A Different Kind of Memorial Service

A week ago Sam and I hit the streets with some sack lunches for our weekly outreach to the homeless neighbors in our vicinity. Sam is a recovering addict who deals with some pretty tough disabilities (bad heart, partial blindness) yet who feels compelled to give back. He has been well loved by one of the local congregations and he wants to share that similar love with our other neighbors. His story is probably worth a separate post.
Anyhow, our first stop last Tuesday led us to Jim, a man who lives in his 90′s Oldsmobile Cutlass. He was parked in the Big Saver Grocery parking lot and when we shared a lunch with him we asked him if he had seen Dean. Dean is a regular in the area who we have seen in and out of rehab. He’s an average sized man in his fifties with thinning gray hair and a face with an appearance that tells of years of outdoor living and alcohol abuse. We’ve known Dean for several years. We once helped him get into the Salvation Army rehab center, only to have him kicked out for smoking indoors. After he was kicked out of rehab last fall he ended up back on the streets in Bellflower, and in rougher shape than ever. He was experiencing auditory hallucinations and fairly incoherent.

Jim, the man with the cutlass, immediately told us that he “was sorry to be the bringer of bad news… Dean passed away yesterday.” A sadness came over me that I didn’t expect. We had just seen him two days earlier… and now he had passed away? Quickly, I started calling people and encouraging our homeless neighbors to share the news that we would be having a memorial service at the community center the following week. The word went out and the homeless community was saddened.

Last Saturday, a few days before the memorial service was planned, the team at Kingdom Causes Bellflower was hosting a training at the center for local churches. While I was presenting, another homeless neighbor named Jim peeked his head in the door and interrupting my training said, “Dean’s not dead.” What? He’s not dead? Could this be true? I dismissed it as the hopeful musings of an inebriated friend. So, yesterday, the day before the memorial service, I sent Joel to the hospital to find out and sure enough, he confirmed the news…Dean was alive. He had had a seizure of sorts and was in bad shape but he wasn’t dead… WOW.

Rather than cancel the service and try to inform everyone before hand we instead decided to continue with our plans and to gather his friends for a time of prayer and a celebration meal. About 15 friends showed up, all in varying degrees of sobriety. We talked about how the story of Lazarus in the Bible tells us that Jesus knows what it is like to have a close friend who is sick and dying… and that he has the power to heal, and even raise people from the dead! Our prayer time was incredible… raw, scriptural prayers prayed for a friend close to death. Sam was back and he shared a challenge that only a recovering addict can give… “What’s happened to Dean should cause us all to look in the mirror. He’s in the shape he’s in because of his drinking… and self abuse. If we don’t change…then we might go down the same road.”

Everyone said they were thankful for the time to come together to pray for their friend… to have a meal together. Many stayed to help clean up. It was one of the most meaningful experiences I have had since I started getting involved in work with the homeless.

My prayer remains that God would continue to surprise us. That many more of our homeless neighbors, especially those who we have assumed are too far gone in addiction, or too self destructive, would be found to be alive, renewed. Lord come quickly to save.

Ryan VerWys
Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower website by clicking here.
Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower blog by clicking here.

The Right Tool

“Get the right tool,” my dad would often yell when I used the back of a screwdriver as a hammer or my nails as tweezers.  It was easy for him to say. He had a whole garage full of tools. I was just grabbing for whatever was closest and quickest to get the job done.

Last night when I pulled into my carport I was assaulted by the most vulgar graffitti covering the whole wall in front of me. The kids upstairs have been a problem in the neighborhood for a while. Everybody has been complaining about them. I haven’t seen an adult come or go from the apartment in weeks. Last night it became clear that I couldn’t put off a conversation with them any longer.

I hauled myself up the stairs, stepped over the make shift dog gate, and entered the living room filled with two bunkbeds and the backseat of a mini van acting as a sofa. Five teenagers stared at me as I sat down on the “couch”, a dog on each side of me. “Who’s going to paint downstairs and when?,” I said, skipping over any chit chat.

