Go Where He’s Working…They Did!

by Megan West for Imagine NW!

“If you want to know Jesus,” says Pastor Eric Likkel of Emmaus Road Church, “you have to go where He’s working.” “People need to have a sense of place in their community; you need to know people in your place in order to make a difference.” So the people at Emmaus Road head to the streets, public meetings, and local outreach centers in their Belltown community to serve and love their neighbors.

The Belltown district is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the Seattle area. Upscale condos and towers dominate the landscape. However, only 25% of residents own homes.  The less visible population rents, has subsidized housing or lives on the streets.  Connecting in this community is especially difficult because the neighborhood lacks any community centers or greenspace.

“People from the neighborhood started coming, from the Union Gospel Mission, people in recovery, people from the condo crowd…they loved to worship with us and felt like they could come and belong,” said Likkel.

But for Emmaus Road, it’s not just about “putting butts in seats” on Sunday.  Neighborhood building is a long-term investment, says Likkel.  Emmaus Road goes out in the community to get to know people, develop trusting relationships, and to let people know we care about them, not just getting them to come to a service.  “It takes lots of phone calls, coffee and showing up.”

Emmaus Road is dedicated to being what Likkel calls “sparkplugs and glue” in the community. As “sparkplugs” they inspire people in the community to imagine how their community could be. The “glue” is putting people together with existing ministries where they can plug in.  “God’s provided resources…people just don’t know it. If we could bridge the gap between the towers and the street it could transform the soul of the city.”

“A lot of people feel mixed emotions about homeless people pan-handling.  They aren’t sure what to do.  People are at a loss to know how to get involved in their own neighborhoods. We want to come alongside and help people become aware of the treasures in their own neighborhoods,” says Likkel.

Although it can be daunting to reach out, Likkel reminds us that as Christians, it’s not an option to show love and concern for our neighbor.  He says we start by praying for our eyes to be open to the needs around us and to the ministries that are already in place.  It takes courage to let God soften our hearts to reach out and care for those who may not share our values.

“Ministry is not about getting people to come see what we’re doing at church, it’s about getting out there.  And then you get to see God better because you’re where He is.  The purpose is for the church to meet Jesus,” says Likkel, “and when we feed each other, we feed Him.”

Immigration Forum in New Hampshire

On May 5, the Indonesian Christian Reformed Church of Dover, NH sponsored an immigration forum to address the needs of the Indonesian community in the region.   This forum was done in collaboration with Northeast Community Transformation’s Justice Education program.   Rev. Michael Lapian of Indonesian CRC has been a catalyst in bringing Indonesian churches in the region together to form an association to work on community development and justice concerns.  Five churches and 35 people participated in the event.

The forum was led by attorneys Mona Movafaghi and Randall Drew, two excellent and justice minded lawyers who have been advocates for the Indonesians and for just immigration reform.  Some of the complex immigration issues facing the Indonesian community were addressed such as asylum and deportation, family sponsorship and labor certification.  The lawyers also discussed the need for churches and citizens to call on their representatives to enact comprehensive and just immigration legislation, which is currently being debated in the House of Representatives and US Senate.  They proposed the following be included in a letter to representatives:

1. Create realistic legal avenues for immigrant workers to enter the U.S. to fill jobs throughout our economy, through visa programs that ensure full labor rights, job portability, and a path to permanent residence over time for those who would not displace U.S. workers;

2. Establish a workable process to provide undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. an opportunity to come out of the shadows and earn the privilege of permanent legal status by: registering with the government, paying a hefty fine, undergoing thorough security checks, and meeting additional requirements;

3. Reform our visa preference systems and eliminate the family-based and employment-based visa backlogs that senselessly keep U.S. families separated for years and prevent American businesses from attracting the brightest talent from around the world;

4. Establish smart enforcement strategies that restore the rule of law in our workplaces and along the border, while protecting due process rights and facilitating the cross-border flow of goods and people that is essential to a vibrant economy.

