“Who we listen to determines what we hear.
Where we stand determines what we see.
What we do determines who we become.”
– Robert Mac Afee Brown
God brought together 200 urban Christian activists, thinkers and leaders for the first ISUM Summit. Hosted by the Evangelical Church of Bangkok from January 26 to 29, 2013, participants came from six continents, determined to extend further God’s reign on an increasingly urbanized earth. During this diverse gathering emerged a real sense of God bringing together trust, collaboration and solidarity.
Just over a year ago, when the International Society for Urban Mission was first formed in Klong Toey slum in January 2012, we knew something of the needs of our new urban world. What we didn’t know was who shared our willingness to find new ways forward with others. Within a year, the inspiring journal New Urban World was launched and our first Summit drew people from far and wide. These initiatives confirm that we are onto something urgent and important to God, at such a time as this.
The ISUM Summit was designed for participants to risk detecting the Spirit’s voice with others. Robert MacAfee Brown’s words reminded us that we were required to listen, stand and respond in solidarity with those on the edges, more than those at the centre. With this in mind, the Summit began with inspiration from Thai dancing, worship and plenary sessions from Shane Claiborne and Rosalee Ewell. Later we shared meals together, visited in small groups 30 immersion experiences across the city, and engaged in interviews with Bangkok activists and leaders in their context. These hands-on opportunities framed our time together. To further help give space to contribute and collaborate seven ISUM Working Groups were formed to develop seven ISUM Briefing Papers. Together they sought to detect findings for their areas generated from there immersion interviews as well as shared stories, workshops, panels, discussions, prayers and insights from the Summit. These connections can help change the trajectory of our lives and we hope can influence the direction of broader Body of Christ in the world.
Integral Urban Mission was the theme of this first summit. This concept encompasses the whole of life being important to God. We recognize that too many have either focused solely on the spiritual or solely on the material, but Christian faith insists we serve an incarnating God: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14, The Message). As the old saying goes, a spirit without a body is a ghost and a body without spirit is a corpse. We recognized that our own peace is tied up with the Shalom of God in our cities and therefore requires integral connections between God, people and the earth.
From the perspectives of each of the seven working group areas, these ISUM Briefing Papers became collaborative efforts, detecting where they saw the Spirit might be calling the people of God to give attention. The findings will be published as Kindle Singles (e-booklets between 10,000 to 15,000 words) and distributed with the help of Micah Network, World Evangelical Alliance and ISUM. Videos and articles of keynote addressees from Shane Claiborne and Rosalee Ewell, as well as interviews with activists from around the world will also be available on www.newurbanworld.org and published in the New Urban World Journal. We hope the resources and relationships generated at this Summit will help find more faithful and relevant responses to this new urban world. We know we have made a start, at least by finding kindred spirits and comrades for the journey. We look forward to seeing what God does through ISUM and the next Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur in late June 2014. We are so grateful for all who helped make this dream become a reality!
Ash Barker, PhD
Convener, International Society for Urban Mission