Welcome to the August 2016 edition of #UpForJustice – a monthly news and prayer letter from the International Social Justice Commission (ISJC) based in New York City, USA.
We continue using the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for prayer and reflection. There are 17 goals, which all 193 United Nations (UN) member states endorsed at the UN General Assembly in September 2015. The SDGs will shape the development agendas in all countries until 2030. Read more about the SDGs by visiting www.salvationarmy.org/isjc/SDGs.
This month, Dr Aimee Patterson from The Salvation Army Ethics Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, reflects on the 11th SDG: ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities
In the book of Genesis, people began their created life on earth in a garden. In Revelation, John receives a vision of a new kind of life in a new kind of place; one that looks much like an urban paradise. The fascinating thing about this place is that, unlike most cities, it is not built to be a refuge from the wild or the enemy. This city is alive and welcoming!
If you read the final two chapters of scripture (Revelation 21-22), you will see that the city operates like an ecosystem. It’s a place where everything works together for good. The bounty and beauty of the environment are celebrated as nature is incorporated in the city’s very design. A thirst-quenching river flows and trees yield nourishing fruit. Health and wholeness are sustained all year round. But there’s no sunlight or moonlight, because God’s glory extinguishes the darkness of night.
Notice that this holy city doesn’t just celebrate nature. God’s light shines both on nature and human culture and creativity: streets, walls, foundations, nations and tribes. The city gates never close because everyone lives in a safe neighbourhood. This is what the new Jerusalem is like. It is a place where God dwells among the people.
Human beings have long built cities seeking to provide people with safety, community and the promise of a better future. We want to be able to meet our own needs, also doing our best to ensure that our children can meet theirs. This is sometimes called ‘sustainable development’. On our own, we have never succeeded. Despite this, Christians are told not to despair but to be hopeful. The prophets call us to concern ourselves with the welfare of human communities and seek justice in our cities (Jeremiah 29:7; Amos 5:15). In Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace, Glen Stassen observes that sustainable development is, in part, the result of welfare and justice. What might welfare and justice in a city look like today?
First think about what injustice and a lack of welfare look like. In a nation like Brazil, they might look like the favelas on the outskirts of its major cities. Favelas were originally considered temporary residences for immigrants moving from the outlying country to the cities to build a better life. But making a new start requires money and opportunity, and many immigrants were pushed out of the urban centres. For the most part, favelas failed to receive public services, with some still having no running water, sanitation, electricity, medical care, education, public transit or city planning. Without a viable economy, drug trafficking and violence run rampant. Residents often live in inadequate and unsafe housing. Many favelas have been wiped away in mudslides or floods because of their geographic locations.
As Christians, we are required to serve those who are socially and economically disenfranchised. The Salvation Army has a serving presence in favelas (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5BShmE0KLc
), but Salvationists are also encouraged to learn from people who are disenfranchised. What lessons do residents of favelas have to teach us?
In recent years, a number of favelas have been building communities of resilience by working hand in hand with the land and with each other. They govern themselves creatively and sustainably. Informal trash and recycling collection systems are organised. Bicycles are commonly used for transit. Houses are constructed on stronger foundations, providing protection from natural disaster. Vegetable and herb gardens are grown for nutritional and health benefits. Local forests and wildlife are seen as natural resources to be protected. People support one another when there is need. In this documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sT8rhhbCUA) a number of residents claim that they live in a favela not because they have to but because they choose to. One non-governmental service worker observes: ‘Everyone knows everyone. There aren’t walls around the houses, everything is open.’ Sounds a little bit like the city of God, doesn’t it?
These local, grassroots projects in favelas answer the call of SDG 11: ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’ Included in its many components are the following:
• Build up safe and inclusive communities
• Make homes, basic services and transport accessible
• Construct green public spaces
• Use and reuse local materials in efficient ways
• Reduce negative impact on the natural environment.
Clearly we have much to learn!
However, it will be challenging for favelas to develop and maintain some other components of SDG 11 if they continue to be neglected by their municipal governments. For instance, easy access to city transit systems will enable people to go back and forth to work. Children growing up in favelas must be included in public education systems. Let’s continue to live in hope that increasing support will be given to disenfranchised communities, and that welfare and justice will be achieved for everyone.
Remember that God is in the midst of cities and communities because he cares about them (Psalm 46; Genesis 28:16-19). We are encouraged to pray for the most vulnerable, and work for and with them (Exodus 22:21-24; Psalm 68:5). Along the way, we can be inspired by the vision of a transformed city – the new Jerusalem! (Hebrews 13:14; Galatians 4:26; Revelation chapters 21-22).
As we reflect on the challenge of SDG 11, let us pray:
- In thankfulness to God for the gift of healthy human communities and the relationships we enjoy within our cities (Hebrews 10:24-25; Psalm 133:1; Isaiah 45:18).
- For Salvation Army ministry in areas of urban poverty. The Salvation Army was born in the urban slums of Victorian England and still there are many Salvationists around the world seeking to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. May God’s will be done in our own cities today just as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10).
- For those who are part of Salvation Army ministries in Brazil’s favelas, that they will not grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9). For government authorities in Brazil, particularly its municipal leaders. Pray that they will be moved by the cries of those living in favelas and that they will respond in just and compassionate ways (Matthew 14:14).
- For governments around the world that have signed up to the SDGs, that they will continue to show commitment to the just transformation of cities and city life (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Please remember the following ISJC prayer concerns:
- Captains Pierson and Swetha Vincent and their two boys, Elijah and Luke, as they settle into living at the ISJC and serving the cause of justice in the Manhattan community and around the world.
- The recruitment of new staff to work at the ISJC. In particular, we look forward to welcoming Joseph Halliday to the team as an ISJC intern in September.
- We thank God for the service of Luke Cozens and Robert Docter, whose time as ISJC interns has concluded. Please pray for both men as God leads them into new opportunities.