Mission in an Urbanized Context. The Case of Ash Road Shack Dwellers’ Community

The introduction is here in text but the rest of the thesis is attached below in word.


Urbanization is an unavoidable reality. Various reports and data show that people are flocking into cities.

The UN Millennium Development Goals aim to improve the living conditions of 100 million slum-dwellers by 2020. However, the number of slum-dwellers is estimated to increase by nearly 500 million between now and then. In addition, over the next 3 decades, urban growth will bring a further 2 billion people into cities in the Global South, doubling their size to about 4 billion people. These cities are already growing at a rate of about 70 million people per year. Overall almost 180,000 people move into cities every day.

The questions that we should ask are: are cities prepared for such an invasion? What are the policies implemented in order to guarantee a dignified life to everybody? Unfortunately, most of the time, official politics do not have the will of finding reasonable solutions, therefore, new citizen are creating their own neighborhoods.

In 2005, an estimated total of 1 billion people were living in slums worldwide – about a third of the world’s total urban population. By 2030 this figure is predicted to grow by another billion .

According to “Statistics South Africa”, in South Africa urban citizens constitute 58% of the total population and, among them, 9% live in “informal houses” in “informal settlements” and this is a trend that will not stop. The mushrooming of “informal settlements” is a growing reality.

Nevertheless, beyond this data there are people, faces and stories. “Informal settlements” and “slums” are spaces where normal people live their life, find new way of organization and democracy and, above all, struggle in order to radically change a system that pushes people to the edge of society. That is why instead of terms such as “informal settlements” and “slums”, I will use “Shack Dwellers Communities”, which represents in a more realistic and dignified way the reality.

Beginning with my own experience, in this paper I will analyze the mission of the church among shack dwellers more specifically among the shack dwellers community of Ash Road. It is necessary to highlight that, in this particular historical moment, Ash Road Shack Dwellers Community is struggling against the threat of eviction by the municipality and to create real spaces of democracy within the community itself.

In the first chapter I will present a field research implemented and analyzed by the people themselves. This is done in order to understand the context and above all in order to understand what kind of representation the people have about their reality. We can also say that is a kind of political research because aims at two major goals: firstly, it aims at the creation of spaces where people can talk freely and, secondly, it intends to support people’s will to not be removed from Ash Road.

In the second chapter I will base theologically the struggle of the people. The starting principle is that the struggle of the people of Ash Road is not something extraneous to the mission. On the contrary, it has to be grounded theologically and understood as the coming of the Kingdom of God. As a matter of fact, when oppressed people struggle for their own liberation and dignity they are witnessing Kingdom’s values and opposing the values of anti-kingdom. It is therefore, of pivotal importance to understand where and how the struggle is grounded. The theological category of mission as missio Dei offers deep theological insights in this direction.

In the third chapter I will present Liberation Theology and Leonardo Boff’s understanding of Trinity in particular. Leonardo Boff’s idea of Trinity as a communion helps to contextualize mission as God’s activity and helps us to answer the question concerned with the why the model of mission in Ash Road is mission as missio Dei.

In the fourth chapter, I will describe in a critical way my journey with the people of Ash Road until the ground breaking realization of the importance of being a ‘listening Church’ (Orobator, 2005:211) with all the consequences that this attitude concerns.

In the final chapter I shall suggest seven ways of doing mission in the context of Ash Road.

Working with the people of Ash Road has been above all a gift. They have taught me that theology is a second act. Praxis, direct involvement with the people and their struggle is the starting point.