“It wasn’t us,” one of the girls said.

“I didn’t ask if it was you. I asked when you were going to paint it,” I explained. I really didn’t think that they had done it, but it had to be one of their friends that come and go all night long.

“Let’s just paint it now,” the oldest guy said. “I’ll go buy rollers at the 99 cent store.”  He got on his bike and left.

At this point I was pretty surprised. I thought there was going to be more of a fight. I went downstairs to get paint and by the time I got back two of them were standing in the garage with rollers, ready to go. As they painted they began to tell me about themselves, about their family, and their mom being gone all the time. They told me about the kids who did the graffiti and the changes they would like to make. When they finished the garage they went over to the outside wall and started painting over the gang tagging there. They seemed to enjoy the work and sharing about themselves.

As I stood there watching them happily paint, I thought of the focus we place on equipping people in our ministry (www.mikacdc.org). I thought about my dad saying, “Get the right tool.” Here before me I saw how the right tool was bringing out the best in my neighbors. In a simple way, being asked to take responsibility triggered them into action. They were physically equipped with the right tools, but I saw too that they had it in them to do something good, they just needed an opportunity. I wondered if anyone had ever asked them to take responsibility for their building or our community. Chap Clark’s book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers came to mind.

Clark asserts that adults have abandoned teens, that we have left them to raise themselves. The two painters in front of me seemed to be a glaring example of this. My first idea was to tell them to paint and leave them to figure it out but when the oldest so eagerly rode off to buy rollers, it made me want to get together the rest of the equipment and stick around. And now after our visit I want to stick around more.

Maybe there will be other opportunities to work together or get to know each other. It is convicting to see my own ability to judge and become the cranky lady downstairs. Last night my neighbors gave me a chance to reconsider my view of them. They took my reprimand as an invitation and let me into a sliver of their world. Perhaps we can continue equipping each other with the right tools for loving our community.

Crissy Brooks

For more information on MIKA Community Development Corporation click here.

View the MIKA CDC blog by clicking here.

How Do We Help?

Thirty people from 10 different congregations attended a training this Saturday on how to help people in crisis. Especially during these hard times, churches are overwhelmed with the need in the community.

We discussed different options for how to help and what resources already exist in our area. A theme throughout the morning was the importance of building relationships with the people asking for help and not just giving them a handout and sending them away. It was encouraging to hear God’s people conspiring different ways to bless their neighbors.

The church in our city needs to be equipped to help the families that will lose jobs and homes. Being proactive now will better prepare us to be of help and share God’s love through our actions in the future.

Chrissy Padilla

Go to Kingdom Causes Website by clicking here.

View the Kingdom Causes: Bellflower blog by clicking here.

Central Alliance Church

Located in NW Miami, the Central Alliance Church is a family church, partnering with the local community to make life better.

In the last several months we’ve had a variety of “Community Building” events, such as a Hip-Hop concert, community health fair and community clean-ups.

We are intentional about working with our community’s assets such as the local neighborhood association and the local elementary school.

In December we had another community building event (Gingerbread House Building). Latricia, Joshua and their children Airiana and Aviair learned about the event through the local school.

The Warden  family has joined our church and are actively looking for ways to benefit their community.

Greg Noll, Pastor

Birchwood Greeters

At a meeting with a member of the Birchwood Neighborhood Association it was suggested that I contact PW, a member that had expressed interest in a “Welcome Wagon” for the Birchwood Neighborhood that would serve as an instrument to welcome people to the neighborhood.

I first met PW at a neighborhood BBQ over the summer and so it was an easy meeting to arrange as she was already familiar with who I was in the neighborhood.  We then met for coffee in late November in which she expressed her interest in a “Welcome Wagon” for the Birchwood Neighborhood.  We began the process of working together, drafting up her ideas and putting them to paper.

Together in December we met with the Birchwood Neighborhood Association Board and got official recognition as a Birchwood Neighborhood Association Committee and the blessing of the Board to continue our efforts on a larger scale.

