Leaders Form Partnerships to Rebuild Gaston Point

Down through the red clay and muddy rivers of Mississippi, the trodden community of Gaston Point is in the process of transforming what was once known as an ‘underprivileged residential area’ into a smart growth community.

Leaders, residents and citizen volunteers of Gaston Point and surrounding areas collaborated with corporations like, Partners World Wide and Back Bay Mission and other 501C3 corporations to form the newly, non-profit organization, Gaston Point Community Development Corporation or Gaston Point CDC.

Since May 2007, the selected eight board members of the Gaston Point CDC have focused its primary mission on improving the quality of life for the residents of Gaston Point community, through the development of partnerships; to provide affordable housing, to improve the quality of existing housing and to encourage development of neighborhood businesses.

Sidney Rushing, president and CEO of Gaston Point CDC said, “I get fulfillment when the opportunity comes to serve people and give something back to the community. Rushing, along with the other board members have created a strategic planning technique to help organize and foresee the vision of Gaston Point CDC.

Other board members and Gaston Point CDC affiliates are: Everett Lewis, Housing Specialist for Back Bay Mission, Roland Buteyn, consultant for Partner’s World Wide, Michael Holleman, Pastor Felix Williams of Grace on the Coast Church, Justin Holton, director of the West End Disaster Relief Association (WEDRA), Gary Hollimon, City Councilman for the Gulfport, Reverend Lee Adams of Little Rock Baptist Church in Gulfport, MS. and Jimmie Jenkins, president of the Civic Association.

The idea of the Gaston Point CDC manifested through Buteyn of Colorado. Over a year ago, Buteyn saw the need for reconstruction in the Gaston Point community due to hurricanes Rita and Katrina, drug abuse and many other inner-city social factors. Therefore, he ventured out and collaborated with Rushing to bring this organization into fruition. Buteyn and other employees of Partners World Wide, travel to third world countries to work along with ministers and leaders to strengthen families in role modeling and mentoring in the community. “Our second main focus is affordable housing for citizens, but first we work to improve the family structure and social relationships,” Buteyn said.

One factor of focus for the board members of the Gaston Point CDC was to improve the unemployment rate in the area. So, Buteyn came up with the idea to form a construction-training school to give residents experience in this field that is high in demand. Buteyn and Rushing searched high and low at many abandoned and ransacked buildings in the area in search for the perfect building to jumpstart this school. They finally found the perfect building. However, the school did not open until months later. Gaston Point CDC is now, the founding organization of “Operation Reconstruct,” which is linked to the Home Builder’s Institute (HBI). The school is a construction institute that is currently training residents for Gaston Point’s reconstruction sites. Buteyn describes it as a way for families to have a source of income.

The very first 12 students recently graduated from “Operation Reconstruct” and currently hold fulfilling careers in this field. The second class had their commencement ceremony in November 2007.

Holton, former student of Rushing’s, came on board to review proposals, plans and operate decisions and input. Holton thinks of his job as, Supreme Court Justice. “We’re on the mission to supply decent, affordable housing for residents,” Holton said. Pastor Williams was one of the first community leaders to see the hard work and labor of the Gaston Point CDC. The very first home that was renovated by the board members is located on the same street as his church. “I’m like the new-kid on the block,” Holton explained. “The people of the CDC welcomed me with open-arms and everyday it’s an experience and honor to work along with the other board members.”

Williams described the Gaston Point area as an inner-city area where drug gangs and prostitution is a way of life for many. Williams believed that to repair this community in every aspect, it’s going to take the leaders, citizens, neighboring cities and states. “To get this job done, we are going to have to take it one step at a time. It takes everybody,” Williams said. The Gaston Point CDC has adopted a road in the area, in which the board members clean monthly. “We’re very hands-on,” Williams explained.

Everett Lewis, treasurer of the Gaston Point CDC said, “Our motive is to go back to the times where it was all self- contained.” Lewis’s experience with Back Bay Mission has enhanced his passion for advocacy and service. “It’s not just about housing, but total communication of revitalization. It’s about ministers being active in the community. We’re hoping as time goes on, we produce tangible evidence of success,” Lewis said.

