It’s Working!

In July, about thirty people packed inside the stuffy, airless garage of the Mika CDC office.  Neighbors, staff, interns, volunteers and a few teens from our youth programs had come together to talk about what we envisioned for the youth of our community.  How do we want our kids to look in thirty years?  What do we need to be doing now to make it happen?  After brainstorming and walking through some pointed exercises, we came up with an ambitious afterschool program for our neighborhood youth.  We all concurred on some important values and structure and we arrived at a program called, Step Up.

It would include academic tutoring, spiritual training and enrichment classes in art, health, finance and leadership training.  We would need 64 volunteers each week, experts to teach the enrichment portions and others willing to do Bible lessons with the students.  And we would do it at three different sites.  Could we do it?  Could we really make this happen?  That was July, now it’s December…

The answer is “yes”!  We did make it happen.  Maybe it doesn’t look exactly as we thought it would and maybe there are a few gaps, but it is working.  Sometimes when I think that it isn’t, I remind myself of what I’ve seen as I float from site to site to site.  I see Abigail at Baker Street who raises her hand to answer every question the group is asked about the Bible lessons.  She doesn’t always know the answer, but she always raises her hand.  I hear Juan’s mom calling him from the door at the Maple Learning Center at 5:45 when his session ended at 5:30.  “He never wants to leave here”, his mom says with a smile.  “It’s the best part of his day”.  Jasmine and Gio, both seniors in high school, give up nearly eight hours a week working with the younger students at The Hope Center.  They say it’s for their community service hours, but I know it’s more than that.

Together we are making Step Up happen.  We are providing a safe, warm environment for the kids to come and learn how to be leaders in their community.  We are giving them adult role models who know them and care about them.  We are giving them opportunities to learn how to be of service to each other and to the broader community.  We are connecting them to experts in their city who know about things that they have never been exposed to before.  We still don’t have 64 volunteers each week and we don’t have all the enrichment classes filled in on our master calendar – but each week we make it happen and each week more people are becoming involved.  I just hope I’m still around in 30 years so I can see how it all pans out!  These kids are going to be amazing because their community did “step up”!

Que Dramatico!

“Why do you have to be so dramatic!”  I thought as I rolled my eyes.   The speaker was telling stories of immigration officers pounding down doors and ripping mothers away from their children, of fathers leaving for work and being deported, never to say good bye.  It all seemed so extreme.  Maybe there were a few cases like that but, come on!  This is the United States of America.  We have order and compassion.  Let’s not be dramatic in our case studies.  Maybe you have thought the same things.  This is what I thought until it started happening in my neighborhood.

Lately our ministry gets more calls asking for help to find relatives that have been detained or deported.  Last week a mother called crying.  She was hiding in her closet with her four children, afraid to open the door to the immigration officers outside.  “We have never had any problems with the law before,” she cried, as my mind raced to know how to advise her.  “I don’t know why they have come.”  Clearly the immigration agents have a reason and right to ask her for her documents.  She has been in the US for seventeen years.  Her four children were born here.  Her husband was at work.  She stayed in the closet until they left.  What would you do?

What will we do?  Maybe you are rolling your eyes, thinking, “how dramatic!” but the fact of the matter is that the same scene could have played out this morning for your children’s schoolmates or one of your acquaintances.  Chances are that at some point throughout your day, you encountered a neighbor who does not have legal documents to be in this country.  There are around 12 million people in that situation in our country and knocking on their doors while they hide in the closet is not an effective nor American way to deal with the situation we find ourselves in.

There are many reasons that people do not have legal documents.  The system for obtaining documents is completely broken and we must come up with a way for people to literally come out of their closets and participate in legal ways in our society.  It is not safe for us to have neighbors driving around with no licenses or insurance.  It is not fair to workers for undocumented laborers to be working without paying taxes.  And it does not represent our best values to have neighbors who do work hard and contribute to our community be terrified to walk out the front door every morning.  This is the land of the free.

