I have experienced a wide range of reactions from people as I try to explain for the first time why the mission of PLM is so important. Many people’s first thought is, ‘I hate the city.’
I sense that people think I might be a little crazy. When I first received my call to serve at PLM, a concerned individual said skeptically, “You are going to leave your current call for urban ministry?” As if to say, “That is risky. Are you sure you want to do that?” Without hesitation, I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
My wife and I spent the first years of married life in a two-room apartment in Center City Philadelphia. We love the city and are sometimes frustrated when people don’t share our enthusiasm. I understand some reasons people feel this way but have come to very different conclusions myself.
Decades of decline. The city of Philadelphia lost a third of its population over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. Consequently, the city suffered from increased crime and intense poverty. Many left for the safety, comfort, and strong schools of the suburbs. They wanted what was best for their families. But as a result, a number of churches declined over the years and eventually closed.
In reality, a famine of the Gospel exists in a city that draws its name from one of the churches addressed in the book of Revelation. Jesus says, “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again willthey leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down from out of heaven from my God” (Rev 3:11).
When did we develop the perception that the city is a Godless place? When we left.
But I love the city. More importantly, Jesus loves the city. For when He looks at it, he doesn’t see crime rates, poor parking, cramped square footage, or high taxes. Jesus looks on the city with His foremost quality: compassion. He sees 1.5 million souls for whom He shed His holy blood. Yes, He sees brokenness, but He also sees gas stations and condo buildings where churches once stood.
Where the Gospel is needed most, Jesus saw people pack up and head elsewhere. I am not suggesting that somehow this exodus has kept our Lord from accomplishing His saving work. No, rather I believe it grieves our Lord to see His people distance themselves from His work of salvation.
You don't have to live in the city, or even visit the city, to care and be involved. (Though I would gladly give you the grand tour.) But the work could not go on without your prayers and support.