The Gaston Point CDC is on its way to a future of success. At 10 a.m., Thursday, Oct.18, the Gaston Point CDC, opened its doors to their new headquarters in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Gaston Point. Over 150 citizens rallied around in support and admiration. This headquarters is the very first site for Gaston Point CDC’s place of business. Also, the Gaston Point CDC is currently renovating three homes that were demolished by hurricane Katrina. Holton calls the ground-up labor, ‘Grass-root Construction.’ They are also in the process of composing a neighborhood survey for the Gaston Point residents to check on their progress and the needs of each citizen.

The board members of the Gaston Point CDC plans to continue to thrive in the areas of, affordable housing and humanitarianism. “The most important and intriguing thing about this group is, it’s an organization that has a very specific, geographical, defined area of focus,” Lewis said.

Northern Lighthouse: A Place of Acceptance

Where can outcasts find a home, if not in the church? The Northern Lighthouse in Lincoln, Neb., has become that home for many. Its vision is to be a place of acceptance and direction, and it lives out this vision in many ways, from its property design to its programs.

Planted in 1997, the church moved onto a 5-acre horse ranch in 2001. The property serves the neighborhood in many ways; its sand volleyball court, barbecue pit, and playground are open to all.

The Northern Lighthouse welcomes all sorts of people, and that has shaped the church in unique and exciting ways.

A man named Lee McKane began attending after he saw a flier about the church’s Alpha course. When one of his friends was incarcerated, McKane wondered if the friend could still attend Alpha. He learned that he could sponsor his friend and check him out of the correctional center to attend programs.

This simple action had a far-reaching impact, as more and more inmates started attending the Northern Lighthouse. Almost everyone is greeted at the church door with a hug. To someone in prison, a hug makes a big difference. Now approximately 25 percent of attendees are inmates and many in the congregation are in recovery from drugs or alcohol.

L.A. (Little Angel) Goodrum learned about the church while incarcerated in the nearby correctional center. Trapped in substance abuse and destructive relationships since age 12, Goodrum was looking for wholeness. She had noticed that a group of inmates would return on Sunday mornings with a sense of purpose and peace. When she discovered that the group attended the Northern Lighthouse, she decided to try it. She was surprised to feel love and peace at the church and has been going ever since.

The sanctuary is informal, with round tables instead of pews. About 120 people attend services on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. On Monday nights there is a reintegration program for inmates, consisting of a Christian 12-step class and life skills classes.

Inmates serve the church and community. About 10 men participate in the Charity Autos program every Saturday. They provide free mechanical labor in a garage on the property. At other times during the week, inmates help with church cleaning and landscaping.

When the Northern Lighthouse’s leadership team decided to accept inmates as a vital part of the congregation and not to separate them in any way, the decision turned some people away but attracted others who want to be part of the mission.

Chanda Gerdes, who was hired to drive the bus for the reintegration program, used to declare to everyone: “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in nothin’!” After agreeing to attend a service, she found both home and family in the church. She now teaches a 12-step class and serves on the board of directors of the reintegration program.

“We believe that grace comes first, then people change their behavior,” Pastor Sam Keyzer explains. “It’s exciting to see Reformed theology come alive.”

-Kristin Niehof

Communities First Barbecue

When you think of February, what immediately comes to mind? Blizzards, staying close to home, cuddled up by the fireplace drinking hot chocolate? In Miami, February presents the perfect time to have a barbecue! And what a barbecue it was! Several friends gathered together in the backyard of my home for food, fellowship and fun.

It was exciting to see entire families come together under the common bond of a good burger! As the adults visited, the children played in the background, having paper airplane races, making the biggest bubbles around, and just having a good time. So why all this frivolity? Was it someone’s birthday? Was someone getting married? Generally, a reason is needed to have all of this celebration, but I have the privilege of saying, this is my job! Who could ask for a better job than to have parties for a living? Well, that is not exactly what my job is, but it is definitely included. I have the task of seeking out those within the city who are ‘seeking to transform the city.’ And the people gathered here last night are seeking just that. Through community development, they want to see God’s “kingdom come on EARTH as it is in Heaven.” That type of job is truly fulfilling Jesus mandate to “make disciples of all nations.” And part of the excitement for us is that ‘all nations’ are right here in Miami.