In the often complicated and emotional immigration discussion, let us seek the Lord with a heart of mercy and justice: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it.  Leave it for the alien…(Dt. 24:19).”

Boaz & Ruth, Inc: Matching Gifts with Needs

For years, Martha Rollins, owner of a thriving antique store in Richmond, VA, was unhappy seeing abundant prosperity in her shop but so much poverty in the distressed neighborhood behind it. The urban community had struggled economically since the “white flight” of the 1960s and was each year filled with more crime, unemployment, and pain.  The need for racial reconciliation, and for uncovering the assets of both the city and the suburbs to bring both together for urban renewal, was clear. The question was how to do it.

Martha’s pastor offered her two precious words of advice. The first was to capitalize on the skills and valuable resource network she possessed as a successful businesswoman. So Martha began dreaming of a furniture restoration business that could offer broken people a chance at renewing their lives. In 2001, one of Martha’s customers donated a houseful of furniture to her and a year later, another offered her $150,000 in a challenge grant to launch a new nonprofit.

The pastor’s second tip to Martha was to identify some partners in the African-American community who shared her passion. In 2001, Rollins’ path crossed Rosa Jiggets’—a prayer warrior and long-time African-American resident of Richmond’s struggling Highland Park neighborhood who was eager to partner. God had now gathered together all the necessary ingredients for birthing what became Boaz & Ruth, Inc.

“Boaz & Ruth, Inc. affirms that needs and gifts exist equally on both sides of cultural and economic lines.”
                    – B&R Founder and President, Martha Rollins

Since then, this unique social entrepreneurial organization has been hard at work pursuing a threefold mission. First, Boaz & Ruth works with unemployed individuals, primarily ex-offenders referred by the Richmond City Jail. B&R offers these men and women job and life skills training, educational opportunities, and emotional support. Program participants enjoy hands-on employment for at least one year through the small businesses B&R has created to advance the second part of its mission: the economic revitalization of Highland Park. B&R’s anchor business is a 7500-square foot used furniture store. From this start, B&R has spun off eight related earned-income ventures, including a moving company, a furniture restoration business, and a residential junk removal business. Third, just as the historical Boaz and Ruth put aside social, economic, and racial issues to enjoy a rich and fulfilling relationship, so B&R seeks to see all the citizens of Richmond put aside their differences, share resources, work together, and create a better and stronger community.

“We chose our name—Boaz & Ruth—to remind us of the transforming power of human relationships, both in 400 BC [in Israel] and here today in Richmond, Virginia,” Rollins explains. “We have designed a program of intentional relationships that bridge the gap between those who possess wealth and privilege and those who do not. We believe everyone is a ‘Ruth’ with needs and also a ‘Boaz’ with gifts.”

B&R is contributing to its neighborhood’s economic development. It has already created 23 new jobs for north district residents—an impressive achievement in an area where the unemployment rate is triple the state average. And it has facilitated the birth of Highland Park Merchants at Six Points, a nonprofit organization that has joined the Greater Richmond Retail Merchants Association and has held four successful Merchant Days (the most recent one brought out 500 participants).

“[B&R] staff engage state and local agencies in an effort to provide collaborative answers for community programs.  They use every opportunity to engage anyone who is interested in changing the violence that plagues the streets of Richmond.  The program staff have put themselves on the ‘front lines’ of this struggle. The very nature of this action alone exemplifies a heartfelt and courageous commitment to helping others help themselves.”
                    –Mike Wright, VA Department of Corrections

Individual transformation, though, is at the deepest core of B&R’s vision. The ministry has recently purchased a 100-year-old condemned house adjacent to the B&R furniture store and has plans to restore it for use as a residential facility. “That house is a physical symbol of how people come to us, locked up, boarded up, decrepit—nobody wants them,” Rollins says. “As we restore it, it’s going to be a living parable. We just have to change our mindsets and see the beauty in people,” she adds. That’s exactly what B&R did for Ruth Cosby. She showed up at B&R in 2003, unemployed, uneducated, and depressed. Within six months, she had sailed through the ministry’s computer training courses and was serving as a “senior apprentice” at the furniture store. Today she serves as the Sales Director at Boaz & Ruth at OAR – a second branch of the original store.

