The Global Urban Mission of God in Large Cities: Through the Practitioners’ Eyes

Glenn Smith, senior associate for urban mission for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and editor of the section on urban communities for Lausanne World Pulse, recently met with five urban ministry practitioners who work in major cities such as Budapest, Hong Kong, Manila, Niamey (Niger), and Rotterdam (Netherlands). They met to discuss four questions related to the global urban mission of God in large cities.

The Practitioners

Martine Audéoud 

Martine Audéoud: Niamey
Martine has served for over twenty-five years in Africa and Haiti. She has helped coordinate urban consultations with Ray Bakke and Glenn Smith in Abidjan and Haiti and is presently in Niamey (Niger) with her family. Beside her regular teaching job at an American school, she teaches and serves as an administrative consultant at the École Supérieure Privée de Théologie in Niamey. Her vision is to empower francophone African church leaders with contextualized tools that will empower them to respond effectively and creatively to the challenges of the twenty-first century urban francophone African context.

Robert Calvert

Robert Calvert: Rotterdam
Robert Calvert holds a DMiss from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Pennsylvania, USA). In 2003, he began work on his PhD on the role of migrant churches in Rotterdam with the University of Utrecht. From 1991 to 1995 he was convenor of the Urban Priority Areas Committee of the Church of Scotland. In 1999, he founded Mamre (a foundation offering hospitality to asylum-seekers in Rotterdam) and became coordinator of the “Cities” track for Hope for Europe. In 2002, he founded and became coordinator of Partners Learning and Acting in Cities of Europe (PLACE). Calvert serves as minister to Scots International Church in Rotterdam.

Anne-Marie Kool 

Anne-Marie Kool: Budapest
Anne-Marie Kool holds a MTh from the University of Utrecht, a PhD from the University of Utrecht, and a DHabil from the Reformed University of Divinity in Debrecen, Hungary. Since 1995, Kool has served as director of the Protestant Institute for Mission Studies (PMTI) in Budapest. Since 2006, she has been a professor of missiology at the Viaroli Gasper Ref. University and director of the Central and Eastern European Institute for Mission Studies. A native of the Netherlands, she first visited Hungary in 1979 on a mission trip with her church youth group. Eight years later, Kool returned to work on her doctoral degree and serve as a “holy spy,” establishing Christian student ministries. She sees her role as “vision caster and encourager, training a team of trainers who will teach their congregations to grow into active, loving, reconciling communities.”

Mel Luna 

Emmanuel Luna: Manila
Emmanuel (Mel) M. Luna has a PhD in urban and regional planning, is a professor of community development, and is the secretary of the College of Social Work and Community Development at the University of the Philippines. For almost two decades Luna has been training Christian development workers and pastors in holistic and transformational development. He has extensive practice in community organizing, action research, participatory monitoring and evaluation, and social environmental impact studies. Specializing in community-based disaster risk management, he has published several papers in national and international journals.

David Ngai 

David Ngai: Hong Kong
David Ngai holds a MDiv from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a DMiss in transformational leadership for the global city from Bakke Graduate University of Ministry. He is also the founder and the present CEO of International Ren-Ai Foundation, which was founded in 1994 to serve the ministry in Mainland China. Ngai is honorary professor of the Institute of Rural Economic Development of Chinese Academy of Social Science of PRC and the principal consultant of the World Bank Project Office of Southwest Poverty Alleviation Office of PRC.

The Interview

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face as an urban ministry practitioner in your city?

David Ngai (Hong Kong): The extremes between the rich and the poor are stunning in Hong Kong. How do we deal with these issues? Coming alongside the poor and delivering services is critical. There are certain political policy changes and the gaps are narrowing. However, self-sustaining economic development is a challenge. The Church does not know how to handle this and is not equipped for the political issues. It could well be that a social uprising is forthcoming.

Mel Luna (Manila): The challenges in Manila are in the communities. Poverty is enormous. Pollution, leadership, and government corruption all go together. Often, the government “cuts the legs out from under you.” There are legal issues. The spirituality of these communities is evolving—people are definitely more open to spiritual realities.

