9 Lessons I’ve Learned from “Christian Community Development”

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A year ago I had never heard of “Christian community development,” and was only vaguely aware that forms of incarnational ministry to the poor existed in America.

As my experiences ministering in an impoverished neighborhood were increasing, so were my questions and concerns. Clearly, there had to be more effective and loving ways to help the poor than what I was seeing (and doing).

So, I began a search. Certainly there must be others who have done or are doing what we are doing at El Crucero. Someone out there must have some advice or hard-won wisdom to light my path.

My search led me to John M. Perkins’ book Beyond Charity and the concept of Christian community development. Perkins has since become one of my “heroes of the faith.”

After having grown up parentless and hopelessly poor in 1940’s Mississippi, Perkins eventually “escaped” to California where, as a 27-year-old husband and father, he powerfully encountered the love of Jesus for the first time. Three years later, he decided to carry this love back to his impoverished black community in Mendenhall, Mississippi. Perkins would spend the next 4 decades living and ministering in poor neighborhoods, exercising his idea of Christian community development in 3 different cities.

Out of his life work, an organization called the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) was born, which has been connecting, educating and inspiring numerous individuals and ministries across America since 1989.*

At the core of the Christian community development ideology is the belief that the church is called to walk alongside the poor by offering relationships “that reflect the kind of careful, quality attention we have in our own families” (i.e. to actively love our neighbor as we love ourselves).

As Perkins puts it,

“I loved myself enough to want a good job, a safe home, and healthy food. As I began meeting people without basic things, I saw that God’s love in me wanted them to also be healthy…”

In other words, do we really love our neighbors as we love ourselves if we are content to leave them hungry, homeless, uneducated, jobless, unsafe, hopeless…?

Although I am far from having attained the right to call myself a practitioner of Christian community development, I have taken much of their teaching to heart and have been trying to be faithful to what I’ve learned.

For myself and those who volunteer with me, I have created a list of 9 essential guidelines to follow when working with the poor:

  1. Always start by intently listening.
  2. Identify the person or community’s felt needs (what they perceive to be their own most important needs).
  3. Work with (not for) the individual or community to address the felt needs first.
  4. Don’t solely focus on needs. Identify the individual or community’s inherent assets and strengths. Purposefully build on and develop the assets.
  5. Always respect indigenous leadership where it exists and work to develop it where it doesn’t.
  6. Affirm every individual’s dignity.
  7. Relationships are essential, but work to develop relationships built on equality rather than need-based relationships that place one person over another.
  8. Never forget the supernatural power of the gospel to transform and restore.
  9. Pray, pray and pray!!!

I know I have much left to learn. If you have more experience than I do, please, please share it!

 

*Here is a short list of organizations that follow the ideology of Christian community development:

InnerCHANGE

Word Made Flesh

Servant Partners

FCS (Focused Community Strategies)

Compassion International

 

 

 

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

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One of the glorious benefits of homeschooling is the freedom to set ones own academic course. This year, my sons (grades 5 and 7) and I are studying American history through the lens of the African American experience.

While I am not African American myself, I grew up in the deep South where I heard and saw enough to understand that thick threads of racism and racial injustice have been woven deeply into the fabric of our country’s history.

I want my children to know this side of history. I want them to grow into adults who recognize and fight against the injustices in their own generation.

In pulling together books for our study, I stumbled across Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson at my local library. This book is a true gem! Nelson combines his gorgeous artwork with a compelling first-person narrative (based on his own family’s history) of the African American experience from slavery through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and all the way up to present day in the epilogue).

His narrator, an elderly female, tells her family’s tale with great dignity and personality. Her tone is generally factual, not bitter or sensationalizing, but she doesn’t shy away from hard topics and observations.

As a hybrid chapter/picture book, I believe Heart and Soul is appropriate for children ages 8 and above. While my own boys and I are delving into a number of darker, more detailed accounts of slavery and its aftermath (such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), I appreciate the breadth of Nelson’s book. In two days’ reading, my sons were able to get an idea of the entire arc of African American history and an introduction to some important terms. Both boys found the book engaging and informative.

I recommend including Nelson’s book in any homeschool course on American history for older elementary and middle school students or as supplemental reading in non-homeschool households.