Friday, October 28, 2016

Final Day of MDGC 2016 NYC

The last day of the Movement Day Global Cities experience in New York City was significant. We heard from another diverse cross section of leaders in the global church, including leaders from places like India, South Africa, Canada, Belgium, and Rwanda. It was so interesting to learn from the different perspectives, and I gained a lot of material for teaching, training, and mobilizing Christians to serve in cities within a variety of different sectors.

There is so much to report about what God is doing in cities around the world. Here are a few things I'd like to highlight:

We were led in worship by a multiethnic worship team that incorporated diverse musical sounds into the worship sets. They also utilized imagery during the worship time which highlighted assets in cities such as skylines. This was done intentionally as to engage the urban people in attendance from around the world. All of the times of worship were incredible!

They mayor's office sent a representative, Jonathan Soto, to proclaim that the day is officially Movement Day in NYC. I appreciated all of the interaction between leaders from religious, economic, and political sectors gathered together to participate collaboratively in urban transformation.

Tim Keller shared one of the most profound talks of the entire event. He presented the challenges that face Christian leaders operating in urban environments, reasons to be hopeful that the gospel will spread in cities, and practical steps toward engaging in God's redemptive mission in cities.

The official ceremony closing out MDGC 2016 featured representatives from 95 different countries processing with their flags through the convention center where the conference was located. It is always a special experience to gather with so many different people from around the world. Christian leaders in the U.S. have so much to learn from Christian leaders serving in places where Christianity is exploding in growth... in places like Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Pastor Randy and I are making our way home. I'm looking forward to one of the biggest outreach events of the year tonight... the Harvest Party in Homewood! I can't wait to be back in the 'Burgh!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

MDGC 2016 NYC Day Two

It was another intense day at MDGC in New York. The day started with speakers from Australia, South Africa, China, and concluded with speakers from several cities throughout the United States. Topics included empowering women in the workplace, collaboration across sectors in cities, church planting in cities where Christians are persecuted, race and class reconciliation, research for ministry in cities, and leadership principles.

One of the most powerful talks to me came from a pastor in Charlotte, Claude Alexander. He described the many ways that his city is healthy, and he also described that racial tension that was always under the surface, not being dealt with, that finally boiled over resulting in recent protests in that city. He described the reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how followers of Christ can lead the way in cities like Charlotte that are currently experiencing so much tension between people of different ethnicities and cultures. My prayer is that the leaders in attendance here at Movement Day will take up that charge. The work is so important. I'm praying that God will continue to work toward our church in Pittsburgh to work toward racial reconciliation, empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit.

Here are some more of our adventures from today:

The Convention Center in New York where Movement Day is being held is a great space to collaborate with so many different leaders. I love the diversity that is present here with our group which represents leaders from 95 different countries. I bumped into friends from India and the Philippines today. It's a small world!

Alan Platt from South Africa shared about the importance of collaboration and gospel movements in cities that are recovering from painful situations like apartheid. The church can have such a significant impact in places that have experienced loss, brokenness and pain.

These researchers from Germany, South Africa, and the U.S. shared about the importance of doing effective research with people in urban environments. Too often researches actually cause harm when research in cities is down irresponsibly. These practitioners presented some effective research models to our group.

I'm enjoying the time that I'm getting to spend in this world class city with Pastor Randy. We had a fun time exploring Times Square tonight. Such an amazing place!

We have one more full day of learning and leading tomorrow, and then we'll be heading back to Pittsburgh. We're excited to build capacity at North Way with what we're learning, and we're also looking forward to participating more in the transformational work that is happening in so many different places in Pittsburgh. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Movement Day NYC Adventures

Over the summer I stepped into a new challenge on staff at North Way Christian Community. I handed over the reigns of North Way East End to a new pastor, and I'm now fully engaged in my role as pastor of transformational urban leadership. With hopes of building a solid foundation for the urban leadership teaching, training, writing, and advocacy efforts that I'll be involved in, I set out to travel to Los Angeles for the national CCDA conference, Quito for The Gospel and the Future of Cities Summit and Habitat III, and, finally, Movement Day in New York City. I'm in the home stretch of this national and global training and advocacy here in New York City, and I've been joined in this stretch of the journey by North Way's executive pastor, Randy Blincow.

We are really processing through a lot of great speakers and break out sessions from today. The speakers who shared about urban transformation and Christians leading movements in cities around the world included Mac Pier, Mutua Mahiaini, Billy Hybels, Jayakumar Christian, Leslie Doll, Son Kazanjian, Steve Douglass, One Hock Siew, Tony Evans, Pete Scazzero, Samuel Harrell, Gabriel Salguero, and Noel Castellanos. Each of the speakers shared different perspectives on how followers of Jesus can take on some of the most significant challenges and issues facing our cities, including such topics as the refugee crisis, biblical justice, incarnational leadership, racism, classism, reaching millennials, emotionally healthy leadership, economic and political systemic transformation, family restoration, asset-based community development, sex trafficking, urban slums and squatter neighborhoods, prayer movements, trauma healing, education, health care, integral mission, and visionary leadership.