Robert Calvert (Rotterdam): Pluralism in the biggest challenge. The Dutch indigenous churches have great difficulty relating to the new churches. They continue to be very traditional and may even despise new, immigrant congregations. Pentecostals, however, have embraced all this. We need open hearts and minds to this cultural diversity. In other words, we need to “put our arms around the diversity.”

Martine Audéoud (Niamey): My city presents me with four challenges. First, Islamic culture is becoming increasingly “intégriste.” More veiled women wander through the city today than five years ago. However, this Islam is definitely an African Islam, mixed with animism, and is therefore quite syncretistic. Second, modernity knocks at the door each day primarily through the avenue of television. Third, the drought across Niger brings issues of mere survival to most inhabitants. Unemployment is rampant; physical distress is everywhere. Finally, believe it or not, the expansionist threats of Devlet BaÌɁükanÌãå± Muhammer Kaddafi from Libya put pressure on us.

Anne Marie Kool (Budapest): I need patience with my city—everything is changing. Chaos on all levels is evident. On the political level there is deep polarization—infrastructure improvements make traffic unbearable.

Q: How has your city changed since you began as an urban practitioner? What is the biggest change?

Luna: My city is changing in three ways. First, there is much more civic participation—more voices independent of local government providing ministry like micro-financing. Second, women are much more empowered and are making decisions. Finally, the population of the city is exploding. In-migration from other Philippines islands to Manila is growing; therefore, environmental concerns like the quality of our air and what to do with solid waste is critical.

Calvert: Plurality… again! For the past twenty years the Southern Hemisphere has been coming to Rotterdam. Turkish and Malacan Strait Muslims are coming as guest workers. Today, the issues of second and third-generation Muslim immigrants are causing consternation within the Muslim community. Mosques in my city are hurting. The Church, however, is very insecure in her witness in this pluralism.

Audéoud: Is it changing? Niamey is a big village. It is disconnected from the world. People have given up on cities like Niamey.

Kool: The fall of communism changed everything. Bad city management has evolved; Budapest has been restored as a beautiful city. Communism had made the city ugly. The infrastructure has improved. However, the city is still “off the beaten path” in many ways.

Q: In urban ministry, we learn to thrive by taking care of inner lives and pursuing spiritual formation on a variety of levels. What do you do to stay alive in ministry in the city?

Ngai: I’ve learned to take care of myself—to connect with people and develop deep love relationships with others. Spirituality is never a role we play.

Luna: I keep examining my passion to make sure my vocation is from within. I have this deep spiritual frustration with the way things are. However, when people encourage me, when they thank me, I find hope.

Calvert: Pluralism keeps me alive! The variety of ministries and opportunities is fantastic.

Audéoud: In a city like Niamey, I survive by taking breaks from the poverty, from the pressure. Trips away. Amenities refresh me to return for the work I do.

Kool: I’m like Martine (Audéoud). I need to get away from the noise and rest. Amazingly, working in a garden helps me in my service in the city.

Q: What is the best book you have read recently?

Ngai: Paul Stevens book, The Life of Jacob, has really helped me. Jacob played roles. Yet he finally had to face up to the question God asked: “Who are you?” I am learning that.

Luna: A major piece by James Twigg, The Characteristics of a Disaster Resilient Community, has helped me to look afresh at the work I do here in Manila.

Calvert: I read a book in Dutch recently by Daniel de Wolf (who is with Youth For Christ) called Jesus in de Millinx. De Wolf discusses new churches working with young street people. He calls them “Thug Church.” When I hear people say, (like de Wolf discusses) “if you cannot put people in our churches, we are not interested,” I get motivated to look afresh at what God will do in my city.

Audéoud: I recently read a book by Miriam Adeny called A Time for Risking. She painted some priorities for women in ministry which helped me.

Kool: Recently, a little series of books have come out in Hungarian entitled Why Do I Believe? An artist, a member of parliament, and a professor of psychology tell their stories since the fall of communism. They describe their walk of faith. In turn, they provide us with a real need in Budapest—role models.

Glenn Smith is senior associate for urban mission for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and is executive director of Christian Direction in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is a professor of urban theology and missiology at the Institut de theologie pour la Francophonie at the Université de Montréal and at the Université chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti. He is also professor of urban missiology at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, Washington, USA. Smith is editor of the Urban Communitees section.