Thirteen by 16.5 feet (four by five meters). Enough space to grow a small garden. The size of an average bedroom in the United States. The total living space per person in Dhaka, Bangladesh—the world’s most densely crowded metropolitan region.
Subtract all the commercial spaces, industrial buildings, government structures, streets and sidewalks, garbage dumps, and marshy regions, and the typical Dhaka resident has just about as much total living space as a body lying on the ground would occupy. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Eccl. 3:20).
The sheer number of persons living in the great cities of the world—now estimated to be more than 3.7 billion—guarantees that the concentration of life apparent there will only accelerate. Millions of persons each year leave rural regions and move toward cities, driven by hunger, war, disease, and economic instability. They share the forlorn hope that life’s pain will somehow be reduced if they experience it with others in a grand community.
The cities of this planet have become a great historical experiment in “life, concentrated”—a previously unknown social phenomenon for which there are no evident rules or guidelines, and for which there can be no prophecy of peace and success. Life, concentrated, means that all of life’s experiences—pain, sin, brokenness, discouragement, and violence—will also be intensified and magnified. It’s not for nothing that all the dreamers of the world have placed their nirvanas and utopias on far-distant, undiscovered islands or planets. No one expects good to emerge from cities.
But the church of Jesus is always called to inhabit the real world—not utopia. Dream as we should of a “city . . . whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10), we are called just now to serve the billions who live in metropolises anything but ideal. Life, concentrated, must rapidly become mission, concentrated, for this church—a mission lived out in truth shared, food given, water carried, clothes provided, and friendship offered.
As you read this month’s special collection of articles focused on the church’s worldwide initiative called “Mission to the Cities,” pray for a heart made warm with the compassion of Jesus.