Urban Promise Toronto isn’t the only Urban Promise. In fact it’s not even the first. The first started in Camden New Jersey in 1988. So it’s a year older than I am.
As second year interns at UPT you get the opportunity to spend a week in the city of Camden working with the Urban Promise there. I returned from said trip last night.
Please forgive me if my thoughts are a bit… Fluttery. Going on a missions trip near the end of your two year mission trip has proven to be rather tiring. I was stressed for awhile wishing so much that I could bring the kind of energy to Camden that I’ve so often appreciated from Mission Teams here, “But how can I bring them energy when I’m just as drained as they are?” My director encouraged me to just abide in Christ, and basically to just chill.
Due to the fluttery nature of my thoughts I’m going to try to glue down the things I saw and heard that hit me the most this week in a somewhat disorderly fashion in hopes that they still make sense to you:
Before leaving I typed “Camden New Jersey” into Google, looking for the weather. Their first two suggestions were ‘camden new jersey crime’ and ‘camden new jersey ghetto’. Weather was the tenth suggestion. When typing in Toronto the first two options are our newspapers. Weather is the third directly followed by ‘public library’.
Camden is a poor city. Often rated the poorest in America.
There were so many abandoned buildings, just boarded up and left to rot. I’d never thought of how expensive it is for a city to tear down it’s dying buildings, until I saw a city cluttered with them.
We sat down and talked to some of the UP staff who are youth from the area. They told us about how being from a Camden High School makes it harder to get into College. How their teachers often seem to just give up on trying to teach them. How at one of their schools if you’re caught cutting class you’re handcuffed and brought back to class by the police patrolling the halls. (So many kids from my high school cut class and didn’t even get caught for it…)
There was a man there who had grown up in Camden and was given the opportunity to go to college and had now returned to give back to his community. When contrasting his high school stories with those of the current students we could see how much the city is really improving.
When this man was in High School his principal stood in front of them and asked those with the hopes of going to college to raise their hands. She looked at those with raised hands and told them to do themselves a favour and: get jobs.
He says he sees now that she was being realistic. He and his brother (who works for Urban Promise Camden) were given the opportunity to go to College by a Christian man who owned the school.
Some people call it a hand out,” he said, “I call it a lifeline. So I grabbed a hold of it.”
When we got to Camden I stood in awe looking at all the buildings with the words “Urban Promise” on them. Our Urban Promise has no buildings. We have an office out in the middle of somewhere and we have our meetings and run our programs out of amazing Toronto churches that allow us to do so. They even have a grade school, and a small high school! It’s pretty different from UPT. Not better or worse, but different.
We saw a lot of injustice in Camden New Jersey.
We also met many people of God who have been called both to and from Camden to show their city how the Grace of our God will allow His Justice to flow in and throughout it.