When I consider Jesus’ blessing of peacemakers, I think of a ministry in Hollywood, California called “City Dwellers.” In my last years at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, I was privileged to watch this ministry grow. It flourishes to this day, now as part of DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection).
City Dwellers was, in part, a response to God’s word through Jeremiah:”But seek the peace [shalom] of the city to which I have sent you in exile, and pray to the Lord for it, because in its peace [shalom] will be your peace [shalom] (Jer 29:7).
Members of the City Dwellers team moved into one of the neighborhoods in the city of Hollywood, a barrio of filled primarily with lower class immigrant families. Violence, crime, poverty, injustice – all were common in “the neighborhood.” They sought God’s shalom for that community.
City Dweller teammates were usually young adults who commit to spend a year living in Hollywood as peacemakers. Their ministry was multi-faceted. They shared the gospel and their possessions with their neighbors. They shepherded children and encouraged parents. They sought justice for people whose ignorance of American society and the English language made them easy targets for oppressors. They fed the hungry and visited prisoners in jail. They comforted mothers whose children were shot in drive-by shootings. They taught young people academic skills and they taught them about Jesus.
Was City Dwellers an evangelistic ministry? You bet. Was it social action? Undoubtedly. Did it seek healing for the sick and the brokenhearted? No question about it. Did it model and proclaim the peace of Christ? In everything that it did.
I remember watching with amazement a Bible study led by Jay, one of the first City Dwellers. He had gathered a group of Hispanic boys around ten years old. Jay called them his “Bible study,” but they did much more than study together once a week. Jay shared his life with these boys and they shared theirs with him. As the boys grew up, some of them started looking more and more like the gang-bangers in the neighborhood. Others found the strength to stay away from risky involvement with gangs. But no matter what, Jay loved those boys and they loved him back. Because of Jay’s loving witness, many of them also grew to know the love of God personally and to love God in return. What a joyful sight at Jay’s wedding, where several of these young men were dressed up in their tuxedos, truly Jay’s brothers in Christ. (Photo: I don’t have any pictures of Jay with his “Bible study.” But I do have one of Jay celebrating his son’s birthday. Jay is the green one. Here’s a piece of advice: If you ever meet Jay, don’t make him angry!)
City Dwellers is not alone among Christian ministries in its “whole gospel” approach to ministry. I can think of several ministries that are wholistic in their exercise of peacemaking. World Vision touches millions of people throughout the world, backing up the message of the gospel by providing food for the hungry and seeking justice for the downtrodden. Habitat for Humanity brings peace to families by helping them to afford their own homes. In the process of building houses, the good news of Christ is proclaimed and demonstrated as people from different walks of life dig ditches, put up drywall, and paint walls. This list could go on and on, for there are millions of Christian ministries, including churches, that reflect the call of Christ to wholistic peacemaking. You can join this effort by becoming an active partner of one of these ministries, often in conjunction with your own church.