For more information on Boaz & Ruth, Inc. visit their website at: http://www.boazandruth.com

New City Launches Parent Support Group

By Rev. Linda R. Rubingh, Pastor, Parent Outreach Coordinator
     New City Kids Church, Jersey City, New Jersey

It seemed like there was one big family crisis after another last year for New City Church’s After School Center students.  A divorce, a father’s incarceration, abuse in the home, a learning disability label.  The staff at New City, particularly myself, Pastor Trevor, and the Center’s assistant director, Vicki Webb, began to pray about how to help and support the children’s families.

We decided that I would begin leading the initiative to form a group for parents; and with Vicki’s invaluable help, we would take some time initially to let the group identify what it’s purpose should be.

Our first meeting was this summer, with twelve parents attending.  We structured our meetings so that parents and their children eat dinner together first, then the parents meet for an hour while a few New City teen employees care for the children in a different room.

After getting together a few more times during the summer, the following issues emerged as issues parents would be interested in addressing when we met: Nutrition and Exercise (for children and parents); healthy cooking; healthy food shopping; Grief and Loss issues; missing parents, single parenting; teaching children about banking and budgeting; internet safety for children; relationships and communication; teenagers, anger and respect.

Each of our meetings so far have been marked with laughter, significant sharing of personal parenting challenges, and tears.  There was one mother who missed the first two meetings, and I was pretty sure she just didn’t feel a real need for the support our group was offering.  But she’s come to our last two meetings, and each time has been overcome with gratitude that she has a place of support.  Each time she’s come, she’s made an important connection with one of the other parents, getting crucial information about a particular issue one of her six children in dealing with.  We close our meetings by praying for our children, and each time she says “Oh God, thank you for this group!  I am so glad I came tonight!  Please help us get together more than once a moth, ‘cause you know I need it!”

What has happened for this mother is the foundation on which we’ve formed our group: that regardless of their current crisis or challenge, every parents walks in the door of New City with amazing strengths.  Strengths that they can share with the other parents, and that can be a force for positive change in the families of New City, and our wider community.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It starts out so small, yet grows to become a place of strength and refuge for the birds making their home there.  Our parent group is a small thing.  But with every meal we share, every phone call to say we care, every prayer we pray together for our children, we grow.  We grow into a place of strength and safety for children and parents.  And that is no small thing.  That’s something that looks and tastes like God’s kingdom.

Connecting Neighbors and Identifying Leaders

Exciting things are happening in the city of Bellflower, California.  Neighbors have started meeting and connecting with one another; they also are beginning to work together.  Community leaders are emerging and asking, “How can we make this neighborhood better?” But more importantly, these leaders are acting on their ideas.  Ryan Verwys is one of the people bringing neighbors together and identifying leaders.  Even though Ryan downplays his role and would be the first person to say that he cannot take any credit for what is happening, it can certainly be said that he is a catalyst.

After graduating from college, Ryan Verwys and his wife Rachel moved to Bellflower to work as service training interns in a two-year program through CRWRC. “We had the option to go to Kenya, Nicaragua, or Bellflower, and we accepted in the most exotic place of the three,” Ryan wryly says.

At the start of a very active two-year internship, he found himself thrown into the work of community development.  “We were just basically poured into all the resources of CRWRC,” says Ryan.  He attended numerous conferences, learned about the Communities First development model, asset-based community development, and leadership skills.  “I feel like I got a graduate degree, without getting a degree in community development,” laughs Ryan, adding, “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without CRWRC’s investment.”

