If you didn’t grow up in a poor urban neighborhood, it is difficult to know what it is like to live in one. And if you don’t know what life is like in these neighborhoods, you may not feel any responsibility or incentive to help them. When students and leaders sign up to be a part of one of Hope for the Inner City’s Urban Ministry Teams, they are signing up for a week-long cultural immersion with the goal of forming them into advocates for justice and mercy. Over the course of seven days, Urban Ministry Teams will be exposed to the daily struggles of the inner-city poor while gaining a vision for racial reconciliation and spiritual growth.
Urban ministry teaches you something that you cannot learn by staying home.
Recently, a group of college students came to Hope for the Inner City to work in the East Lake projects. These were students who had been raised to stay out poor neighborhoods. They were taught to lock their doors when driving past dilapidated houses. They had a preconceived notion that neighborhoods like East Lake were dangerous places that should be avoided. At the end of the week-long project, after meeting and working with the people of East Lake, these students were amazed, and also frustrated.
These students were amazed by the loving, friendly, and deep personalities that they connected with during their week in Chattanooga. They were, however, frustrated that they had been lied to about the types of people who live in neighborhoods like East Lake. While the residents of East Lake are victims of systemic, racial injustices, these students realized that they too were victims of a kind. They were victims of the lies they had been told about the people from those neighborhoods.
It is easy to enter a week-long urban ministry project with the mindset that you are there to bring value to the neighborhoods. However, if you enter with an open mind, a loving heart, and a willingness to learn, you will actually gain something irreplaceable: understanding. No other experience can replace the understanding from the empathetic connection that is gained by simply going out and sharing a space with someone else.
Urban Ministry addresses the immediate needs of the community.
Nearly a quarter of the homes in East Chattanooga were built between 1950-1959. Many of these houses have since fallen into disrepair because the residents who live there can’t afford the upkeep and don’t have access to necessary services. Hope for the Inner City believes in Sweat Evangelism. Simply put, Sweat Evangelism is creating a relationship through work. For example, you paint a resident’s house and, while doing so, you interact with them and ask them about their life and other ways you can help them. Chances are, neighbors nearby will also ask for assistance, and kids in the neighborhood will want to talk and help out. Through working, you address an immediate need of the community, while building relationships and gaining an opportunity to minister into the lives of others.
Urban Ministry provides hope for forgotten neighborhoods.
Many of the neighborhoods in East Chattanooga have been forgotten and purposely passed over for a wide variety of reasons. For example, some areas of East Chattanooga have been a food desert for the past 5 to 6 years, meaning they don’t have a local grocery store. Additionally, one-quarter of East Chattanooga residents don’t own a transportation vehicle, which makes it a challenge for them to make it to the store. And, even when they do make it to the store, many lack the money to buy enough food for them and their families. Nearly 30% of East Chattanooga households earn less than $10,000/year and a staggering 28.7% of residents are unemployed, compared to a 4-5% unemployment rate in the rest of Hamilton County. Some might see these discrepancies as an economic issue, but it is a justice issue. The predominately black residents of these neighborhoods do not have the same access to goods and services as others; they have been forgotten and neglected.
For the church of Jesus to be present, urban ministries act as a visible symbol of his care for those that the world would say are not valuable and has seemingly forgotten. Urban ministries provide a way to be a flag for Jesus. They allow the redeeming love of Jesus to be spread through hard work and relationships. Urban ministry also allows the eyes of those doing the work to be opened to the reality that the people they may have been ignoring are really just like them, made in the image of God.
The best way to understand what God is doing in urban neighborhoods is to visit one. Find out how you can bring a group to Hope for the Inner City and experience this cultural immersion.
Statistics on our Neighborhoods (Data from American Community Survey: 2011-2015 Estimates):
|NEIGHBORHOOD(S)||Avondale, Boyce Stn., Missionary Rdg., Wheeler Ave.|
|· Racial Make-up||
|· Largest Age Cohort||45 – 64 years old: 31%|
|· Year Home Built*||22.4% built 1950-1959|
|· Rent v. Own||
|· Monthly Costs*||
Rent: 55.7% – $500 – $999
Mortgage: 57.4% – $500 – $999
|· 35% or More of Income toward Costs*||
|· No Vehicle*||25.2%|
28.4% of households – Less than $10,000
21% of households – $15,000 – $24,999
· Unemployment Rate
4-5% (US), 4-5% (Hamilton Co.) (2016)
· No HS Diploma
· College Degree
1800 ROANOKE AVE
PO BOX 11584
CHATTANOOGA, TN 37406
A 501(c)(3) Organization