By now, if you are living in the United States, you have been made aware of the bust in the housing market and the incredibly high number of foreclosures, which is a process in which the estate becomes the absolute property of the lending institution. This is the result of the owner’s inability to make payments on the loan, thereby defaulting to the lender. There are numerous causes of foreclosure, including over-indulgent lifestyles, job-loss (financial slippage), divorce, sub-prime adjustable interest rates (mortgage lending fraud via teaser rates), compounding debt (and credit problems), medical problems, inability to sell property in a soft market, and simply irresponsible home ownership.
In any case, the problem of foreclosure is real, and it is growing. While doing some research last week, I stumbled upon a recent article by CNN Money where they list the top 100 zip codes worst hit by foreclosure last year (2007). For instance, the city of Cape Coral, Florida had four of their eight zip codes in the top 100 (25, 32, 41, and 88) with a neighboring city (Lehigh Acres) topping out at number 14. Together, these zip codes numbered a total of 1,671 foreclosures, and this stat does not account for the other half of Cape Coral! According to the 2000 census data, Cape Coral has 40,768 occupied housing units, so these numbers are quite significant.
After viewing the CNN Money article, you might be thinking, “Whew! I’m glad I don’t live and minister in Nevada, Florida, and California!” The reality is that, during 2007, foreclosure of all kinds in all places was up 75% according to RealtyTrac. So with that said, foreclosure is something that we all should be concerned about, acknowledging its effect in our communities and cities. So what then? What can we do? Are we to simply leave those affected by foreclosure to the mercy of the U.S. government? Their help found only in a government check deemed as an economic stimulus plan?
I think churches should consider the crisis of foreclosure as something which they can respond. As Christians, we live and minister between two worlds–the kingdom of God as citizens of heaven, and the world in which we live as citizens of our country, state, and city. While it is true that we are pilgrims and strangers in this life, like Abraham, looking to the city that has a foundation whose designer and builder is God (Heb. 11:10), we also are called to be ministers of mercy, seeking to engage culture with the kingdom ethic found in the mission and message of Christ. When we think about passages like Matthew 5:16 which say that, as lights of the world, we are to shine before men that they may see our good works, would not such a good work include ministering to those in the midst of foreclosure with the love, mercy, and benevolence found in Christ?
So then, we should determine whether or not such a ministry should be an outreach and extension of your church. If you agree that it should be, then one should determine what it looks like.
> Should benevolence and mercy be shown to members of the church alone? To the community at large? If so, does one have a priority over the other? Receive greater assistance?
> Should those ministered to be required to partake in a biblical stewardship class?
> Will those needing assistance be required to first hear the gospel before they qualify for help?
> Is temporary housing an option? What are other forms of merciful intervention during the crisis of foreclosure?
There are other questions and issues to address, and perhaps you can add to those mentioned here. I readily admit that I do not have all the answers, but I do know and believe that God has placed us here to tangibly show the love and compassion of Christ to the world around us, and I believe the crisis of foreclosure might just turn into an incredible opportunity to engage your community and city with hope for those in despair and mercy for those in need.