The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in the United Kingdom completed its second phase of the I AM URBAN initiative for Global Youth Day on March 16, 2019, in the Holloway and Willesden district churches in London.
I AM URBAN is a joint initiative between ADRA in the UK and Adventist Community Services (ACS) of the British Union Conference (BUC) church region, and includes partnerships with several other entities of the church in the UK, including the Trans-European Division (TED). The initiative was established in order for the Adventist Church in the UK to utilize the 17 sustainable development goals outlined recently by the United Nations.
Young people from the Holloway church have adopted a local care home, and on March 16 they performed “random acts of kindness” on city streets and at a local shopping center. In the afternoon, the #ENDITNOW Knife Crime march led by the Holloway Pathfinder Club, with the Pathfinder Drum Corps, brought focus to the recent knife crime deaths in the capital city.
The youth rally was held in response to a spate of at least 35 high-profile stabbings in the capital since the beginning of 2019. A report in the Guardian newspaper indicated an 8-percent rise in crimes involving knife stabbings in 2018, and a 15-percent increase in admission rates to hospitals for assaults involving sharp instruments.
Reports from the care home revealed that many residents were in tears to see both young and older adults visit them on Saturday (Sabbath). One resident expressed how lonely they were and asked for the young people to visit again. While the young people were showing kindness on the street, a woman expressed to them her grief regarding the recent loss of her father and cheered her up by giving her a small plant to take home.
“Going out on the streets in the afternoon was an eye-opener,” said Max McKenzie-Cook, urban lead champion. “Two young men in a fancy car stopped us on the way to ask what we were doing and applauded us for our efforts. It’s amazing how surprised people were that other people in the world were engaged in social outreach and care.”
As a result of the march, a young man who had recently been released from prison decided to walk into the church and asked for prayer and guidance to make the right decisions for him and his son.
The Willesden church held a march in the morning of March 16, with the focus not on knife crime but to make the local community aware of their presence. The Willesden young people also visited local members at a care home and distributed fruit baskets to those in need. On the streets, they handed out fresh red roses to passersby.
“It was really scary at first, approaching someone and offering to help, but after a while, it became easier,” said 13-year-old Leah Roswell. “The information from I AM URBAN was very helpful, and I definitely would like to get involved with community work.”
According to reports compiled by the United Nations, the urban population of the world grew from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018. With the rapid growth around large towns and cities arose the challenges of rising levels of pollution, overcrowding, increased cost of living, economic disparity between those established in urban areas and those seeking a new home, and rising rates of crime.
The purpose of I AM URBAN, the organizers said, is to invite the millennial generation in particular to engage in social action projects in their local communities.
“Over the past year, ADRA in the UK has been working closely with the church to assist with their community outreach, in addition to managing our projects overseas,” said ADRA UK director Bert Smit. “We also have seconded a young pastor, Max McKenzie-Cook, as an Urban Lead Champion, one day a week from our local conference, to assist us in reaching the millennial generation, who will often engage in micro-volunteering as opposed to the longer-term projects initiated by previous generations. We are excited about this initiative that already has and will impact the way social action is undertaken in the Adventist Church in the UK.”
Commenting on the partnership, ACS director Sharon Platt-McDonald said, “It has been an exciting journey embarking on this partnership. I AM URBAN has been working with a number of congregations to listen, connect, and serve the community in ways that are relevant to them.”
Smit agreed with the assessment. “It has been a humbling and heartwarming experience,” he said. “The engagement of our youth champions has greatly enhanced the scope of our ministry and, more importantly, it demonstrates that as a church family, adults and youth can work effectively together to bring hope and restoration to broken lives.”
I AM URBAN will be directly working with young people again on World Refugee Sabbath, May 15, 2019, organizers said, where they will be encouraged to support the refugees in their local areas.