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Empowerment Through Urban Christian Education - Efrem Smith

I am a product of the urban church and the urban public school system. I am proud that I didn't have to go outside of the city to get the ministry, education, mentoring, coaching, accountability, and standards of excellence I needed to become the empowered leader I am today. There are some that say educational empowerment and access is the Civil Rights issue of today. With all of the other challenges facing our nation right now, I will simply agree that it is one of many. Even with that stated, it is important for quality education to be delivered to urban children and youth; especially those living in under-resourced communities. At World Impact, we are committed to quality education among the urban poor and initiatives which supplement this important focus. I believe this focus ought to be a high priority for all urban churches on some level.

 

In many cities across the nation, urban families are choosing educational options for their children that lead to them being bussed to schools in the suburbs. Because of my experiences as a student in the urban public schools—serving as a basketball coach in the urban public schools, and pastoring a church that facilitated after school programs in the city—I strongly believe that urban young people should not have to leave their communities to find educational empowerment. At World Impact we have over 43 years of history providing a holistic approach to urban ministry which includes educational empowerment. Urban ministry for us has been about Bible Clubs and Teen Outreach Centers as well as Homework Clubs and the development of Urban Schools.

Our Homework Clubs provide a safe and loving environment for urban young people to get their homework done. This time also includes meals and snacks. It's challenging to learn if you're hungry and if your home doesn't provide an environment free of the distractions that keep a person from learning. World Impact's Los Angeles Christian School and Newark Christian School having been providing Christian-based, urban education to elementary and middle school students for a number of years. In recent years we have also been running the Fredrick Douglass School in Chester, Pennsylvania. Our schools include urban missionary staff serving as teachers and administrators. Why is this important? Because it means the majority of our school staff live in the communities where they teach and desire to develop a deeper relationship with urban children and their families. In many cases this type of missional and relational approach leads to both empowerment and transformation.

This kind of commitment is vital today. For many of the urban poor, their destiny is set by the third or fifth grade. I have heard it said that many urban children who are below grade level in reading and math at this point in life have a greater chance of becoming caught up in the criminal justice system (source). I realize as a Pastor, that it is extremely important for urban young people to know Christ at an early age and show strong competency in math and reading at that same stage of life.

All urban churches can play a role. You don't have to start urban schools like we have at World Impact. You can simply start a tutoring program at your church or at the nearest urban public school. Get involved on committees and attend meetings that provide you the opportunity to advocate for quality urban education and hold schools accountable. When I was an urban pastor in Minneapolis, I simply sat down with school principals and district administrators and asked how our church could serve them. I was told on many occasions how they wished that more churches would get involved.

Let us commit ourselves in greater ways to urban children and youth through initiatives of urban educational empowerment. This holistic approach to urban ministry can bring about significant opportunities for transformation.

- from Efrem's blog

 

The Church and Ferguson - Efrem Smith

As President and CEO of World Impact, a follower of Christ, and an African-American male, I have been deeply grieved by the death of Michael Brown and the events that have followed in Ferguson, Missouri. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Many young African-American lives have been lost across the country this summer in altercations with the police, gang violence, and other forms of deeply-rooted conflict. It does not help that this all occurs at a time where there is significant racial, political, and theological divides in our nation.

World Impact was founded over 43 years ago out of the rubble and smoke of urban riots. God called this ministry into the city with the missional priorities of Evangelism, Equipping, and Empowerment among the Unreached Urban Poor. At that time African Americans were the most visible sign of the need for economic, institutional, and political change in the country. Many of the systemic, institutional, and spiritual warfare dynamics that existed then connected to race, class, and values still haunt us today. It is no coincidence that the conflicts and challenges that we are witnessing are taking place in urban and surrounding under-resourced communities. There is a great opportunity for the Church, Para Church Ministries, and Urban Missions Organizations to rise up as examples of the reconciliation, justice, healing, and transformation that comes through the declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God.

To walk into this great opportunity, the Body of Christ must take responsibility and act as Nehemiah did in the Old Testament. Many under-resourced communities are the way they are because of historic White Flight, Upper Middle-Class Black Flight, and Resourced Church Flight. There are also public policy and economic factors that play a role. At the same time, we must ask ourselves if we value young African-American males enough to father them, pastor them, listen to them, protect them, and provide tough love when needed. We must also own as the Church that we have not taken seriously social ills such as racial profiling and a broken criminal justice system. I praise God for the Urban Churches and Ministries that have remained committed to under-resourced communities, but the efforts of the Body of Christ have not been enough.

I lovingly call the Church everywhere to reevaluate its commitment to reconciliation, justice, and transformation for those that need it most.

Efrem Smith, President and CEO

 

A Wedding You Won't Read About in People Magazine - Tina Busenitz

These days, weddings have taken on a life of their own. One only has to open People magazine to see the extravagance of the latest Kardashian wedding: horse-drawn carriages, private jets, lavish gowns and jewelry—all totaling over $28 million! As a missionary who regularly witnesses the devastation of poverty, I can't help but think what good a fraction of that money could have done if given to a charity or non-profit organization…but I digress. Of course, we know celebrity weddings tend to be over-the-top affairs. However, the average American wedding is quickly following suit. According to some stats, the average American wedding costs between 20 and 29 thousand dollars!

All of this was lodged in the back of my mind as my husband Daren and I made our way to Hutchinson Correctional Facility to attend a very different kind of wedding. Daren was about to officiate his first ceremony in a prison. The groom is a TUMI (The Urban Ministry Institute) student with a genuine desire to grow in his knowledge of the Lord. The bride is a Christian woman who also loves the Lord and is raising a teenage son. Daren was honored do their premarital counseling, where he saw both were excited and eager to serve the Lord together.

We followed the wedding party (a few family members and the bride) into the prison. Getting in was a long and complicated process of removing shoes, jewelry and getting visitors' passes—imagine going through security at the airport. Amidst all this, I couldn't help but notice the glowing bride. Despite all the hassles and restrictions of having her wedding in a prison—no digital cameras, having to change into her gown in the bathroom—she could barely contain her excitement. She was minutes away from marrying the love of her life.

We proceeded through several gates, the prison common area and up a narrow flight of stairs to a row of classrooms. We arrived at the classroom where the ceremony would take place. There was no air conditioning and the only items in the room were a few mismatched plastic chairs, a folding table and an old wooden podium. There were no decorated pews, no beautiful candelabras or organ music. The only photographer was me and all I had was one disposable camera. Despite all this, the wedding was beautiful because it was centered on the love of two people who had dedicated themselves to God and each other. The bride was glowing and the groom was elated. During the ceremony, both bride and groom read aloud the stories of how God had drawn them together and to Himself. Many tears were shed as they recalled the broken road that led them together and ultimately to Christ.

As Daren pronounced them husband and wife, the small gathering of family let out a cheer. Both the bride and groom had looks of utter joy on their faces even though they would soon be separated. They only had 30 minutes following the ceremony before the groom had to be back in his cell. 

During the ceremony, I couldn't help but compare this simple wedding to so many others I had witnessed. While it may have lacked some of the niceties we typically take for granted, like special music, candles or wedding cake, it had something so much more valuable: a wedding centered on Christ. The focus of the ceremony was so clear. It wasn't a photo op or something that would make a cute Facebook post—it was about two people committed to one another and Jesus Christ. To me, that's a wedding I want to read about in People magazine.

Tina Busenitz is a World Impact missionary in Wichita, Kansas.