Faith in a Fallen Empire
"Businesses left, the tax base left, and what was left was Detroiters to lead a city," says Carey. "[Today] you have about 700,000 people paying taxes for a city sized for 2 million." And the tax base may shrink further: An October 2012 Detroit News poll found that 40 percent of those 700,000 current residents plan to leave Detroit in the next five years. Lack of jobs, struggling public schools, crime, and dire reports from national media understandably have driven away would-be taxpayers.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Big Three—Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors—faced intense global competition and soaring fuel prices, and fewer working-class Detroiters looked to auto-industry wages for their livelihood. Detroit's security depended—some say too much—on the rise and fall of the U.S. auto industry. When President Obama made the contested decision in 2009 to lend $80 billion to bail out GM and Chrysler Group, he was also in part bailing out Detroit.
The bailout seems to have helped, as much as one can. This year saw the strongest domestic auto market since 2007, and "General Motors is alive!" became a catchphrase in Obama's re-election campaign. But Detroit's unemployment rate hovers around 18 percent—about double Michigan's and over double the country's. And the numbers don't reflect the realities for many on-the-ground Christians.
'One Bite at a Time'
"Detroit is my esperanza—my hope and new beginning," says Stacey Foster, lead pastor of Life Changers International Ministry for 17 years. A onetime drug addict who came to Christ through Teen Challenge, Foster relocated to Detroit from Florida to pastor one of three then-new Assemblies of God churches. "Our church used to be 60 percent black and 40 percent white and Hispanic," says Foster, 49. "Now I can think of one Hispanic family and no whites. The job factor and fear factor since 2008 have driven people out."
Economic development—"from welfare to work"—is one of Life Changers' ministry pillars, and the church plans to buy up and develop vacant properties along Wyoming Street, where it still worships. But Foster is contributing to Detroit's common good far beyond the church walls.
Foster and his wife first lived in the city when they came to Detroit in 1987, but moved to a southern suburb six years later when their two children were young. Then Foster read John Perkins, the grandfather of the Christian community development movement. Around the same time, Johanon's CDC had bought a gutted home from the city, and was busy rehabbing it. The Fosters decided to buy it from CDC and have lived there since 2003.
"God has called me to minister to a broken city," says Foster, who has received job offers from the Willow Creek Association and Compassion International. "God has not forsaken this place, and neither will I." He ministers to those hurt by Detroit realities: the gang and homicide squads of the Detroit Police Department. Four hours a week since 1999, he counsels officers who face longer hours, pay cuts, torn marriages, and numbed spirits from the routine violence. Yet Foster thinks the city needs police and emergency crews living in the city now more than ever.