Here are some of the highlights from the day:

Randy and I are committed to participating in God's redemptive mission in cities like Pittsburgh and in places around the world. We're being further equipped to expand God's kingdom. We're also enjoying spending time together and having some theological debates (Randy was on my pastoral ordination committee years ago so we have a history of theological discussions over the years).

Jayakumar Christian's book God of the Empty-Handed is one of the most powerful books on poverty alleviation and Christian development that I have ever read. It was a privilege to hear him speak at Movement Day and he shared an inspirational message.

Noel Castellanos from CCDA presented a compelling theological foundation for biblical justice and how God's heart is close to the poor and marginalized people in our world.

I caught up with my sister, Cameron, who lives in New York. We had so many great discussions about life, and she was an awesome sounding board for some of the things that I was processing from the day. She's very close to graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary... so proud of her!

I love exploring cities, and I love how New York lights up at night. This is one of the most fascinating places in the world. I'm always thankful to be spending time here.

Well, that's it for today. I'm sure I'll be sending out a lot more about what we're learning tomorrow at Movement Day NYC. Can't wait to learn more about what God is doing in mobilizing Christians to transform urban environments. I'm praying through which of these concepts will build capacity with the work that North Way is engaged in back in Pittsburgh. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Final Quito Update

As I sit here in Quito watching the sun set behind one of the many beautiful mountains in the area, I can't help but be thankful for the opportunities that were presented this week to pray, reflect, and advocate at Habitat III. Our group of leaders continued to advocate today all the way through the end of the proceedings as the New Urban Agenda was officially adopted. We have opened up doors for participating in meaningful ways in urban transformation efforts in cities around the world.

We are an active group of leaders at the Urban Shalom Project. Outcomes from our time in Quito will include a press release, a call to action to millions of Christians around the world, a book with our published papers about the New Urban Agenda, a new website, an Urban Thinkers Camp, and many opportunities for collaboration in academic circles with people who are teaching urban ministry and planning.

Here are some photos from our last day in Quito:

Quito is an amazing place. The weather was great, the surrounding hills provided incredible views, and there was often a cool breeze rolling through the Habitat III areas. This was the perfect place for global leaders to gather.

The whole city came to life all week with entertainers, light shows, the arts, shops, awesome food, and welcoming people. We will never forget the warmth of the Ecuadorian people as they showed off their country to the world.

I'm leaving Quito with a full heart, not only because of the good time that I had in South America, but because it was such a powerful experience to be a part of the Christian witness here at this historic event with so many passionate leaders. I am excited about what God has in store from here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day 6 Quito Update

Our group of faith leaders that has gathered here in Quito, Ecuador as part of the Urban Shalom Project is making a significant impact in many different areas of Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda. We are making a difference individually and collectively with urban planning, architecture, urban children and youth, academia, community development, migration and refugees, grass roots organizing, data involving cities, and faith-based implementation of goals that will impact billions of people around the world. We're accessing power, and we're working toward urban transformation. This is an amazing group of leaders, and it's an exciting time to be doing advocacy work with so many delegates and leaders from around the world who are shaping life in cities for decades to come.

Here's a little photo journey of our time in Quito today:

I'm pictured here with the fearless leaders of the Urban Shalom Project here at Habitat III... Dr. Chris Elisara from the World Evangelical Alliance and Dr. Ash Barker from Micah Global and the International Society for Urban Mission. Chris has been dreaming about having a Christian presence at Habitat III for the past three years, and Ash has been leading the way with Chris in making those dreams into reality. It's been a privilege to serve with these guys over the past week.

The Christian Community Development Association leaders played a huge role in our global advocacy efforts this week. CCDA board members Mary Nelson and John Liotti are pictured here with Chris and Ash, and board member Dr. Michael Mata (not pictured) also played a huge role in shaping our voice and direction this week. I'm thankful for these passionate and gifted leaders, in addition to many other gifted Christian leaders who participated in our work!

I'm pictured here in front of the United States booth in the huge exhibit hall that featured exhibitions from many different countries and organizations around the world. The U.S. booth at Habitat III wasn't as decked out as many of the booths that other countries had at this event, but I'm sure that will all change at Habitat 4 twenty years from now after the advocacy work that the U.S. members of our team did here this week. Watch out world!

Quito has some amazing churches and other architectural gems. Our team with the Urban Shalom Project has been fascinated by all of the unique buildings and streets that we have been navigating. Quito is really showing off for the world this week!