As of early January we have several neighborhood businesses that want to contribute to a welcome packet, including free pizza and a free oil change.  We have 6 people wanting to volunteer to welcome new residents to the neighborhood, the neighborhood elementary school is going to give us new enrollees contact info (if they are new to the neighborhood and sign a release for us to attain their names and addresses), and we have two apartment complexes (more coming on soon) that are willing to pass on information about new residents.

Starting this month and on into March we will be working with a group of students from Western Washington University (Human Services Majors) to expand our networking efforts with neighborhood businesses, to create an Asset Map of the neighborhood (which will then be turned into a neighborhood directory to be given out to new residents), and to create a “How To” guide for how to do this process in the future.  The How To Manual will be made available to anyone interested in doing this type of effort in another neighborhood.

More to come on this as things are really starting to progress quickly…

Cameron Garcia
To find out more about what’s going on in the Birchwood neighborhood click here.

Fraternidad de Fe

Our communities are filled with families and individuals with varying degrees of needs; however, the church has for many years focused only on the need of its members. We haven’t taken the time to get to know our communities. We don’t see ourselves as agents of justice and change. We have falsely believed that a spoken message was sufficient to meet the needs of the people.

The framework and concept of Christian Community Development (CCD) and specially the Asset Based Community Development have given us a glimpse of how the church can better exercise its function through holistic ministry.

Albert Ixchu, Senior Pastor and Jose Carvajal, Associate Pastor

Touching Miami with Love

Our mission is to share the love of Christ by offering hope, opportunities, and resources for individuals and families.

Touching Miami with Love (TML) has been working in Miami for the past 15 years in a variety of ministry settings. About 7 years ago, we began to deepen our efforts in Overtown, one of the poorest zip codes in the state of Florida. We had long tried to move into ministry with our community by either offering parenting classes or providing other social services such as our free income tax preparation services.

However, there was a component that wasn’t there and we knew it wasn’t just another program. We had also long espoused that we were trying to follow an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) model and really wanted to build on the strengths of the community. So, we partnered with Delia Caderno and the Partnership for Community Transformation for training and coaching on ABCD and we have already seen an increase in resident involvement and ownership!!

Jason Pittman, Director of Touching Miami with Love

“Put ‘em to work!” Youth Employment in McLaughlin

Sharon is 18 years old, and has an 18-month old daughter.  She dropped out of school in the 9th grade when she got pregnant.  Now a “single mom,” she is in an up-and-down relationship with her “baby’s daddy.” She struggles with academics, especially with reading.  She hasn’t spoken to her father in years, and recently was forced out of her mother’s place.  She is now in a living situation that is very precarious and unhealthy for her and for her baby.  Sharon and her daughter are living well below the poverty line and are essentially homeless.

Sharon recently became a program participant with Community enCompass’ Youth Entrepreneurship/Employment Program (YEP!).  She gets up every morning at 5:45 AM, prepares her daughter for the day of childcare, and walks across the neighborhood in the icy morning air to get to the job site.  She is always on-time.  She is a hard-worker: steady, silent, persistent.  She is willing to learn and is very creative.

The job site is 235 E. Larch, where she and seven other youth from the neighborhood are rehabilitating a home that had sat vacant for several years.   The home will be used as part of Community enCompass’ Permanent Supportive Housing Program for homeless families.

Ron Owens, a long-time builder and former Director of WISH (West Michigan Independent Self-help Housing), is the project supervisor at the job site and has been the primary teacher of construction skills for the YEP youth.  Ron is excited about the growth that he has seen in the youth over the past six months since the project’s inception.

“They’ve learned so much already: how to get to work on time, what it means to be responsible for your work tools, how to use a speed square, how to swing a hammer, what nails to use in what situation, and—oh yes—those math skills you thought you would never need, and why a lunch from home is always better than fast food. The list goes on and on.”

