There are a variety of ways for those who are active in youth ministry to serve in urban and inner-city settings.
The needs and the cares of those in the city are complex and challenging. This includes quality education, employment opportunities, affordable housing, accessible transportation, neighborhood renewal where there is crime and blight, and a whole list of human care activities. And to be sure there is no shortage of programs and agencies to get involved in, as well as identifying new ways to meet real human need in the community.
And yet it is vital that we consider how to love our neighbors in the city as the whole person of mind, body and soul. To be sure we can go into a neighborhood to help with a beautification project, or help rehab a home, or show mercy through some form of human care, but it is the person that matters. It is important that we give them dignity and purpose, to see all others as those created in the image of God with value and worth and abilities.
So, while we may be willing to ladle soup at the soup kitchen to care for real human need… will you sit at the table with them as your brother or sister? Will you share the peace in the pew? I have seen youth volunteering at a battered women’s shelter… I watched as they braided the hair of a young girl who was a Muslim immigrant refugee and had an abusive father. I watched as they played games and simply loved on these mothers and children from all walks of life. I saw them later in the day sitting and talking at the park with the homeless, not only providing them a meal, but treating them with basic humanity.
To serve then is as much about developing relationships and sharing God’s love as it is to do a project to care for the poor. And above all, it is the eternal that matters most. What good is an affordable home when there is not an eternal place to dwell? What good is food and water without the Bread of Life and the Living Water? What good are clothes unless we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness? And so we bring them Jesus… and the Good News that God sees you as so loved and valuable, that He was willing to give His one and only Son that you might have not just life here and now, but eternal life.
When our youth ministries serve the homeless or the widow or the refugee or the orphan, we do so in a way that gives dignity, that lifts them out of their circumstance, that allows them to thrive… and most importantly that it is a genuine love for our neighbor, and the Word of God working through the Holy Spirit that brings them into our life together in the Lutheran church.
The Rev. Dr. Steven D. Schave is director of LCMS Urban & Inner-City Mission (UICM) and director of LCMS Church Planting for the Office of National Mission. In his work with UICM, Schave oversees efforts to boost revitalization in city ministries that reach out across cultures with the Gospel. He also oversees a national initiative to plant distinctly Lutheran churches, and in those places in the margins, he works to place network supported missionaries.