Discovering Gifts

by Angeliz Diaz

“Building Community Partnerships That Work” is a two-day workshop that introduced me to different ways of engaging community members within their own community and how to build community partnerships that work.  I had a great opportunity to learn from very talented people from a variety of service systems that shared concerns, weakness, and strengths of their communities.
There are many things I learned from this workshop.  The most important one is to distinguish between the people who only give opinion about what needs to be done and the people who act to have something done within their community. I also learned that every individual has something to offer to his or her community and organizing the community is the only way people will know that there is no one that the community doesn’t need.

After this workshop I have understood the importance of finding, mobilizing and connecting the assets in a community. The individuals are the most important assets of a community, discovering what they care enough about to act on is establishing relationships, and getting them involved is mobilizing the assets.

When the members of a community are called, they respond, they have different expectations depending on who makes the call, but they respond. It’s important to use “the right duck” to call up the members of a community, somebody who doesn’t offer all the solutions but instead ask them what they care about.  Utilizing the service of the community’s members is part of building relationships; they feel useful and valuable when their talent or skills are used as part of the community’s resources.

Community leaders should know that every individual in a community cares about something and that something is a motivation to act.  As a leader of my community, I engage conversations and relationships with people of all kinds to discover their motivation to act.

One of the tools this workshop gave me to establish relationships and getting the members of my community involved is the “Twelve Guiding Principles for Community Engagement”.  I read these principles over and over, every time I read them there is something new to learn and applicable to my community.
The second principle, relationships build a community, has been my best friend since Mike Green explained to us and gave us examples of why relationships build a community.  I apply that principle every day of my life everywhere I go.
First, I started with the parents of our local elementary school, they are the ones that have more concerns about the community because their children are still young and it is in their interests to have a save and healthy environment for their young kids to grow.  I discovered that I have many things in common with most of the parents. They care and they want to act.  I’ve established very strong relationships with some of the parents; we created a network of concerned parents. My relationships with some of the mothers of our local elementary school have taking me to my next goal, to build a domestic violence victim response team.  I discovered this need in my community just asking questions to the mothers in the parks, in the softball clinic, volunteering for community events, and researching our statistics with our police department.

I understand I don’t have complete trust of my community yet, it takes time and work.  I am trying to create a series of life skills workshops for members of my community with the intention of empowering the community but also to show them that establishing relationships is a positive thing. “Building Community Partnerships That Work” taught me different strategies to discover people gifts and get the community members involved, but the greatest gift it gave me was to discover my own gifts.

To see the Twelve Guiding Principles for Community Development click here.

Build It and They Will Come. Or Will They?

Years ago I would come out to visit Sam and Karen with a certain girl I was dating.  During my visits, I would often think in my skeptical way, “Who builds a church out in the country surrounded by corn fields, separated from the town by a freeway?”  Well in the ‘Field of Dreams’ way of thinking it has been, “build it and they will come”—for the city of Lincoln now surrounds us.  But have they come?

We can say that the building of the Northern Lighthouse on the north side of the freeway has proven to be a very wise and God-led opportunity.  Today there are no cornfields around the NL and the corn rows are being replaced by roads and houses.  During the next few years the landscape surrounding the NL will drastically continue to change.  Besides roads and housing developments our surroundings will include a 4-lane street.

Still, the question remains: As we have built it, have they come?

As a church we have done the traditional (at least traditional in the past 20 years) means of reaching out to the people in the community to our north, where over three hundred homes already are filled by families.  We have organized people to hang door hangers with no visible success.  So should we continue to hang door hangers and attempt costly bulk mailings (it has been stated that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results)?  So again I ask: “We have built it but have they come?”

One thing stands out to me as I reflect on existing patterns: People come to the church because of relationships, loving relationships with people who are already in the church.  This is not a shocking revelation to anyone with knowledge of the Bible.  Jesus did not build church buildings with tall steeples and expect people to come; He loved people and interacted with them in their own towns and homes.

How do we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, showing our neighbors God’s love and building authentic relationships?  And how do we become a church that has a kingdom influence?