So what will we do to solve the situation?  Yesterday Representative Gutierrez introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for American’s Safety and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP).  It is a step toward looking at workable solutions that support our values of freedom and hard work.  Not everyone supports it.  Some say it is too dramatic.  As of right now there are no Republicans co sponsoring the bill.  But it is a conversation starter.  It is a solution oriented bill to move us forward as a nation.  Anne Lamott says to write “sh**** first drafts”.  Write something; get started.  This bill is a start- a first draft that we can examine and pour over and edit until we design a piece of legislation that will give some clear steps for undocumented immigrants to take so that they can earn a rightful place in our neighborhoods, workplaces and country.

The next time a neighbor calls I want to be able to say, “This is what you need to do- step 1, step 2, step 3…”.  No more hiding for any of us.  Let’s solve this thing together.

Crissy Brooks, Mika CDC, Costa Mesa

Crissy Brooks’ Blog

Reflection on Missional Living

Guest Intro: Eunice is an intern for Kingdom Causes this year. She is living and worshiping missionally in Monterey Park. Below she shares about her experience teaching a Sunday School Class at her church on “Missional Living.”

Although I knew that mission work did not have to involve getting on a plane and going to another country, there was still a part of me that believed that it was not fully mission work unless I traveled elsewhere. But since taking classes at Regent College and learning to read the Bible better, I know otherwise. True mission work is wherever I am. This is not because I can do so much. It is because God is a missional God. And since He has a desire for all humanity to know and love Him, mission exists everywhere, including the hodgepodge suburban city of Monterey Park.

As an intern for Kingdom Causes, my basic job description involves helping my own church in Monterey Park to be more missional in our own community. But the general mentality of the people who attend my church is still very much like mine was before learning more about missional living.

In the class, we basically covered four big concepts with Bible learning, application discussion and field trips. Here is a short and imperfect summary of each concept:

•    Incarnational Hospitality: Jesus was hospitable (welcoming) everywhere he went—in others’ homes and in public areas. How can we be hospitable everywhere we go—in our residential neighborhoods, in our churches’ surrounding community, at the grocery store, in restaurants, while eating with our friends/family, while driving, etc.?
•    Shalom: Because of sin, we are no longer fully in shalom. In other words, we are not wholly the creations that God wants us to be. How do we seek shalom (wholeness) for ourselves and in others?
•    Kingdom of God: God’s kingdom is not a place; it is His realm over all things. It is here and not yet. This is the concept that God is in control, and not us. When we do mission work (as all ministry should be), we are not doing things for God, but we are participating in what God is already doing for His people.
•    Church of the City: In the past, there used to only be one church in each community. That church was then responsible for the spiritual growth of the entire city. But in the present, there are often several churches in one city. In Monterey Park alone, there are over 25 churches. How can all these churches (despite different denominations, cultures and buildings) work together as the Church of the City?

Now that the official class has ended, here are a few personal reflections.

•    Most of the students were regularly consistent. I hope this means they were interested and learning.
•    A few of the students told me that they were seeing their lives differently—seeing how being hospitable to those around them was part of being missional.
•    Our McDonald’s field trip showed us that people in the city are in need and how we can be hospitable in a public setting.
•    Our church-visiting field trip opened our eyes to what other churches are doing in Monterey Park and how we can maybe join forces in being the Church of the City.
•    One quarter Sunday school is not sufficient. In fact, two years of seminary are not sufficient for fully learning about our missional God and how we can participate. But in being and doing, I hope we will all keep learning.
•    There are over 700 regular weekly attenders at my church. Only 10-15 students were in the Sunday school class. We wanted more. But the hope is that these few will spread the word. After all, the entire Christian church spread from 11 totally inadequate guys who learned to follow Jesus closely.
•    We are so big and have so many resources that we think we can handle many things on our own. But so much more could be done when the Church of the City works together.

Regarding this Sunday school Jesse asked me, “Would you do this again?” My answer is “Yes!!”

Kingdom Causes Alhambra & Monterey Park Blog

Prayer Garden Walk Reflection

This reflection is from guest blogger Tiffany C, one of our walkers of the 4K prayerwalk and garden fundraiser on 10/31/09. A gardener herself, she also started one of our neighborhood gardens in Monterey Park and helps maintain our current gardens. Pictures courtesy of Tiffany as well.

When I take the time to walk someplace instead of drive (if possible) I notice things that I wouldn’t if I was inside a car. When I sit in a car with the heater on or the air conditioner blowing, the windows up, and music playing, I am blocked off from the world around me; I don’t notice the details I am driving by.

