When people think about mission fields, a lot of places come to mind, Africa, India, China, South America, maybe even Mexico, but certainly not Colorado. Likewise, talk of "inner city" conjures up images of Los Angeles, New, York, or Chicago. Chances are you would have to go pretty far down anybody's list of potential inner city mission fields to find Colorado Springs, if you were able to find someone who listed it at all. So why have we chosen Colorado Springs and why do we feel this is a legitimate place for our work? I guess it wouldn't be too trite to say that it is where God called us, but it is more than that, it is where He has placed us. I believe that God led us to Colorado Springs, and although we didn't recognize why at the time, He sees a lot more than we can and is constantly working things out behind the scenes that we may never fully understand. What I can tell you that it is more than simply the convenience of already living in Colorado Springs that has led us to our ministry here.
Well, to start out with, Colorado Springs is indeed an urban center. Out of the 50 largest cities in the United States, Colorado Springs ranks 41st with a city population of 431,000 with another 210,000 living in the surrounding county. Colorado Springs suffers from all the problems that other metropolitan areas do, crime, gangs, drugs, human trafficking, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, suicide, etc. In fact, in many of these areas Colorado Springs is statistically above the national average.
Poverty is a major issue nationwide, with a reported 14.8% of households in the US earning incomes below the poverty level. In 2010, Colorado Springs reported a poverty rate of 11.7%, well below the national average. Still, this means that nearly 80,000 people here are not making enough money to provide for their basic necessities. Among that number are about 1500 people who either have no housing or no permanent housing and are considered to be Homeless. Of this 1500, about 1/3 or just over 400 are considered chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for more than one year. In addition to homelessness, hunger is also a major problem in Colorado Springs, with more than 22% of families reporting that they did not have enough money to purchase food at least one time in the previous 24 months.
In all 10 years from 2001 to 2011, the last year for which data was available, Colorado Springs was above the national average in both Violent Crime and Property Crime rates. Drug use in Colorado Springs is also above the national average, 38% report using marijuana compared to 29% nationally, while 11% of residents admitted to using illicit drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine) in the last year, while only 8% of nation respondents reported doing so. Alcoholism and particularly binge drinking have also been reported well above the national average. In a recent study by Men's Health Magazine, Colorado Springs ranked 16th out of the 100 top drunkest cities based on things like deaths from liver disease, DUI deaths, DUI arrests, and number of people who admit to binge drinking.
The last area that I want to share statistics about is mental health. From schizophrenia and bipolar disorders to post traumatic stress disorder, incidence of mental health issues are disproportionately high among the populations that we serve.Estimates are that 25% of Colorado Springs adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, while only about 20% of adults nationwide suffer from some form of mental illness. additionally, the suicide rate in Colorado Springs of 15.6% is nearly one and one half times the national rate of 11.7%.
Big Problems - Big God
While we recognize that we can not meet all the needs or correct all the problems that we find on the streets of Colorado Springs, we also realize that we serve a powerful God and that His love is powerful. We firmly believe that when people experience God's love that they are changed by it, and we have come to know that the number one way that people experience God's love is through their contact with God's people. So we seek out those who are impoverished, those who are hurting, those who are sick, both mentally and physically, as well as those who are trapped by addiction and we build relationships with them. We find ways to meet some of their needs, we listen to their stories, and we love them, because we truly believe that God loves them, too. And we wait for God's love to do its work changing their hearts.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES
"Charity" on Incarnating Love: The Story of our Mission - Part 4
What Are We Doing Here: the Story of Our Mission - Part 2
How We Got Here: The Story of our Mission - Part 1