“When the youth first received their own tools, the biggest mystery was the tape measurer.  It had lots of numbers on it, but the confusing part was all the little marks between those numbers. At first when I asked for a measurement I would get everything from, ‘It’s the third little mark past the second big mark after the number 68′ to ‘That would be 68 and two quarter, I think.’  Often I would be waiting for a measurement, and waiting and waiting, until I would say something like ‘Can you give me the measurement before I die of old age?’  This would always bring a smile to the faces of those who were standing by waiting, until it was their turn!  Now everyone can read and use a tape measure. That deserves big congratulations to all!

YEP is more than “just a job.”  As Ron reflects, “All of the youth are facing significant adversity in their lives.  We all try to understand how each person’s daily life can impact their workday, and we work through these issues by concentrating on the job at hand.  We have all learned a great deal, not just about building and construction, not just about life skills, but about each other and how to work with each other.  Learning these things has not been easy, but the reward they get from seeing a job well done gives them a sense of satisfaction that can be hard to come by in the neighborhood.”

Sharon is taking small, but mighty steps towards a different future for herself and her baby.  We all recognize and name the obstacles that are around her, but Community enCompass—its staff, programs, resources, and PRAYERS—is committed to walk along side of her as she takes each one of those small and mighty steps.

YEP is a partnership of AmeriCorps, CRWRC, Department of Employment and Training, GoodWill Industries, and Community enCompass.  Collaboration makes things happen!

Jim Schepers

The Green Bean

The Green Bean from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


The Green Bean coffee house is a non-profit approach to coffee. For more videos on the Green Bean follow the links below.The Green Bean Story 1
The Green Bean Story 2
Posted: Feb. 9, 2009          DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
General (3:51)
To download Quicktime right click (control-click for Mac) on the “DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME” text and choose “Save Target As,” “Save Link As,” or “Download Linked File.”

Vida Nueva (New Life) CRC

Vida Nueva (New Life) Christian Reformed Church in Miami Gardens is a picture of what “mustard seed” size faith looks like. Even as they rented space in a local grammar school for their Sunday service, and rented a small office to conduct all the other ministerial duties they continued to reach-out to their community.

One of the ways in which Vida Nueva CRC responded to their community’s need was by creating a non-profit organization to provide counseling and other wrap-around services to their community.

The New Life Community Restoration Center’s goal is to be able to minister to the physical, spiritual and social needs of their community.

Juan Pablo Sánchez, Pastor

Urban Resurrection

Urban Resurrection is a community development initiative with the vision to transform urban neighborhoods through weaving the fabric of a Christ centered community. We do this through three unique focuses called VOICE, BEATS, and the Good Neighbor Initiative.

We believe that Christ has called us not only to minister in our neighborhood but to actually relocate and live here. Just as Christ came to live among us we have chosen to live among those to whom we minister.

We encourage a Christ centered transformation by empowering community residents to organize, plan for, create and sustain a vibrant, high quality and diverse neighborhood.

Michael Philip, Director

“We believe that Christ has called us not only to minister in our neighborhood, but to actually relocate and live here.”

The Internal/Eternal Benefits of an External Focus

Can churches experience internal benefits from their external focus? The  answer is YES! My home church is an example of how a Church’s decision to be more outwardly focused can also lead to internal church-growth.

During the last months we have been working through what it means to be a church “with” our community. We are engaged in a journey of intentionality. We are intentional about reaching and listening to our community, and intentional about having the hard conversations about what that will mean to our tight-knit and small congregation.

The conversations haven’t been easy, and through them we have realized a truth that most churches miss. We need to be emotionally as well as spiritually healthy in order to be an agent of transformation. So as we embark on a journey to be agents of change we are being changed, internally and eternally!!

South Kendall CRC

Q: What role do you see the church playing in the community?
A: Promoting unity and bringing the community closer.

That was the top response to South Kendall’s Community survey question about the role of the church in the community.

As we think about tangible ways in which these two things can take place, what keeps coming to mind is that that is precisely the role of a good neighbor. Good neighbors promote unity because they are usually the ones who know most everyone in the block. They also promote a closer community by having barbecues and other events where folks can begin to create trusting relationships.

