Part 4: Think Gobally, Act Locally: Teaching Your Urban Youth to See the World

By Leneita Fix

About four years ago a good friend of mine from The Acts 2 Ministry in Roanoke, VA called me with a proposition. “Do you think that I could bring a couple of our inner city youth, to serve in your city for a week?” She had this brilliant idea to help students to see that often times the city, is just that the city. In order to move her youth beyond themselves, she thought that it might help to get them serving somewhere close by.

It worked!! They came and helped out with a program that we were running in a local public housing project.

I remember one afternoon some of the small kids were teasing another “friend” for being poor. They were taunting him because he didn’t have any food to eat. He was dishing “their business” right back at them as the other children probably didn’t have much more. They were just better at hiding it was the reality. That night the youth from Roanoke and a couple more of us were sitting around the table. They were recounting the story and how they didn’t really know how to “break it up.”

Without really paying attention, I just started to sort of “get on my soapbox.” about how so many are just trying to survive. Rather than genuinely helping each other, they are taught to “protect” themselves by not letting “anyone know their business.” If they could just share in each other’s needs then maybe they wouldn’t feel so alone. I looked over to find one of the teens sitting stoically with a single tear rolling down her cheek. Compassion overwhelmed me. “What’s wrong?” I asked. She replied, “There have been so many times when I have gone to bed hungry too. I know how they feel. I have to help them.”

This same young woman went on to spend two summers with my family. She raised support and came down to serve by working in local days camps in inner city Florida. Next fall she will go to college. She wants to work in urban ministry with children. She wants them to see that Christ is bigger than their problems.

Aslan Youth Ministries in Red Bank, NJ has been taking urban youth to Haiti for missions’ trips for over 13 years. There is story after story of youth going to the country and coming back radically changed. One young woman said to me once, “I used to think it mattered that I didn’t have the right sneakers. Then I met people who have no shoes at all. What I love about Aslan is the time that they take to prepare the youth for the trip. Understanding that these are youth who have often never left their city block, much less ride in an airplane, they help to get them ready physically and emotionally for the trip. Everything, right down to the reality that they will be hot and eat goat meat is covered. They take youth to help with building projects, work in day camps with children, serve in small medical clinics and work with children in a local orphanage. Youth who have gone on this trip have returned inspired to be Army chaplains, nurses and missionaries.

These are two examples of ways that you can help your youth to physically go and do something. Try partnering with a city to see if you can switch off taking youth to serve in another location. Youth Works takes youth to serve on building projects in rural areas, and internationally as well. Contact Aslan, as they are familiar in taking urban youth international. Even if you are not interested in Haiti, they can help you with fundraising ideas and ways to prepare your students to go abroad.

The key to remember is that the problems of the world are not going to be solved overnight. Don’t panic. Slow down. The goal is to help students to think about the world beyond their front door. Really, it as an issue of the heart. Poverty usually has little to do with economics. Helping them to move from “survive” to “thrive” will help to shape them truly into the next generation of leaders taking the world for Christ. Go “glocal!” Help your youth to be local while caring on a global level. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is life and joy.” Proverbs 13:12 (NLT) In a world so full of hurt part of seeing dreams come true is to show youth that the Lord has a purpose and a plan for those all over the world.

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