On the prayerwalk this past Saturday it was an opportunity to notice the details in the city. I saw beauty: roses, birds of paradise, pumpkins, pomegranates, and new growth on trees…Fall. I saw neighbors: people going on walks, working on their garden, washing cars. I saw community: churches preparing for a Fall festival, friends walking and talking with each other, and new friendships being made. As we prayed for the city of Monterey Park we were blessed with meeting new brothers and sisters in this city. It was a blessing to experience God’s children acting as one body, regardless of what church we go to on Sunday or our political affiliations.

I am so excited about what God is doing in this place. It is so encouraging to see people praying for neighbors they do not know, for students, and businesses. I am so excited about the neighborhood gardens that are growing. It is a blessing for me to be a part of planting these gardens and helping them grow. I can see how they are helping build community and friendships in addition to just growing a crop of vegetables. And I can’t wait to have a harvest that is bountiful so that we can share food to our neighbors, some of whom may be hungry. For where there is food people will gather. Kingdom Causes Alhambra & Monterey Park Blog

Oak Street Neighbor Meeting

Seeing neighbors get excited about transforming their community is probably one of the most inspiring things ever. Last Saturday, we had our first neighbor meeting in the Oak Street Neighborhood, and it was so much fun! (Thanks to Neighborhood Christian Fellowship for letting us use the church yard!)

To be honest, I was preparing myself for disappointment at the meeting. Even though I’ve gotten to know many residents over the past few months, I didn’t feel overly confident that they would take time out of their Saturday morning to meet with their neighbors. But, I was wrong! It was exciting to see a diverse group show up and share their dreams for the neighborhood.

We talked about everything from better street lighting to potlucks to front porches. I couldn’t be happier that the group’s main goal was to foster a sense of “togetherness” in the community.

With Asset Based Community Development, fostering togetherness is the first step! When neighbors get to know what is best about each other, they can’t help but work together to bring transformation to the neighborhood.

Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower Blog by clicking here.

A Look Into Solidarity’s Spiritual Formation Nights

The first Wednesday night of every month Solidarity invites everyone to something we call Spiritual Formation.   There is time and space set aside to simply be with God, to get to know Him better, and to listen for His voice.   When Solidarity was first founded, we were a bunch of college students who just wanted to love others in ways that drew them closer to Christ.  So we created a bunch of different programs in order to foster relationships of love with people in our neighborhoods.  The organization got good at loving others but there was so much more missing.  We were a group of people who were “do-ers.”

The original need of Spiritual Formation nights when it started a few years ago, was to help the Solidarity staff learn how to rest and abide with God.  The staff, at that time, was about doing the things of Jesus, but we needed to work at learning to be with God.  We discovered that the crucial aspects of following Jesus were to love God, love others, be loved by God, and to allow ourselves to be loved by others.  These four values are the basis of our Spiritual Formation nights.  We hope that these four values start to become a natural rhythm in the lives of everyone who participates with Solidarity.

Every first Wednesday night of the month we invite you to journey with us as we attempt to love God, love others, be loved by God, and allow ourselves to be loved by others within every aspect of our lives.  We want to love God within our jobs, be loved by God when we are dropping the kids off at day care, take time to accept love when we’re out to lunch with friends, and love others as we stroll down the aisle at the supermarket.  During Spiritual Formation we seek to make these four values to be a lifestyle as a community.

Kevin Mo-Wong, Church Development Director

Solidarity’s Website

Space to Care

On the right is a picture of the crumb of one of my favorite crusty breads, ciabatta.Those huge holes are like caverns to explore and collapse as you eat it, the aftermath of a perfect storm of bubbly yeast, heat and moisture interacting with the dough.

This week I was reminded of how much space we need to clear in our calendars to be caring. And by caring, I mean being available for others in a way that’s an unhurried exchange. In yeast breads, flavor and crumb are formed best when there are long rise times. So it is with our appointments.

The nature of community work with Kingdom Causes seems never ending in my mind: there’s always another contact, another church, another meeting, another project, another deadline, another grant to pursue. It may be just because it’s all new to me, so I haven’t fully settled into a rhythm yet. But it can easily feel overwhelming.