This photo was taken right before sunset when the city was just starting to come alive. What a view! Quito is such a beautiful place. Thousands of Quito residents have been making their way to this part of the town to watch light shows each evening. This city has embraced the events associated with Habitat III in so many ways. We're going to be sad to leave this place.

Please continue to pray for our team of leaders connected with the Urban Shalom Project as we prepare a press release, a statement from Evangelical leaders to the world about a call to action with implementing the new urban agenda, and other advocacy opportunities that emerge through our remaining time at Habitat III and beyond. We need strength from the Lord to see these advocacy efforts through to fruition. Thank you for praying! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Quito Day 5 Update

I'm having such an amazing time dreaming about transforming cities in Quito with so many other people from around the world. This morning I attended breakouts that dealt with innovative ways to build housing for homeless residents of cities, and also a breakout on the migration and refugee crisis. It's hard to believe that a billion people on this earth are migrants, and most of them are currently in or on their way to cities eventually. This is why the work of urban engagement is so important to alleviating poverty and impacting issues like homelessness, orphan care, violence, and health crises.

Here are some photos from my adventures today:

There are art installations all over the area where Habitat III is being held. It's all very interesting!

I worked with a group of leaders to shape how urban children and youth can participate in implementing the New Urban Agenda, and how young people can make sure that their stories are heard and that their insight is welcome.

I toured an installation that Ecuador created to highlight this history of their country. This guy looks pretty fierce!

Lots of countries have exhibitions set up throughout the Habitat III grounds. The Netherlands had some fascinating presentations today about creative ways that they are managing flooding in their cities along the shoreline.

Korea also has a very popular exhibit about their urban planning... a ton of interactive things to do.

I managed to get VIP seating to tonight's Urban Talk since most of the delegates had left for the day. The topic of the Urban Talk tonight was on how city leaders can make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and youth. All of the speakers did a great job and I learned a lot.

Well, I'll sign off for the day. I'm continuing to pray for all of the happenings here at Habitat III, and I'm engaging as much as I possibly can to shape the future of cities for the next twenty years. This is truly a unique opportunity. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Quito Day 4 Update

Today we began our advocacy work with the broader Habitat III community of 45,000 people. It took a while to get in this morning because the lines were so long, but it was so worth it once I got in. I enjoyed the plenary sessions and the workshops.

One of the best workshops was about cities overcoming segregation and expulsion of its residents. The deputy mayor of Paris who is in charge of urban planning for that world class city describe how many leaders there are working toward a more resilient and inclusive city despite the tension between people groups that exists there. They are doing a lot of innovative projects in order to make the city more livable for people across the ethnic and socioeconomic spectrum. As an example, the city had about 30 properties in the Paris that were schedule for redevelopment. Instead of going with the highest bidder as they usually do, they decided to do a global contest that opened the bids for developing the land to the most innovative and collaborative bidders. The results led to remarkable results in which the residents were thrilled, the private developers were thrilled, and the civic sector and social service partners were thrilled. They are considering expanding the model throughout Paris. He also said they're experimenting with temporary uses for vacant properties while they're in the process of waiting for development, and they've been able to creatively generate solutions for homelessness through mixed use approaches and transitional housing in temporary spaces. It was an interesting workshop.

I also spent time connecting with delegates and exhibitors from around the world. It's exciting to be around so many different people, even though it's a little bit overwhelming trying to take it all in. I would say that it's exciting and tiresome. Many of us involved in the Urban Shalom Project were able to engage in advocacy efforts today. God is opening up opportunities for impact. And, this afternoon one of the urban planners that was engaged in our Gospel and the Future of Cities Summit, Dr. Christopher Miller, gave us an architectural tour of Quito. It was fascinating to learn more about the thought that went into the planning of this city. I'm sure I'll learn more over the next few days. k

I'm getting a lot of good ideas for Pittsburgh, and for teaching with Bakke Graduate University and at North Way. Also, God is moving here. We are all encouraged. Here are a few photos from my day:

This is Chris Miller giving some of us a tour of the architecture in Quito. We're standing in the main square of the Old Town.

There are so many amazing churches, crosses, and statues through this city that has so much rich history.

Little courtyards like this with restaurants and shops are tucked throughout the city.

I'm making lots of new friends who are a part of the Christian presence here in Quito, advocating on behalf of more than 600 million Christians around the world. This is Juliana from Columbia and Frank from Guatemala.

I ate dinner with some friends from Latin America and Australia at a restaurant that was themed around the legend of a Catholic priest who would sneak out at night through a window of the church to go hang out with people in the surrounding neighborhoods. This is a painting of that legend.

Many of us gather to debrief each day at a spot that is right next to the president's home and national offices, pictured in this photo. It's a beautiful building!

I've been sharing more photos of Habitat III and other adventures on Twitter and Facebook. It's been an exciting week so far, and I'm looking forward to what God has in store next. I'll be participating in several workshops on urban children and youth tomorrow. Prayers are appreciated!