After the internship with CRWRC, Ryan began another internship through Home Missions serving as youth minister and worship leader at New City CRC, in Long Beach, California.  There he gained experience in church congregational work as well as skills working with small groups.  “Home Missions has invested a lot in me in terms of training me as a leader.  A year internship with Pastor Carl [Kromminga] was really, very informative, and gave me a lot of experience.”

Putting their newfound experiences to work, Ryan and Rachel started a house church while doing community development on the side.  Although they did not originally intend to stay there, Bellflower became home.  “We kind of intended to just be here for [the] two-year peer commitment,” says Ryan, “But while we were here it felt like God just broke our hearts for the city and gave us some passion for staying.  I just felt like it [the Church in Bellflower] was this sleeping giant, that if we could help the church and people to see the felt needs of our neighbors that there’s this really beautiful opportunity for the kingdom to come in a really tangible way for our neighbors.”

One thing led to another and now Ryan works fulltime as community development director for a non-profit organization he nurtured in the Eucalyptus neighborhood of Bellflower, a low-income, diverse and crowded area of the city.  He is also a home church planter on the side.

Instead of creating programs haphazardly, Ryan and his staff set out to discover more about the neighbors and ask what they felt could be improved in the neighborhood. For the past year and a half, door-to-door surveys in the neighborhood mapped the assets and concerns of the residents.  Overwhelmingly the neighbors responded that they desired a safe environment for their kids.  “It’s been a process of slowly identifying who are those neighbor leaders who want to do something about it,” says Ryan.

For example, some women from the neighborhood, concerned about cuts in school art programs, proposed starting a community photography class.  With this idea in hand, Ryan and his staff went about figuring out how to make it happen.  They found funding to buy some digital cameras and identified local Christians who knew about photography, including someone who owned his own studio, to help teach the class.

Another leader emerged out of a soccer league that Ryan helped neighbors organize.  One guy named Carlos immediately showed signs of being a leader.  According to Ryan, “When [Carlos] would take things seriously the rest of the kids would take things seriously, and when he would goof off the rest of the kids would goof off.”    Ryan talked to Carlos and told him, “You’re a leader.  You have some leadership skills.  I’d really like to invest in you as a leader, and I wonder if you’d be willing to run this soccer thing.”  Carlos rose to the challenge and took charge of the program for the rest of the summer.

Then they invited Carlos to come to the community center and talk about what else he would like to do to make the neighborhood better.  But Carlos did more than just show up, he brought along a whole team of young people from town; they became a kind of team leadership core for the neighborhood.  Excitedly Ryan says, “What’s cool is this team of young leaders now is taking a responsibility to think about a plan for how to be involved in making [the neighborhood] better, which is really pretty cool.  I’ve probably been praying about a year and a half that God would raise up leaders and I feel like God just pretty miraculously answered that prayer…”

Now that leaders have emerged and neighbors are working together there are many issues to deal with from housing costs to crime.  So Ryan and the neighbors have their work cut out for them, but Ryan feels their investment in the neighborhood is going to pay off.

“We’re starting to see baby steps,” says Ryan.  “What’s rewarding is when I see deacons from some of the local CRC churches particularly, who are really just starting to see what it’s like to live with and share a life with the poor and to be involved in the mission and get excited about that.  I’m also excited that that same deacon is serving along side a Baptist deacon…and they’re loving their neighbors together.  That really gets me excited.”

That’s the thing about sleeping giants: sooner or later they’re going to wake up.  Sometimes they just need someone to rouse them.

Inviting Neighborhood Participation

Inviting Neighborhood Participation from CFA Videos on Vimeo.

This video illustrates a 5 question door-to-door survey that you can ask neighbors to invite participation in community development. Going door-to-door and talking with neighbors about their neighborhoods helps people connect with one another, and also helps to define a neighborhood community vision from the residents themselves.
Posted: Nov. 9th, 2007 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
Tools: Developing a Community Vision (3:10)

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