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How to Avoid Starbucks for the Sake of the Gospel

Noise, traffic, crowds, smells, food, colours, heat – all part of life in an Asian city of over 10 million people!

Having recently moved here, we are very new to life in a major city and our first few days were overwhelming to say the least – a whirlwind of new experiences, people and places! As we adjust to life in our new city we are learning and seeking what ministry looks like here for us.

The major thing to bombard our senses has been the traffic…and this is not like the traffic we are used to in ‘rush hour’ back home in the UK…the roads here are crammed with everything from scooters, buses, camels, bicycles, tuktuks, taxis, carts selling fruit, parked cars, cows, pedestrians… and all without the comfort of lanes, traffic lights or any sort of traffic rules! Not only is this slightly scary to navigate at first, but it is very daunting to get around because it just takes so long to get anywhere.

Already we are getting used to accepting that it will take at least an hour to drive less than 10 miles (the city itself stretches for almost 40 miles), and that something is considered close if it only takes 30 minutes to get there! In our short time here we have visited several of the ministry areas that we will be serving in, and we have realised that we will be spending a lot of time in the car.

Already we have felt the discouragement and frustration at the seeming waste of time that this feels like, and the challenge that this presents for anybody working in a major city. We have been challenged and encouraged by how we can redeem this time. An hour in the car is an hour that we can spend in prayer – for the people and places we are visiting, for the people we pass in the streets, for the neighbourhoods we drive through and for the whole city. This has made us think about how it can be possible to redeem particular areas of day-to-day life unique to an urban setting that are seemingly frustrating!

In our new city we are able to use Uber, 4G, Google Maps, make payments using our smartphone, and have instant and easy access to friends and family back home. Having connectivity like this is something that not everyone on the mission field will be able to take advantage of, but is a real blessing of urban ministry! It makes life much easier knowing that if (when!) we get lost we can easily find our location, and can easily arrange to meet people and have instant communication with friends and team mates here.

Life here also means that there are plenty of familiar places – McDonalds, Subway, KFC, Starbucks, even the supermarket sells every brand of tea that we could wish for. Whilst this is certainly an advantage of urban ministry, we have already realised the challenge that this familiarity and connectivity can bring. It can be easy and tempting to seek out our regular comfort zones and enjoy the familiarity of home – the danger being that we don’t get alongside the people that God has brought us here to serve. It has already been hard to identify the patterns of culture here, especially with the people we are seeking to reach with the gospel. The divide between extreme wealth and desperate poverty is hugely apparent in a major city like this, and it raises questions about how we choose to live and the places we spend our time and money in order to effectively get alongside the people that we are here to serve.

10 million people is a lot of people. A lot of needs. A lot of people who do not know Jesus! We are only two people. We have had to realise pretty swiftly that God is moving to change this city, not us. Practically I think this means that there is a greater importance for workers in a major urban setting to have specific people groups, ministry areas, business ideas and locations that they will work in. There is just so much to do, we can not do it all, and God does not expect us to! Please pray for us and for all those working in urban ministry.

Please pray against feelings of discouragement and being overwhelmed, pray that the seemingly wasted time of day-to-day living would be redeemed, praise God for the gift of connectivity and pray that the familiarities of home wouldn’t tempt us to retreat into our comfort zone and stop us stepping out in faith, pray that God would give clear and creative ideas of different people groups and ways to reach them with the gospel in urban settings. Most of all pray that God would be glorified in our city and in all cities across the world!