Oftentimes we think of neighbor as a role for “individuals”, but what if the church seizes that role? In what ways could it promote unity and bring a true sense of community? These are the questions that South Kendall CRC is struggling to answer as they begin their journey into being a good neighbor to their community.

Joe Dieleman, Pastor

Groups Brings Health Care to New Orleans

by Tronn Moller

Mohammed Ali once stated, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”  The Desire Street Ministries of the Upper Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La. are paying rent to local citizens in the form of free health care. Almost four years after Hurricane Katrina, DSM is still working with the post-Katrina issues of unbalanced and inefficient health care throughout the once proclaimed “Forgotten City.”  With the help of  Dr.Pinkel Patel, Chief Resident at Florida Hospital in Oviedo, Florida and his medical team of fifteen, Marcia Peterson, director of DSM, organized a week-long free clinic this past summer that addressed and catered to the needs of 260 New Orleans residents. Services ranged from basic screenings, case management, examinations, and recommendations for lab work to writing prescriptions and physical therapy.

Since the area was not earmarked by the city for most of the help it needed for recovery, Peterson made the need for health care and physician availability within the community, a priority. Along with Peterson, Patel was drawn to volunteer his time and efforts after attending a seminar in Florida where Danny Wuerffel, also known as the ‘quarterback with a servant’s heart’ and a 1996 Heisman Trophy Winner challenged the audience to make themselves available to those in need. Patel believes that much of the country is not fully aware of how much New Orleans still lacks in basic resources.

“It’s nationally known, but it’s not nationally exposed,” Patel said.” We got people from Florida and people say, it’s New Orleans, ‘isn’t everything fixed there?’ “Unless we know there is a need, unless we know we need to give time in addition to resources, things aren’t going to get done,” Patel said. Patel estimates that over half of the individuals seen at the week-long clinic suffers from diabetes, hypertension and/or some other chronic illness, making the demand for help even greater.

Furthermore, to help assemble a continuing wellness network within the community and to pinpoint the various medical needs, patients completed medical survey forms. The forms were designed to gather information concerning what services patients would most likely benefit from. The survey, also addressed the scope of health issues in determining whether or not patients suffered with bouts of sadness and/or depression. This bit of information then birthed the need for citizens gaining access to proper mental health and psychiatric care facilities. “What we‘re trying is to do is, we’re trying to collect demographic information here to see what patients we’re seeing here? What needs have we met here? Have we taken care of the blood pressure? Have we taken care of the diabetics; whether or not there is access to psychiatric care and follow-ups?”  Patel rhetorically exclaimed.

To insure that the clinic will provide a continuing and wide-ranging source of medical aid, DSM has collaborated with New Orleans based Excelth Inc, a federally funded healthcare primary care network and LSU Medical Center in a one-year agreement to offer “comprehensive care” for pediatric to adult demographics. Regardless of employment or lack of insurance coverage, the trio collaboration has not turned the cheek to anyone in need of medical attention. According to Mary Crooks, Community Relations Special Project Coordinator, of Excelth Inc., the organization will be providing health referrals, follow-up visits and weekly on-site clinicals through the mobile unit program. These clinicals are held each Thursday. “We’re a healthcare network and what we’re doing is , we’re helping to bring healthcare back here again to this particular community.” Crooks said. ” So, one of my roles was to help set this up and help coordinate the services here to make sure the services are appropriate and really something the community needs and what we don’t provide directly we provide indirectly; referrals to other sites.” Crooks said. Citizens throughout the community are being informed of the healthcare clinic through fliers, brochures and word-of-mouth.

Currently, the trio collaboration is planning to expand on their foundation to provide HIV testing and health awareness seminars to citizens of the community.  With the help of community citizens and leaders, DSM has gathered community input into designing its new web site. In keeping with it’s goals to rebuild and rejuvenate the physical as well as spiritual needs of its surrounding communities, Desire Street Ministries continues to offer high-quality care by adhering to the simple application of the scriptures found in Matthew 25:35-36a : For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty , and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and  ye took me in  : Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me ……

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