Community development is exciting and fulfilling work, but it is never-ending work! Last night as we were sharing I heard the comment, “I’m tired, physically and emotionally” another person attending mentioned, “we need to meet with people who don’t just understand our ideas, but who take the time to understand our hearts, what makes us tired, burned out, what makes us excited, and that is hard to find in this type of missions work.”

My hope is that here, in my backyard, people can find just that, someone to cheer them on when things are going well, someone to encourage them when things seem to be going just about as awful as they can be. Someone to provide the support and friendship that will help them fulfill God’s great plan to see His Kingdom built. And really, I can’t do that all on my own, but maybe I can help them network, get to know one another so that they can provide that support for one another. Last night, as I sat back swatting mosquitoes, carrying on a conversation with a pastor and his wife, I realized that this is what my job is all about! This is what life in the Kingdom is all about! It was exciting to see people from different walks of life, different denominations, different stages in life, all come together under the banner of Christ. I hope to see it happen again soon. So next time you are battling those winter time blues, come pay us a visit in the balmy ‘Magic City.’ We’ll have a barbecue for you!

Weaving the Threads of Community

Again and again we’ve had to slow ourselves down from jumping into programs for our community and focus on relationships. We were reminded of this by a couple who did this kind of ministry for 15 yrs. They said they spent the first year and a half just building relationships!

Our milestones are not what projects we’ve started, but the people we have connected to. In Restoring At-Risk Communities, Bob Lupton says, “We are finally beginning to realize that programs do not fix communities. Only neighbors can do that.”

As I walk the streets of my neighborhood, I feel the needs because they are also my own as a part of this community. I see the youth wandering around without purpose; dreams and gifts lying dormant under the facade of the glorified street life. I see teenage girls walking with babies in strollers, looking for a “man” to give them identity. I see young men sitting in the same spots day after day with the light of life already snuffed out of their eyes.

And so, we try to weave the threads of community through little conversations, in the park, in a coffee shop, and mostly on the streets. We do research on churches and organizations already doing work in the area and assessing their effectiveness through real life. We pray and dream of what this neighborhood could one day be and how we will all as a community get there.

Accepting God’s Challenge at Unity CRC

As deacons in the church, we encounter many needs.  A call may come in from the community, or a church member who pulls you aside after worship, or a family in the neighborhood who loses their house to fire…  We may not have the resources to assist in every need, and that’s OK.  We do the best we can with what we have.  But when we do decide to provide aid, how we do it is critical.

Many of us have heard of, or attended the workshops provided by Al Santino and the Holistic Ministry Team.  They teach deacons how to accurately assess the need of the benevolence caller, and how to respond to the need in an effective and biblical way, helping return the person to self-sufficiency.

For deacons who were used to writing a check and wishing them well (like we were), the workshop curriculum is pretty intimidating.  You wonder to yourself “how can we ever do this?”  Don’t let it psyche you out!  Our deacon board is living proof that change can happen, and it’s not as hard as you think!  The hardest part is taking the first step.

After realizing the only way to truly help someone effectively and biblically, is to walk with them back to well-being, we called Al Santino to meet with us and give us our own personal workshop using a current benevolence recipient as the subject.  We were given real life, real time advice and solutions to effectively assess the need and put together a game plan to return this child of God to self-sufficiency.  We even discovered that God had a mentor for this person prepared in advance and ready to go.

If you really want your benevolence to be effective and God glorifying, go to a workshop, get educated, and take ownership of the curriculum to make it work for you.  And when the next need arises, be bold.  It’s not as difficult as you think.  If you get stuck or need help in any way, ask for it!  The HMT is there to help you.

Doug Boydston and Bill Cook

Doug Boydston is a board member of the Holistic Ministry Team and a deacon at Covenant CRC of North Haledon, NJ.

Bill Cook is the Deacon Chairperson at Unity CRC of Prospect Park, NJ, and a board member of New Hope Community Ministries.

Single Moms, Unique Challenges

Recently two single moms came to us because they were in trouble with their landlords and facing possible eviction.  In speaking with Anyelis Diaz of New Hope Community Ministries, who has organized a Single Mother’s Network, we discerned that the problem is widespread.  We were able to connect one of the moms to the network.

