The Church as an Institution of Change
April 16, 2015
With 2.3 million residents, the city of Cali is one of Colombia’s most important cultural centers. It’s considered the capital of salsa music, a major education hub, and a haven for sports enthusiasts. But underneath the surface, there is a different perspective of Cali. In spite of the economic transformation in recent decades, the city struggles with high rates of gang activity and other forms of violent crime.
As one local church saw these problems, the members banded together to address both the crime rates and the education issues in their community. They started an after-school program to tutor kids in the neighborhood and developed a partnership with the police department. Members of the church began serving inmates in the local jail and patrolling the streets side-by-side with the police to help improve relationships with the community. As part of their commitment to the Gospel, the small group of believers set out to become an institution of change for the city.
A LONG HISTORY
While powerful, this concept is hardly an original one. Since the beginning, the Church has historically been the driving institution of change in communities all over the world. As Jesus went about his ministry, he sought both spiritual restoration and social justice for those he encountered. He continuously preached about the Kingdom of God and the repentance of sins. Meanwhile, he demonstrated it by healing the sick, protecting the marginalized, and elevating those whom society had cast aside.
After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the Church took his message all over the known world within just a few decades. Everywhere local churches were planted, cultural change was taking place. Over time, the Church shook up the Roman world, eventually penetrating every rank of society in spite of fierce persecution.
In the following centuries, the Church remained a driving force for change. For better and worse, much of European history is defined by movements within the Body of Christ. Even the colonization and westward expansion of the United States has been shaped by frontier revivals that led to new settlements across North America. From the abolition of slavery in England to the roots of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, the Church has helped shape tectonic shifts in society.
Today, this movement continues in communities all over the world. In Cali, a recent study found that the local church’s neighborhood experienced the most dramatic decrease in violent crimes in the entire city. The police chief gives all credit to their special partnership.
Across the country in the city of Barranquilla, another local church has transformed their facility into an arts center where they teach people how to make handcrafts and create new businesses.
Meanwhile, in the African village of Miseke, Christians are developing an agricultural project that provides additional income to the community and helps pay school tuition for the children. In the same village, one woman now leads a group of 40 HIV patients in a project that sells chickens to provide for their medical care.
It’s a phenomenon that is taking place around the world – churches becoming the driving force of change in their communities by using local resources to address their most critical needs. As they do this, they enjoy new opportunities to share the Gospel with those around them and multiply in nearby towns and neighborhoods. As the residents watch the transformation taking place, they get to hear the story of Jesus while simultaneously experiencing the healing, provision, and justice that he desires for their lives.
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