Several years ago, I was supervising a campaign group putting together an outdoor vbs activity at a playground in the Birdsville Community in Mobile, Alabama when I approached a nine year old girl with a permission form for her mother to sign. I briefly explained to her the who, what, when, where, how and why of the event, and upon her excitedly expressing her intent to attend, I then explained she had to have a permission form signed by her mom. The girl told me that her mother was not at home, so I asked her if there was another adult at home; due to the rarity that there is a male custodial parent in the home, I asked her if her grandmother, older sister, or aunt was at home? She said her grandmother stayed with them, and was probably there. That was fine with me, but I really wanted her custodial parent to sign the form. I asked, “when will your mother be home?” With her head hung low, she replied, “in about six months. She’s in jail.” I paused for what seemed to be a decade, but in reality about ten seconds, and I said, “your granny can sign the permission form.” I so much wanted that nine year old little girl to have a reason to raise her head high; His Name is Jesus, and He can make all the difference in the world!
Welcome to the inner city culture: a transitional culture …
Can we make a difference? God can, if His people will make His presence known in the many lives like the little girl in the above story. The Lord’s church has so much hope to offer if we would just take the time and effort to reach out with the Good News of our Lord and Christ; can you imagine how much the little girl’s life would change if we taught her mother the Gospel? Because of our continued presence in the inner city community, lives are being changed by the Gospel!
- A seventeen year old young man makes a post on Face Book at 11:00 pm at night: “they’re shooting right outside my front door.”
- A child comes home from school to see their eighteen year old brother being taken away in a police car; he’s been arrested for armed robbery.
- Two teenagers; a boy and his sister receive bad news: their father, who they have been so close to and love dearly, will be spending 25 years to life in prison for second degree murder.
- Almost all of the children that have rode on our buses over the years have someone in their immediate family that has been incarcerated.
- Many of our children can not tell you where their biological father lives; some do not know who their daddy is, or have never seen them.
I know we can agree that the life of an inner city child is no trip to Disney Land. The inner city is filled with crime, poverty, chaos, and dysfunction; inner city high schools see as much as a sixty – plus percent drop out rate; most households are single parent homes and the typical household yearly income of many families is less than $8,000.00; families get evicted, father figures in the home are non-existent or highly inconsistent. An inner city child may find themselves in an emergency shelter, living with family members other than their mothers, become separated from their siblings, or end up in juvenile detention or reform schools. It is very difficult to establish an identity in the inner city culture, but it is extremely easy to get labeled. What is the distinction between the two? Identity is something that is established by who the person is; a label is placed on a person by what others perceive them to be.
Establishing an Identity Through Christ
One of the things I picked up on is that inner city kids make a tremendously big deal of telling everyone they can what date their birthday is on; I know, kids from all over probably make a big deal out of their birthdays, but for a child in the inner city it is the one thing they have that is their own that no one can take away. Shoes and clothes get stolen by someone, or borrowed by siblings all the time; Christmas gifts get stolen, if there are any, often by a drug addict, or they become a part of the community property shared by siblings; many inner city kids will tell someone who they stay with, but cannot tell one where they live; for that matter, I have asked many inner city children over the years to tell me their address so I could take them home on the bus or van route, and they would use landmarks, or point in a general direction. They can not identify, even with what many others may take for granted; a place we call “home”.
However, it is a home that we offer them at the Mobile Inner City church of Christ! They can have an identity through Christ; they can become Christians! So can their mothers, fathers, siblings, and other members of their family. They can go from a life of hopelessness into a living hope; the dynamics of their life can change. An inner city child in a transitional culture can have the consistent presence of God, the church, teaching from the Bible, AND the hope of Christ. This fellowship has now become the community they can thrive in, and have a sense of belonging, identity, security, structure, and discipline meted out with love and guidance; things they may not have received until they met caring Christians. Furthermore, the church has become the place where they will grow up, and be nurtured by a forever family, complete with a heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ who will become surrogate spiritual parents; maybe it does “take a village (church) to raise a child”!
Due to the challenges faced by coming from a transitional culture, the youth that attend the Mobile Inner City church of Christ have been challenged to establish an identity as a youth group over the years. However, that is beginning to change due to the following reasons:
We are proactively placing an emphasis on maturing ministry
- In 2010 the Inner City congregation in Mobile started conducting traditional Sunday school for ALL AGES, which equated to an extra fifty minutes of Bible teaching each week. We have never had Sunday school classes for all ages. This also meant the entire family, including children, participated in the corporate worship assembly.
- We have implemented a family based youth ministry approach that is proactively involving parents, parent-figures – mentors – with every aspect of the spiritual development of our children / youth. The goal is to build up the families of our youth as a counter to the destruction the inner city family has experienced.
- As an evangelist, I am in the process of maturing – equipping – the Inner City church, and this means I am laying down the building blocks and planting seed that will one day result in the congregation having elders and deacons. I am starting with our male, teen Christians by giving them roles and responsibilities within the youth group.
Prayerfully, as we further develop male leadership within the youth group, the Mobile Inner City church of Christ youth group will be able to entrench themselves into the identity as a force that will greatly impact the church, and their families; our youth group has the potential to alter the landscape of their environment where hopelessness once reigned! Male leadership will bring stability, consistency, substance, and will make a mark in a culture where godly male leadership is almost non-existent.
Addendum: I emphasize the training and teaching of male leadership because in the inner city it is severely lacking; in the family, it is males that have the God-given role of being leaders in the home, and church. The woman’s role as matriarch / provider / care-taker / is well established in the inner city; for that matter, the pendulum has swung too far to one side, to where they are outside the perimeter of their God-given role in the home, and even in the church(es).
Keep praying for us; God bless!
Chuck Griffis, Evangelist
Mobile Inner City church of Christ