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