We believe that one of the keys is something called, “Community Development.”  Community Development is at its core “loving your neighbor as yourself.”  It is a switch from seeking to minister to our neighbors to doing ministry with our neighbors.  It looks at each person as being created in the image of God and having active gifts and resources to advance God’s kingdom.  The Steering Team of the Northern Lighthouse believes that sharing the good news of Jesus by asking, “How do we work with our neighbors to make their community a little more like heaven?” is more effective than asking a question that is focused on the church, such as “How do we build our church?”

I believe the evidence is clear that the church can no longer just “build it and they will come.”

Brave Ones

Five Nooksack Tribal members worked considerable hours and weeks, seeking to form a new non-profit organization that would help members of their tribe in areas of personal and community-wide development.  On October 4th, they were notified by the Secretary of State for the State of Washington, that they had obtained a Certificate of Incorporation.  The organization is called “Nooksacks for Hope”.Within the Nooksack tribal environment, even with a democratically elected tribal government, it is publicly recognized there are many elements of misuse of power.  Rarely are tribal members allowed to see anything remotely considered as financial records, reports or audits.  Planning and decision-making, by the Tribal Council, is often conducted in “executive session”.

A recent plan to build a Class II casino near Lynden, WA. was only revealed to tribal members 1 day prior to a general public announcement printed in the newspaper.  The Tribe and Casino management signed a $30 million financial instrument for this project…giving no time for “public comment” by tribal members.  Many people and tribal members are summarily fired for unjustified or unsubstantiated reasons, often because they “whistle-blow”, critique their tribal government or casino management by asking legitimate questions.

A thick cloud of intractable fear has caused many Nooksacks to disengage from anything political, for good reason they would loose their tribal or casino jobs; tribal housing, or, simply be ostracized.

In the face of all this, 5-brave tribal women have decided it time to organize a non-profit that will help bring about new programs and new approaches that set in motion a more healthy political and programmatic culture.  In the process of doing this, 2 of the women have been fired from their jobs within the tribe.  Yet while facing financial instability, they proceed ahead with the building up of Nooksacks for Hope.

MORE STORIES ABOUT THE NOOKSACKS FOR HOPE:

Nooksacks For Hope

Nooksack Candidates Want Openness

Deacons Helping People on the Path to Shalom

NORTH HALEDON, NJ

A member of Covenant CRC’s local community told a member of the church she wanted to learn more about God’s principles for handling money.  She had heard a Christian financial counselor on the radio and wondered if our church offered any classes on this theme.

We didn’t at that time but said to ourselves that if someone is asking us for help we’ll figure out a way to make it happen.  With one of our enthusiastic members inviting many from inside and outside Covenant’s membership, and with the commitment of Ken Johnson to lead us in a Crown Financial Ministries study, our Stewardship Covenant Community (small group) was born.

The diverse group of community and congregational members God brought together has been a blessing to all:  10 households representing both Covenant and the community; young and old; single and married; and in one case, two generations from one family!  We worked through an 8-week study called “Discovering God’s Way of Handling Money.”  Topics included debt, seeking counsel, honesty, giving, work, saving & investing and teaching our children.

We learned that the number one issue is waiting on the Lord for His provision and not to race ahead on our own.  The openness to share was amazing and Ken handled tough questions with grace.  We are planning to have monthly follow up sessions walking with the participants through the practical application of financial stewardship.

By Doug Boydston

Transforming The Upper Ninth Ward

On the corner of Louisa Street and Higgins Blvd, in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, transformation is taking place.  While New Orleans is trying to rebuild and bring back various communities, the Upper Ninth Ward is making a comeback.  Beautiful landscaping and tree planting is a project by CURE with sponsorships from Desire Street Ministries.

Although the landscaping is small in comparison to the scope of what was destroyed, it was an important first step.  It was an important symbol for the city to see that the Upper Ninth Ward is alive and coming back.  We also wanted to send a message to people who are displaced from this neighborhood that there are people back here working hard to bring the community back home.  The areas that were chosen to landscape are very visible and a central entry point to the Desire neighborhood, so it seemed a logical place to begin.

While CURE and Desire Street Ministries remain committed to this neighborhood and doing even more to bring it back to life, this was something tangible that could be done to show people that we are here and we still care.

