Indianapolis urban ministry seeks to bridge digital, social divide

Neil Cox has a passion for urban ministry and he takes the calling of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) seriously.

However, he isn’t a pastor and he isn’t an inner city resident–far from it.

Cox, 58, lives in Carmel, Ind., an upscale suburb or Indianapolis often associated with the professional and social elite of the area. A financial consultant by trade, Cox does anything but spend Saturdays at a country club.

Instead he heads to the Unleavened Bread Café, located at the corner of 30th Street and Central Avenue on the Near Northside of Indianapolis in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. There, he and other technology-minded and socially driven evangelicals set up shop to help neighborhood residents and inner city pastors bridge the digital divide.

” ‘Where do I start?’ is usually the first question we get,” Cox said. “We can help with Web design, but the big first step is just getting people on to the Internet and showing them what can be done.”

A primary aim is to get folks on Facebook and tap into the potential of social media.

“We want to get them on Facebook first,” Cox explained. “It can help them find all kinds of different opportunities. I like to think of the café itself as a version of Facebook before there was Facebook.”

Cox also operates the Web site, whose aptly named motto is “Accelerating Driven Christians in the Racing Capital of the World.” Patterned after online Christian volunteering networks such as TechMission by Boston’s Andrew Sears and the Christian Community Development Association, Cox and his acquaintances seek to live out their faith by using their skills sets to help people who need it the most.

“As driven Christians we have to get rid of pride and divide and work with others directly,” he said.

Cox also drew an interesting analogy of this very intentional multi-cultural bridge building: Imagine a circle of friends in a community rich with professional backgrounds. If you lose a job or are looking for a better one, you work with other well-connected professionals to get leads on open positions.

Now imagine a circle of friends in a community where the resources are few. If you lose your job and others around you with marginal resources don’t have connections or are unemployed themselves, you simply join the ranks.

The differences are obvious.

The goal of working through the café is to interlock those circles in the name of Jesus Christ.

And what about Cox’s friends and neighbors who may be heading out for that round of golf on Saturday while he takes his laptop to the inner city?

“Friends or other people I know don’t always quite know what to think,” Cox said. “They might not say, ‘That’s not my thing’ even if they don’t understand it.’ “



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