Single moms feel particularly vulnerable when they bring up issues of safety or maintenance and if they withhold rent to draw attention to these issues they can find themselves facing legal action or intimidation.

Speaking directly to the landlord on their behalf can resolve many disputes and if the landlord knows that the church is supporting their tenant they may not view them as a problem or high risk but as someone who may need a little mercy.

Perhaps short-term benevolence is the answer and you just need to bridge the gap until the crisis is passed.  If, however, more systemic problems are evident you will need to consider that God may be calling you to make a long term commitment to an individual or a family to encourage development or restoration to full health both spiritually and socially.  Financial counseling, job placement services, and even finding a new home may be involved.

Many different resources are needed to take someone ton the brink of homelessness to wholeness.  This takes time and perseverance but there is help and no one Deaconate needs to tackle all the issues on their own.

Training Christians to Serve as Financial, Life Coaches

Here’s a link to an article about Starfish Ministries.

Horizon CRC

Horizon Christian Reformed Church in Illinois is a community primed for transformation.  Through prayer, preaching and study the congregation decided to leave their comfortable church building and relocate to a store front directly behind a 700 unit apartment complex many in the city claim to be a major “blight” on the community.  Realizing the best way to minister with the individuals and families that live in this complex is to be a part of this community Horizon has put stepped out in faith and moved when God told them to move.

The vision of this church is to see the community which they are now apart of to be transformed into the healthy Kingdom God has planned for it.

This vision for transformation is stated very clearly in their services statement:  The church is called to be a compelling force for good in this world.  It is not made to serve itself, but to serve and love this world.  God is already at work in the world and we are invited to join him to relieve suffering, fight injustice and oppression, meet the needs of the poor, and engage in making a transforming difference in the lives of our neighbors, in our community, and in this world.

It will be exciting to see what God is going to do with this community of believers who have opened themselves up to the transformational service of ministering “with” their community.

Bethany Dudley

Pullman CRC

The late 60’s early 70’s was a time of turmoil for the Southside neighborhoods of Chicago.  Within a few short years the entire racial and social economic makeup of these neighborhoods changed.  The Pullman/Roseland neighborhood was no exception.  With the changing of the neighborhoods came changes within the church.   Four large CRC churches, despite a few members’ pleas, left Pullman.  The rundown Gospel Mission’s building along with its’ small congregation who refused to abandon their neighborhood was all that was left in the once heavily Christian Reformed neighborhood of Pullman.

Over thirty years later this small congregation, now  known as Pullman Christian Reformed Church, is a strong thriving multi-cultural worshiping community. Pullman CRC has recently reestablished their commitment to the Pullman neighborhood and has gone through Asset Based Community Development training in order to enhance God’s Kingdom in Pullman.  They are in the beginning stages of adopting a school and starting listening conversations with their neighbors.

Pullman CRC’s love and commitment for the Pullman neighborhood has not wavered since they answered God’s call to stay in the community over thirty years ago.  The decades of relationships and ministries built by Pullman CRC coupled with their commitment to Asset Based Community Development and their open hearts to follow where God leads it is clear that the transforming power of God’s Kingdom is at work in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago!

Bethany Dudley

Pictures of Transformation

Telling stories of community transformation in one community is a daunting task.  So writing a story of transformation for a large region like the South West could be considered a bit of a pipe dream.  But through out the region I see pictures of transformation especially as it pertains to leaders.

Building capacities for transformation requires community champions.  Champions engage their neighbors in improving their neighborhoods.  Community champions need coaches or people who are willing to nurture them.  In the South West region I see people who excel at serving community champions. They are focusing on building a core group of community leaders who have passion for learning.

In Southern California Terri Larson has been working at convening leaders and developing an environment for mutual learning.  Terri Larson has direct influence with more than 40 community champions.  Each leader is a catalyst for creating a learning environment in their community.

In Arizona a 74 year old trainer/facilitator Stan Rowland has less than two years of work and has discovered a way to engage church leaders and members alike in the process of building capacity for community transformation.

In a recent training Stan did, I met a leader from Tucson.  Ted is a church leader, older and from a military background.  He is zealous for community transformation.  He is enthusiastic about church leaders leaving their church agenda behind and collaborating with community residents.

Ted and his Pastor Tim have spent the last five years helping their 1500 member congregation move from being congregationally focused to being more externally focused.

