Over the last decades hundreds of millions of people have moved to cities in hope of a better future. Today, over one billion people live in slums. That’s one out of every six people on planet earth. In just 20 years that number will have doubled to one out of every four. That’s serious! So serious that the World Bank says that “urban poverty will be the most significant, and politically explosive, problem of the 21st century.” Aside from global pandemics such as AIDS and influenza outbreaks, clean water and clean technology, and perhaps one or two other key issues, rampant urbanization is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century and of our generation. The way we respond to it will largely determine the future of our world. In the meantime domestic violence, poverty, systemic injustice and spiritual emptiness cripple the potential of hundreds of millions of families living in slums around the world. Their plight cries out!
With 25 million people, Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world with just less than half of its population living in poverty. ConeXión Mosaico is currently focusing on Chimalhuacán and Los Reyes La Paz, two low-income communities on the outskirts of Mexico City which boast over one million residents.
Roughly half of them are slum dwellers who live in substandard housing, over 80% of them employed in the informal sector and often without secure land tenure and in desperate economic conditions. As such, Chimalhuacán is considered among the largest slums of Latin America. Over half of Chimalhuacán families are disintegrated due to migration patterns and domestic violence. About 60% of women suffer from domestic abuse, adding to the viciousness of the poverty cycle. Civic participation in Chimalhuacán runs very low and where citizens get organized they are quickly co-opted by political interests. Most churches, too, offer too little to address the deep-seated hopelessness, structural injustice and rampant needs present in many urban slums.
Unfortunately, this lack of civic participation, community organizing and church involvement have made Chimalhuacán fertile ground for structural injustice, ongoing corruption, poor urban governance, opportunism by political parties and crime. All these, in addition to personal sin and brokenness, have conspired to keep many residents of Chimalhuacán in a cycle of hopelessness and apathy. No wonder, many are looking for answers in the super-natural realm. New saints, such as San Judas Tadeo (St. Jude Thadeus), who is called the saint of the desesperados (the hopeless) are experiencing a sort of revival. Darker cults with strong occult leanings, such as the cult to the Santa Muerte (the Holy Death – a female skeleton cloaked in the mantle of the Virgin Mary) are fast gaining ground.
The need and opportunities to plant and grow missional churches and start community-based initiatives that transform peoples’ lives and communities is great. So is the need and opportunity to equip and renew local leaders to be agents of change in their own communities, while building broad-based citizen coalitions that promote change on a systemic level and build bridges between decision makers and the urban poor.