Introduction to Series on Ministry with Slum Communities

This month, we begin a year-long series on different ministries among the 924 million

 Working Definitions and Facts 

“Urban poor” defined: Those living on
less than US$1 or US$2 per day
(Millennium Development Agenda).
Those living with inadequate income,
shelter and access to infrastructure
and basic daily services. Those who
have an unstable asset base, little to
no access to their rights as citizens
and are voiceless and powerless in
their communities.

Number of urban poor: est. 2 billion

“Slum community” defined: Communities
with inadequate access to safe drinking
water and sanitation, poor structural
housing, overcrowding and insecure
residential status (UN-Habitat).

Number of people living in slum
est. 924 million

people who live in slum communities across the globe. These residents now represent some thirty-two percent of the world’s urban population. Each month a different urban ministry practitioner will lead us through a different community. Some communities will reflect places of hope; others will reflect places of despair. In addition to the more commonly known slum communities near Nairobi, Manila and Cairo, you will read about lesser known ministries among slum communities in places as different as Cap-Haitïen, Haïti; Luanda, Angola; Bucharest, Romania; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. These practitioners will help us understand the context and the different biblical themes and texts that inspire their actions. We will learn how they do ministry with the poorest of the poor. We will listen to their stories of both personal and community transformation.

Poverty is a broad concept touching economic, social, physical and spiritual realities. It affects peoples’ identity and includes social exclusion, absence of harmony in life and well-being, deprivation at every level of life and one’s ability to participate in the welfare of the community. But as Jayakumar Christian points out, the causes of poverty can be traced to “inadequacies in the worldview.”1 A worldview can be a powerful instrument in perpetuating chronic poverty. All cultures and societies have within their worldview construct aspects of fallenness. True Christian spirituality cannot be divorced from the struggle for justice and care for the poor and the oppressed. Spiritual formation is about empowering Christians to live their faith in the world.

Poverty is not a new subject in missiology. Publications on slum communities and mission with these geographical areas go back to William Booth’s 1890 classic urban text, In Darkest England and the Way Out (London: Salvation Army). The box below introduces you to some excellent  literature that is readily available on the subject. In the pull-out box above you will find important definitions and numbers.

We begin this month with Cite Du Peuple—Cap-Haitien, Haiti.

Worthwhile Books to Consult on Slum Communities

  • For an introduction to urban missiology, I would recommend the urban reader, The Gospel and the Urban World. This “book” travels as a CD-ROM and contains seven hundred pages of some of the very best articles on urban ministry that have been printed in the past three decades, including good articles on slum communities. You can consult the reader and order it online at
  • The 2003 United Nations global report on human settlements, The Challenge of Slums, (London: Earthscan, 2003) is a must-read for everyone interested in knowing more about the subject. It is a thorough study with plenty of charts and details.
  • Scott Bessenecker has written the very readable text, The New Friars (Downers Grove, Illinois, USA: InterVarsity Press, 2006). This book underscores principles and tells wonderful stories of the men and women who are doing ministry with slum communities around the globe. He also edited the book, Quest for Hope in the Slum Community (Waynesborough, Pennsylvania, USA: Authentic, 2005). This is a very good collection of articles on the numerous challenges of ministry in these communities.
  • Planet of Slums by Mike Davis (London: Verso, 2006) is an excellent exploratory book on the subject of slums. It is quite thorough and very readable.



1. Christian, Jayakumar. “Powerless of the Poor: Towards an Alternative Kingdom of God Based on the Paradigm of Response.” Doctoral thesis. Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasedena, California, USA, 340.

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.