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Those who believe the inner city is filled with trash are—Dead Wrong

Rich Wilkerson

It was around 6 p.m. like most other nights at the Ida B. Wells Public Housing Project on Chicago’s south side. The sun had set, and the fall weather had brought a bitter chill as children in the hood struggled to stay warm.

Thirteen-year-old Lena Horne was typically bored as she walked the streets. Like most junior highers her age, she battles to stay free of gangs and the continual allure of cocaine in the project.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw what seemed to be a large bag of trash fall and hit the ground just 20 feet away. She didn’t think much about it because it just added to the rest of the garbage in her neighborhood which never gets put away.

Earlier that day A.J. and P.R. had enticed little 5-year-old Eric Morse to come to their clubhouse on South Langley Avenue. A.J. and P.R. (10 and 11 years old, respectively) were like heroes to little Eric, but they were already working for the gangs.

"Come to the 14th floor at number 1405, Eric. We have a surprise for you," they said. But Eric’s 8-year-old brother Derrick begged his little brother not to go. Eric refused to listen and said he was going to the clubhouse for a surprise. Derrick insisted on going with him because he didn’t trust A.J. and P.R.

When Eric arrived at the apartment, A.J. and P.R. grabbed him and dangled him out the 14th-floor window. Derrick screamed and ran to the window and held Eric’s leg as the little guy screamed in terror. While Derrick held on—trying to pull Eric back into the apartment—A.J. bit his arm and Derrick let go.

What Lena Horne initially thought was a bag of trash hitting the ground was actually the body of 5-year-old Eric Morse. At 7:56 p.m. on October 13, 1994, little Eric went to be with Jesus. While on earth, he had been mistaken for a bag of trash.

How has it come to this in America? A 5-year-old boy being dropped out of a 14th-floor window for fun and little children dying in American ghettos every day are no longer unusual. Drive-by shootings, gang war, drug overdoses, infant deaths, and infants born addicted to heroin and cocaine are the order of the day.

At the Assemblies of God General Council in San Antonio, Texas, in 1985 Philip Hogan spoke at the foreign missions luncheon. One of his key statements was that the apostle Paul was a city preacher and a church planter. He went on to say that the world had changed from an agrarian to an industrial society and now, most recently, an information-driven society. Consequently, people have left the farms and moved to the city. If we are going to reach the world, we are going to go to the center of the struggle, which is the city.

That message forever changed my life. Much of my own ministry had been to the suburbs, not the city. I’m certain I had good reasons. There is comfort in the suburbs—it’s what I have known. People like me are in the suburbs—white, upwardly mobile, and mostly married with children. Most of all, there is money in the suburbs.

On the other hand, to me the city represented the unknown, a hodgepodge of religious beliefs, fractured families where 70 percent of inner-city children live without their fathers, a place of terror, and a place where the Assemblies of God is largely nonexistent. If that wasn’t enough, I knew it was a place where a lot of trash sometimes gets thrown out but not put away.

While those were good reasons not to go to the city, they were all carnal reasons that had their roots in self-preservation, which is foreign to Christ’s teaching. He said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39*).

Historically God has blessed the Assemblies of God. The Fellowship has grown rapidly because its leaders and constituents have had a disdain for self-preservation. Because of this we have always been attracted to the challenge. When others said, "It can’t be done," our people have rolled up their sleeves and proved them wrong.

Our foreign missions outreach is unparalleled. Our love for God is solid. Our mission has always been to know God and to make Him known to others. These statements are not made in arrogance but from a humble heart that is thankful to God for being a part of such a wonderful group of people.

Now a new challenge looms. Actually it’s not new, but we are now—by the grace of God—opening our eyes to the needs of America’s inner cities. Over 50 percent of America’s population lives in 39 urban city centers throughout this great land. We must reach them, plant churches, and believe God to raise up men and women to go.

In Jeremiah 29:4–7, God speaks of an invasion of love by His people into the city. God tells us to seek for the peace and prosperity of the city. We are promised that as the city prospers, we too will prosper. Conversely, it must be said that as the city struggles, we will struggle also.

Invasion 39 is a call to our Fellowship to answer the challenge of America’s urban areas. Peacemakers Project has been developed to conduct evangelistic crusades in each of these cities and to assist districts in the planting of at least 39 churches by the end of this decade.

Through Urban Bible Training Centers thousands of local people will be trained for area ministry in each of these cities. Supplementing their work will be Holy Spirit-filled young people who desire to become a part of the answer to America’s struggle. In every great city of this land are little children of all colors whom Jesus loves. If anyone doubts God’s love for one of these little children, that person is dead wrong.

If for one second the devil believes he can defeat this God-ordained mission, He’s dead wrong. If there are those who believe America’s inner cities are only filled with trash, they’re dead wrong. Because lying just 20 feet away in the dark may be one of those children for whom Jesus died.

*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

Rich Wilkerson, an Assemblies of God evangelist, Tacoma, Washington, heads the Peacemakers Project.