Rosa's mournful wail jolted Steve Scharf as he walked into his apartment building in Pico-Union, a neighborhood just north of South Central Los Angeles. Rosa's 13-year-old son Henry had been hit by two bullets that afternoon in a drive-by shooting.
As Scharf, a white, middle-class substitute teacher, stared at the bloody spot in the apartment lobby to which Henry had been carried from the street before dying, he seriously questioned his decision to move with four other whites into one of L.A.'s toughest neighborhoods. For the moment, all he could do was join his Central American neighbors in comforting Rosa and mourning his young friend's death.
Scharf is part of a growing and significant movement among evangelicals who have moved into such neighborhoods, prompted by their faith and concern for this country's deteriorating inner cities. According to the Christian Community Development Association, a 100-plus-member umbrella organization founded by John Perkins, there are more than 5,500 white, AfricanAmerican, and Latino middle-class evangelicals who have moved into inner cities as "incarnational ministers."
"Crime emerges because of the breakdown of community," Perkins says. "The most effective way to combat crime is to help create community in places where it's falling apart."
"We feel that moving to the inner city is a tangible expression of God's kingdom," says John Shorack, a white who, with his wife, Birgit, and two young children, lives in Pico-Union. Incarnational ministry is modeled after Jesus' giving up his privileged position in heaven to live among the poor with a message of hope and salvation.
Scharf says, "We feel called to purposefully give up the luxuries, comfort, and safety of the suburbs and share in the risks ...