Also, it was important that neighborhood residents were involved instead of bringing in volunteers from around the country.  A strong desire to see the neighborhood beautified and redeemed must come from within.

The efforts of outside groups are appreciated but are unsustainable in terms of the life of a community.  This was something that needed to be done by community residents.

Landscaping is just the beginning, but the commitment to the Desire neighborhood remains and it will be a part of the recovery and rebuilding as long as it takes.

A special thanks to Winn Dixie and Lowes for their acts of kindness through generous donations.  With Spring approaching, more plans are underway to continue the beautification project.

ABCD Training

There is a trend today among American Evangelical and Bible believing church leaders to talk about Community Transformation (CT). The content behind the label however has been anything but uniform.

To some CT is about:
•    Getting pastors in a city to pray together for their city.
•    Getting pastors and civic leaders to cooperate together on an initiative
•    Creating a city-wide day of service where church members bless their city with good deeds.
•    Strengthening programs in the city that help the poor.
•    Developing programs of assistance for poor and disenfranchised people

Rarely is the content about:
•    Convening neighbors and finding out what they would like to work on together to make their neighborhood or city better.
•    Connecting neighbors with neighbors in ways that add value to both
•    Creating an agenda for change with a neighborhood and then shepherding the change.
•    Harvesting the gifts of a person or a neighborhood for the benefit of the neighborhood.

One of the tough questions for churches in North America is if they want to do good OR if they want to make a difference. Doing good is easy and doesn’t cost much. Making a difference is long, daunting, hard, relationship based, work. Too many churches care about doing good, without caring about the legacy of their charity – what difference it makes in the long haul!

Towards the end of September I had opportunity to visit Knoxville TN.  The purpose of my visit was to teach a group of church leaders about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD).

Rev. Andrew Rittenhouse had assembled 24 church leaders who wanted to learn about ABCD. They wanted to see their churches make a difference AND they wanted to see their neighborhoods changed.

Following the training some of the participants targeted two specific neighborhoods where they plan to implement ABCD strategies and work for the long haul towards community transformation.

In these neighborhoods they will be:

  • Strategically walking the streets and prayerfully seeing what God sees there. They will look at all of the gifts God has already placed there. They will look for the problems and needs there. They will begin praying for the neighborhood and praying against forces of darkness there. They will pray for the Spirit to bring a spirit of cooperation and vision for the community. They will begin connecting residents one to another in ways that allow blessings and encouragement to flow among neighbors.
  • They will be mapping institutions and their gifts already present there and imagining ways to use those gifts as a blessing in the community.
  • They will be listening to what residents care about most and inviting them to work together to change the things they care about most.
  • They will develop programs to respond to needs and issues that the neighbors identify as the most important things to work on.
  • Pray for Rev’s Rittenhouse and Walker and their commitments to specific neighborhoods! Pray that God will bless their engagements with their neighbors.

School Greenhouse

John Hoekwater, Director of Neighbors United in New Possibilities NFP and Pastor of Many Peoples Church in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, recently received an award for his community building efforts at a neighborhood gathering.  The award was presented for his work in conjunction with a number of volunteers in the neighborhood at a local public elementary school.

John and his group of hardworking volunteers saw an unused asset in the community – an almost “state of the art” greenhouse on the third floor of the Gale Academy school building.

The greenhouse was being used to store unused desks and other equipment. John and his volunteers decided to turn the space into a classroom for the students at the school by growing flowers and vegetables and offering them for sale to the community.

They busied themselves with building tables to hold the plants, constructing a water channeling system, and planting seeds that later they transplanted into plastic flats and hanging baskets.

More than 80 volunteers contributed their time and energy to the project, most of them parents and students who had never before planted and grown anything.  They proudly sold their flowers and vegetables in the late spring and early summer and earned more than $1800 which will be used to expand the project for next year.

They are partnering with Chicago Botanical Gardens staff to use the greenhouse as a classroom for every class in the school this year.  Eventually they hope the project will become financially self-sustaining and will even bring enough income to fund other special programs at the school.

Through these efforts Neighbors United in New Possibilities and Many Peoples Church are becoming known and trusted presences in Rogers Park and the Kingdom of God is being advanced through this community transformation.

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