Introduction: Ministry with the Urban Poor in Nordic Climates


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
communities:
est. 924 million
 

One rarely connects the urban poor as we are defining it in this series (see the statistics in the side bar) with the Northern Hemisphere. However, as we are in the middle of winter in the north, I thought it would be appropriate to ask two practitioners who work with the urban poor in Canadian cities to contribute to our series.

As we have walked with practitioners over the past six months into Cap-Haïtien, Luanda, Bophal, Calcutta, Cairo, and into the Roma communities in Romania, we have seen that poverty is a broad concept. It touches economic, social, physical, and spiritual realities. It affects peoples’ identity and ability to participate in the welfare of the community. It includes social exclusion, absence of harmony in life and well-being, and deprivation at every level of life. However, 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. And as we have seen, 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.

As you hear from Cornelius Buller and Michel and Lynne Monnette, you will see that economic poverty is not the primary theme. In fact, compared with the first six cities we have studied, this should not even be an issue. Yet this is why good missiology with a holistic understanding of poverty allows us to examine communities through a different lens. Buller discusses youth ministry with Aboriginal peoples from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the Monnettes describe a new initiative in Canada’s oldest poor neighbourhood in Montréal, Québec.

As I write this introduction from Montréal, it is negative twenty-two degrees Celsius (negative seven degrees Fahrenheit). It is the same temperature in Winnipeg. We have had over two hundred centimeters (over six feet) of snow in Montréal already this winter. As you read the stories of these marvellous practitioners imagine what it is like to minister with people facing these climatic realities. In Nordic cultures all over the Northern Hemisphere there are urban poor living in substandard situations facing harsh climatic conditions. It is important to learn from their realities.

Endnote

1. Christian, Jayakumar. “Powerless of the Poor: Towards an Alternative Kingdom of God Based on the Paradigm of Response.” Ph.D 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.