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Bringing Hope to the Urban Poor

by | Wed, Feb 9 2022

Local Outreach to School Community
Photo by Shutterstock

Since the onset of Covid, one thing we have seen in the last couple of years is the development of missions around the world. Outreaches are being established in all sorts of cities and towns, amongst a group of people who have become known as the ‘urban poor’.

Terence Schilstra and his family responded to a call to serve the unreached, and Terrence has also written a book called ‘The Peace of the City, A Handbook for Missional Communities.’  It’s a challenging and inspiring read that reflects deeply on the plight of poor communities.

Terrence recently joined us on 20Twenty to share his experiences working with the urban poor, and the long-term impact it is having on the needs of the local area.

Terrence says that initially, his church reached out to an inner-city school in the neighbourhood where they lived. The principal felt that the greatest need was for community, because there weren’t a lot of social connections within the school.

“So as a small group, we hosted some community dinners in the school,” Terrence says. “That was about eight years ago now, and only a handful of people came out. But just a couple of years later we were hosting between 80 – 100 people every Sunday night.

Serving in the inner-city school and getting to know the community around it was key to the mission’s success. They learnt that at least a quarter of the school students would leave every spring. This was due to a large number of the school population being evicted from their homes each winter.

“That was one of the first key in indicators,” says Terrence. “We started to learn and understand more about the community. And we learned that actually one in four kids were living in poverty, without suitable housing, food, and clothing. We’ve continued to see that on a week-to-week basis as we’re connecting with them.”

If we look at the Old Testament, God laid out the law for the community of Israel. He made it very clear that they were to protect the least among them in their community. Israel was to care for the poor and the marginalized.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, He served among the least of those in the community. He went and sat with sinners and ate with the poor. That is who He calls us to love as part of our Christian life. The act of God coming in to the world to be with us is just one example of the way He is present with people.

“Many people just kind of rush by their neighbours,” says Terrence. “And the people that are often left behind are the least in our minds, the least influential in our communities. In the story of the good Samaritan, he took the time to stop and pause. He took a great risk to love his neighbour.”

In his book, ‘The Peace of the City’, Terrence talks about loving people in practice by caring for them.  The good Samaritan stops to help, and then shows radical hospitality by offering a hotel for the night. That is a practical example of the way Jesus invites us to love the least of these in our own communities.

“We need to be attentive to both the spiritual and practical needs of people,” Terrence says. “What we have learned here in our community over time is just to be present in people’s lives. Jesus came to earth and He was present with people, and we want to do the same.”

Terrence has also discovered that there is an amazing gift within people who are marginalised to help others. There are so many benefits, and so much that they can offer and teach us as Christians. It’s important to focus on a common mission, and sometimes the best thing is to grow deeper, not wider.

“Get people on board with what you’re doing,” Terrence says. “Then they can come alongside what God is doing in the community.”

“As Christians, we should never forget that we have the privilege of being invited to participate in God’s mission to rescue and restore.”

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