Ruined cities. We see them every day. On our drives to work. On the news. In political debates, infographics, and non-profit agendas. “Urban missions” is a growing trend, and has become a focus of study at many Christian colleges. It's obvious there is a problem, and that the problem is very old.
The Isaiah 61 Initiative was born several years ago at a disciple-making training. During a break, God started revealing different scriptures to people. When they reconvened, they shared what God had laid on their hearts, and it all pointed to Isaiah 61, to the ruined cities. This is why we know we are called to the inner cities of America.
Of course, we know that this is not merely a physical call. Yes, there are physical ruins that need rebuilt, and we are doing that by rehabbing and utilizing commercial and residential spaces. But what about the spiritual desolations of many generations? It is no secret that in America today there are deep wounds left by generations of abuse, neglect, prejudice, apathy, racism, and a multitude of other forms of division. The church has found itself on both sides of these divisions, being the pioneers into dark places, as well as those ridiculing or ignoring cries for help.
The problem with ancient ruins is that they are ancient. They didn't develop overnight, and they won't be alleviated that way. Many of the buildings are crumbling after decades of neglect. Windows are broken. Roofs are failing. Mortar is worn away from the joints between bricks. And this goes on for block after block, mile after mile of many inner-cities in America. It's been this way, to some degree, since the late 50's, as white-flight and the shift in domestic industry forever changed the “urban core”.
And yet this is just the physical side of the devastation. People, too, have been worn away over the decades. They have inherited heavy burdens of pain and distrust. They have been wounded. Not only that, but the Gospel itself has been twisted in the modern landscape. The focus has shifted to saying a prayer and getting into heaven, or simply attaining abundant physical blessings in this world. It has been intellectualized, marketed, programmed, diffused, and contextualized into every new popular movie franchise. Church buildings lay in ruins right next to boarded up two-family flats. Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and sent to proclaim good news to the poor for so much more than that, and so were you. There is a power in the Gospel, in the Spirit of the Living God, to enter into these ruins and begin the hard work of rebuilding. But it is a power that must be taken up, much like a cross, and carried. The mission of Isaiah 61 must be done, walked out. This requires you to lay down your own life and be willing to come alongside other people
The most amazing thing about this verse, however, is who is doing the rebuilding. Let's review the passage, starting at the beginning:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. [Isa 61:1-4 NASB]”
It is, in fact, those who have been transformed who will be doing the rebuilding. They have received the good news; they have been healed, set free, and comforted; they have exchanged their despair for rejoicing; and they are now a mighty oak, glorifying God. And now that they have been “rebuilt”, they will go and repair the ruined cities. This is glorious. This is redemption. This is what Jesus came for. It is the end result of the good news He brings.