Nestled right in the middle of the Valley of the Sun (the great, expansive Phoneix metropolitan area) lies the town of Guadalupe, Arizona. This area of less than 6000 people, squeezed in between the much larger cities of Phoenix and Tempe, looks very different from the rest of the valley. You do not see the strip malls, the manicured medians, the stucco houses fronted by their two and three car garages. Guadalupe looks like a small piece of rural Mexico, somehow transported right into the middle of Phoenix suburban sprawl. The population, a mix of Hispanic and Pasqua Yaqui Native American, also does not blend into the suburban scene. However, right here in the middle of the poverty and the apparent lack of material goods, lives a wonderful community.
My wife and I have been working slowly and with great joy with our friends in Guadalupe for eight years. We have a sign in our house that says “It takes a long time to grow good friends,” and I never realized before this how true this saying is. Over this time, we have come to find friends and co-workers for the good of Guadalupe. It took a large number of years to grow these friendships and to start to find people who were willing to help the community develop itself. After all, we are taught community development is someone else’s job – the government, the non profits, the professionals. This is even worse in under-served neighborhoods. People feel even less sense of ability to do anything to improve where they are. However, over time, wonderful things have happened. Last year some people wanted to start a local basketball team for the youth we are most involved with. So they did. They now have a basketball program for 35 kid age 5 to 18. More people came to help, and what started with one adult moved to ten. From this, 3 months ago we made another big step. The little community started doing asset mapping to get more people involved in helping to frame a big dream for the community. Out of this came the desire to help kids with school tutoring. So, we are working to make this happen, powered by the community. We are still working at asset mapping, trying to expand the group of people working together in the community. We also are doing others things communities do: hanging out together with friends, seeing plays together, and going to visit slide rock / Sedona Arizona to stay cool in the summer.
So what is changing? Over the last year we are seeing the work in Guadalupe becoming more of the community’s work. And as it becomes more driven by the community, more people join, more voices and assets are added, dreams get bigger and people feel up for the bigger challenges. It is still small. We are only 50 people; Guadalupe has almost 6000. And the world we live in still is broken. But the biggest joy I get from it is not how many kids play basketball, or how many people want to help do tutoring. The biggest joy is to see the work become the community’s own work, as opposed to someone else’s work. That is a transformation worth the name. It is small; it happens one person at a time. But when it starts to happen I am sure God smiles.
I get the opportunity to do community development teaching and coaching all around Arizona and beyond. However, I keep coming back to what this little community is doing. Walking with them makes the teaching and the coaching real. It is not longer something on a page but it is something that lives and breathes; something that is full of the Spirit of God. So, I continue to work with Guadalupe. I do not always know what will happen. The honest truth is I rarely know what will happen or when it will happen. But I know that God is here and He is making all things new.