It’s projected that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban centers by 2050. Across Western Europe, the Americas, Australia, Japan, and much of the Middle East, 80 percent or more of the population live in urban areas right now.*
The fact is that most people on earth live in cities, and the number is growing. Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church is still largely a rural or suburban church with a relatively small presence in the cities, it’s working with Holy Spirit power to keep up with population trends and reach people in urban centers for Christ.
In one response to this great need, the world church’s Mission to the Cities initiative rolled out the Three Angels’ Messages Sidewalk Evangelism pilot project in New York City, United States. The goal is to send 100 theology students, seminary students, future pastors, and other young people as sidewalk evangelists worldwide, using Christ’s method to take the three angels’ messages to people in large urban centers. Sidewalk evangelism is designed to give future leaders of the Adventist Church a total immersion experience in urban mission that will influence their ministry perspective for years to come.
Angel Smith and Haram Kim, both students at Andrews University Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, participated in the Sidewalk Evangelism pilot project. They learned that no matter how large the mission field, Christ’s relationship-oriented method still brings true success. This experience stretched their skills, challenged their faith, and opened their eyes to new methods.
Angel was stationed in a bustling residential neighborhood in Queens. As a veteran literature evangelist, she decided the fastest way to find Bible study interests was door-to-door canvassing. After all, she only had one month. But at the end of the day, Angel knew something was missing.
She called her mentor, Pastor Wayne Jamel, to ask for help. He told her to assess her gifts and talents, then pray about what God would have her do. Angel’s passion is playing basketball and working out at the gym, so she bought a one-month membership, prayed for guidance, and headed to the gym to mingle with people. “It flipped what ministry really looks like in my mind,” Angel said. “I met people just from doing what I love!”
Angel encountered people who never would have invited her in had she knocked on their door. While exercising at the gym, she started a conversation with Tahmina. They decided to work out together and soon were sharing meals, too. Angel learned that Tahmina grew up in a home that didn’t discuss beliefs other than their own. She listened sympathetically to Tahmina’s stories from her painful past, and they developed a trusting friendship. Because of this comfortable relationship, Angel freely shared Jesus and Bible truth with Tahmina.
Haram was assigned to Bryant Park in Manhattan, a popular public space where thousands of people pass through every day. He considers himself shy and had little evangelistic experience. How will I reach all these people for Christ? he wondered. Like Angel, he prayed earnestly, and soon he was striking up conversations with food vendors and playing ping pong with strangers. God also arranged some divine encounters. Once, someone approached him and said, “I like the message on your T-shirt!” Through these encounters, Haram learned about their interests and needs and offered them Bible studies. If he sensed they were interested in talking more, he would offer to treat them to his native cuisine.
“Korean food was my secret weapon!” laughs Haram, who quickly learned that sharing a meal is a great way to form friendships.
True to its purpose, the Sidewalk Evangelism project focused Angel and Haram like laser beams on urban mission. Angel returned to the seminary with ideas for future ministry, thinking deeply about what urban mission should look like. “Maybe we should be planting centers of influence first, with exercise and fitness classes, mental health clinics, vegetarian cafes and restaurants, rather than [starting with] churches,” she shared. “Churches will follow.”
Participating in sidewalk evangelism radically changed Haram’s attitude toward cities. “Before sidewalk evangelism, I thought that God didn’t want us in the big cities because of their worldly influences. But how could I meet so many people, [see] so much diversity, and [witness] peoples’ struggles with health issues, relationships, and financial issues, and not feel the love of God for the big cities?” he reasoned. “The cities are where the people are, and God loves people!”
Please pray that more people will be filled with God’s deep love for humanity and develop a passion for urban ministry. Ask God to send more sidewalk evangelists who are willing to serve in urban centers around the world.
Mission to the Cities is an essential part of the “I Will Go” 2020–2025 strategic focus voted by the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Global Mission supports Mission to the Cities by making disciples among urban, unreached people groups. Your sacrificial giving provides funding to support pioneers and urban centers of influence in starting new groups of believers.