Will you add regular visitation-home contacts to your city kids ministry? If so, you’ll take your game to another level.

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