Delhi’s Dream Park

I have the privilege of serving God in Delhi, CA in response to a call from Gateway Community Church. I am called to lead a missionary team in making new disciples into a multi ethnic church in this small central California town. A small group of people from Gateway began meeting for worship, teaching, prayer, service, and outreach in Delhi in January, 2007.

Our team has connected with the community through an Easter Egg Hunt, Fourth of July celebration, block parties with the sheriff and fire department, concerts for youth, video game tournaments, Christmas Eve worship service, coffee distribution to commuters and many more activities.

An opportunity arose several months ago to take on a more ambitious community development project – to build a new park. There is an obvious need for parks in Delhi. My wife was told to leave one of the only playgrounds in town because it is on the high school property. That leaves one lackluster playground available for community use.

That got me thinking and praying about the idea of building a new park here. When I found out the school district had plans to make a piece of a campus into some kind of park setting, I asked the superintendent if we could make this into a true community project and thereby make it bigger and better. A few meetings with community and county leaders identified what some of the hurdles would be, but we were encouraged to pursue the idea. A steering committee emerged as I talked about the idea in different venues.

We began asking Delhi residents what features they would like to have in a park and what skills they could contribute to the project. This built momentum for the project, as we saw that people are not just supportive of the concept, but eager to actually be involved. People began to volunteer all sorts of skills: electrician, construction, pressure washing, civil engineering, cooking, drawing, painting, music, and on an on. Every one of these abilities will help in some way. Over 20 people have volunteered just to help with fundraising.

The steering committee adopted the name “Building Delhi’s Dream Park.” A logo was selected from a competition and a local high-school age artist made the concept into a very professional-looking logo. Building a park will be nice, and it will certainly fill a void in Delhi, but the real goal is much deeper. We hope to build community. As people dream together, contribute their skills, and work alongside one another, a sense of community emerges. People connect with one another. They get to know one another. And they think about other things the community can do together. Opportunities to talk about our wonderful God arise. It is our hope and prayer that people come to faith, and that this project acts as a catalyst, sparking many more like it.

The more exciting aspects of the park project is on hold, as we wait for the details of a Memorandum of Understanding to be worked out with the school district, which owns the property that will soon be a park. But the team is ready for action as soon as the MOU is approved in a couple months. We hope to build the park in the fall of 2008.

The lull in the park project has allowed me to focus on some other community development projects. As a corollary to the park, I began looking into the possibility of improving the skate park, which sits on the site that will become a full blown park with playground, picnic tables, and potentially even a water play area (excitement for a water play area is huge, but the cost is tremendous.

I began asking the skaters if the skate park could be improved. The answer was a unanimous yes. I organized a few meetings with the skaters to pursue it. One high schooler volunteered to write a letter, and 20-some skaters signed copies and sent them to skate companies seeking donations. Although no money had come in, the posters and stickers that a few companies have sent have encouraged the skaters to keep at it.

A young man who works at a local grocery story suggested asking his store for candy that the group could sell as a fundraiser. The owner of the closest skateboard shop said he can get new equipment made. A non-profit organization called the Land of Plenty will be sending boards for them to skate and boards for them to paint and auction off as a fundraiser. People are calling their grandparents who have connections at a lumberyard, and their uncle who built a skate park in Ripon. The snowballing involvement of these young skaters demonstrates the beauty of the Community Development process.  Even more exciting is that two of these young skaters came by my office, asked to do Bible study, and said they want to be baptized!

As I wait for the park project to pick up steam again, I am taking advantage of the time to canvass a low-income apartment complex (almost always in Spanish), asking the questions suggested by Asset Based Community Development. I will arrange follow-up meetings with residents to discuss the issues they have identified, such as safety and security, recreational opportunities for youth, and commerce and job creation. Job creation is acutely needed in Delhi. Perhaps some kind of alliance between these working class residents, business owners, and county leadership could lead to some new venture. The manager of these apartments, by the way, has talked with me about reconnecting with God after many years of running.

A pastor said about his church recently, “We’re high on brilliance, but short on execution.” The danger of dreaming but not implementing is very real for us in Delhi. My response to challenges is often to say, “I want to do something about that” I say this so often that, I run the risk of making no long-term impact in any area because our efforts are too dispersed. Focus and persistence are keys. I am finding that fruitful ministry takes lots of hard work and lots of time. The bright spots seem to show up with people I have already spoken with a dozen times, not the first time conversations. On the other hand, sometimes a door opens that I wasn’t even looking for. I’m realizing how much of a challenge it is for many people to engage in the community and build relationships, but meaningful relationships are the building block of ministry. A few of us have also sensed spiritual resistance to our presence and work, as seen in discouragement, confusion, and lack of motivation.

As the challenges grow, I become more determined to see the Lord at work in Delhi. I have a conviction in my spirit that He is indeed at work here. Knowing my own pride and ego, however, I often ask God to move here in a way that makes it impossible for me to take the credit. “[God] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think – to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph 3:20-21).

Zeke Nelson

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