Along with helping their church they have also spent the last five years connecting to neighborhood leaders.  They are now collaborating with community residents on ways to impact community transformation in Tucson.  Their leadership has inspired other pastors to develop a strategy called For Tucson.  In that strategy several churches are collaborating with neighborhood and city leaders in to improve the 29th street corridor.  It is a 5 neighborhood area in an older part of Tucson.

Stan Rowland is helping by providing training for church members and community residents building a community transformation process.  In the cities of Tucson, Phoenix, and Flagstaff Stan has started a training of launch teams that will begin to train others.

Other leaders working in the South West Region are Jose Rayas in El Paso, Juan Arjona in Escondido and Walker Moore in Waco.  They are leaders who have a passion similar to Terri Larson and Stan Rowland.  It is a vision of catalyst leaders who engage their neighbors in creating a new and preferred reality in their community.

Jose Rayas has a handful of leaders who also engage in raising other leaders.  Juan Arjona is working in older part of Escondido.  He is a pastor and city employee.  In both roles he is working on raising leaders in the community

Walker Moore working in Waco is just beginning to organize leaders in the city of Waco.  He is working with one neighborhood association but my hope is that he will impact all the associations in the city of Waco.  Most of the associations are in the city are poorly attended and have not been very active.  Walker and the association he is with have begun work with residents and apartment owners and their work has begun to have a positive influence in the community.

Building capacity for transformation requires leaders who are passionate about transformation.  Through work of the leaders mentioned in this story, I am seeing pictures of transformation.

Building a Community of Vision

Mika Community Development Corporation is an Eleazar Partnership ministry partner in Costa Mesa, California. We partner  with local churches to build communities of VISION where neighbors have V-vision, I-interdependent relationships with God and others, S-servant leadership, I-impact, O-organization, N-networks.  We accomplish this through our community building and youth development strategies.  The following story is one example of how we are seeing God’s kingdom come in the low income neighborhoods of Costa Mesa:

“These are my people.  I found them!”  This is the declaration that gushed out of Effy Sanchez after a year of volunteering in the Shalimar neighborhood.  You can tell by watching Effy interact with the neighbors that she was right at home.  Every Wednesday she rolls into the neighborhood with bingo and prizes.  She spends a few hours playing bingo on the front lawn with 20 or so neighbor women.  But the interaction goes much deeper than bingo games.  Effy is a woman with vision.  She has experienced the love and grace of Jesus Christ and is passionate to share it.

As it began to get dark earlier it seemed that the summer of weekly bingo was wrapping up. But the neighbor women really liked getting together- it was a break in the tasks of the week, an opportunity to enjoy themselves and connect with other women.  They realized that Effy was a part of that.  They decided to keep meeting on Wednesday nights at a home and invited Effy to read the Bible to them.  They made it clear that they didn’t want her to preach, just read the Bible.  This was the opportunity that Effy had been waiting for.

That was three summers ago and now Effy is planning to launch three home Bible studies when this year’s “summer bingo” is over.  The same ladies play bingo each week, having added more to the group.  But they also meet weekly to plan neighborhood projects including clean up days and a neighborhood watch.  The time they have spent in the scripture has informed how they see their community and the responsibility they feel to love their neighbor as themselves.  In addition to coordinating the neighborhood Bible studies, Effy is co-leading the Neighborhood Action Committee- Comunidad Unida.

In addition to coordinating the neighborhood Bible studies, Effy is co-leading the Neighborhood Action Committee- Comunidad Unida.  As a group we have just surveyed our neighborhood to hear the priorities of the community and are now planning activities to address those concerns.  In some ways it feels that things are happening “all of a sudden” but I know that it is through the perseverance and faithfulness of friends like Effy that we see neighbors taking action now.

At Mika CDC Effy is the perfect example of how one life can transform a community.  By being faithful to show up, to trust, to speak God’s word, to encourage and give opportunities to lead, Effy has developed a group of women grounded in the word of God and ready to work together to build a community of VISION.

In, For, and WITH the Community

In, For, and WITH from CFA Videos on Vimeo.

To develop a community you have to be willing to live in it.  To be WITH a community means to be a servant to the community.
Posted: Feb. 5, 2008 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
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