Global Sporting Events and the Urban Poor

Next month the Summer Olympics will be held in Beijing. In this issue on ministry with slum communities we are highlighting the poor in Chinese cities.

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

Dr. Peter Foggin of Lanzhou University in northwestern China explains the massive and rapid urbanization that is going on in China today. When you compare his figures with global figures (see sidebar), you understand the magnitude of the changes taking place in the twenty-first century. Two practitioners tell stories of the plight of the urban poor. Y. Lee describes how the Olympics are affecting the poor in Beijing.

The story of God’s Spirit at work in China in general, and in cities in particular, is being increasingly documented. I invite you to read Rob Moll’s informative article in the May issue of Christianity Today. However, it is far from obvious how the whole Church will take the whole gospel to the eight hundred thousand slum dwellers in Beijing. These mangliu are caught in the hukou system (see Foggin’s article for details). They are captives within the exploding global economic and sporting system that has taken over China’s cities. Due to the precarious situations of these congregations, it was difficult to put these articles in this section of LWP together.

United Christian outreach efforts at Summer Olympics go back to Montréal in 1976. At the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, Canadian church leaders decided to work together for the games of the XXI Olympiad to be held in Montréal. The 7th Lausanne Occasional Paper, “Cooperating in World Evangelisation,” documents these initiatives. Ramez Atallah of the Egyptian Bible Society has recounted how his involvement in the executive Committee of Aide Olympique (the organizing committee) influenced his life. I orchestrated all the youth outreach and saw firsthand how the Church united is a powerful force used by the Spirit to touch lives during a global event.

But we all saw what happens to the poor in a city during these events. As the games of the XXIX Olympiad draw near, pray for the united outreach. Even more, pray for the poor who suffer because of events like this.

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.