Still, this week I’ve had the chance to have dinner with my neighbors, meet with a friend I haven’t met with in awhile, have an extended meeting with KCAMP’s intern and a local pastor, and share breakfast (unplanned) with some guys who helped me grab soil from Home Depot for one of the gardens. In each of these meetings, it was unhurried time, an open-ended appointment. No dashing about to the next thing, the next deadline. There was space to care.

I suppose this sort of “scheduling my margins” is a foil for my other job, which is often about efficiency and immediate results. Folding in the space to care will be difficult, even though it’s so necessary!

Jesse Chang

Kingdom Causes Alhambra & Monterey Park Blog

Kingdom Causes

Community in the Truest Sense

Last night I experienced my first Salvadorian/Guatemalan/Mexican Thanksgiving feast. There was salmon, turkey, ham, rice, potatoes, arroz con leche, pazole, and soooo much more. I ran into Walter, the new Neighborhood Advisor for the Baker neighborhood, at the Mika volunteer party on Friday, and he invited me to come. I was hesitant to attend because when I left in June I told everyone I was moving overseas (which I am, just not as soon as I had originally thought) so I thought it might be weird if I showed up. Either way, I agreed to attend, and the moment I showed up people literally jumped out of their seats to run and hug me.

Before we ate, we all sat around (30-40 of us) and talked about what we were thankful for. The neighbors stood up and thanked me, the “mujer bonita” who spent hours walking up and down the street trying in my (very) broken Spanish to get to know everyone.

I was overwhelmed by everything as I thought back to this time last year when I only knew a handful of people who had lived there for many years but didn’t know anyone else in the community. I listened to stories of the parties they have and the weekly meetings they hold and the police officers that come to those meetings to build relationships. Some of the Baker folks are even attending bi-weekly planning meetings at the Mika office with neighbors from the three other Mika neighborhoods.

Mike, a leader in the Halecrest Neighborhood Association across the street from Baker, was also there last night. This morning I received an email from him:

“My wife and I joined our Baker Community neighbors/friends last night for a Thanksgiving gathering and I could only compare it to how the very first Thanksgiving must have felt. Sharing a meal and conversation with new and old acquaintances gave chance to strengthen relationships. Everyone had a chance to offer what they were thankful for and one of the common responses is the relationship being formed by our community partnerships.

My wife and I are blessed to have been invited to take part in the celebration and are truly thankful for the new friendships and the inspiration given to me to know the value of these partnerships. Friendship is gold and just as my wife and I were offered the many hands of friendship as we moved into Halecrest; we now feel the new friendships offered to us. Health and money are surely important but it is a lonely place without friendship. I sometimes worry about the things I don’t have but then I see what I do have and realize how blessed I am to have such a great family, neighbors and friends.”

Only by the grace of God can a white girl who speaks no Spanish and has no experience in community development walk into a community of mostly Hispanic men and women and form lasting friendships. I now know that no matter what I do and what adventures I embark on elsewhere, there are always people in the Baker neighborhood who will welcome me into their homes with open arms and no questions asked. I went into this neighborhood a year and a half ago hoping to teach others about community, but instead they have taught me.

Mikkele Bringard

Applying Community Development

Within the past year there has been many happenings in community development in Long Beach, so here are just a few highlights that Kingdom Causes Long Beach has been involved in. I was able to work in Linden Avenue between Market and South Street as an AmeriCorps worker. Through the Atlantic Corridor Project, I trained two interns from Victory Outreach and St. Athanasius Church in Asset Based Community Development. Together we surveyed the neighborhood to find out the top concerns of the neighborhood.

At the first neighborhood meeting we reported back to the neighbors and placed in their hands what they would like to do about things. The neighbors decided to attract more neighbors to the meetings by hosting a neighborhood clean up. The eighth district, Rae Gaeblich’s, office sponsored the neighborhood clean up. Several neighbors donated their time, treasure, touch, and talent into the clean up. The clean up started at eight o’clock and by 9:30 AM the industrial sized dumpster was filled to the top. It was encouraging to see neighbors come together for the betterment of their neighborhood.

In Downtown Long Beach, Somatra (another AmeriCorps worker) has been convening a group of neighbors along 9th Street between Atlantic Avenue and Martin L. King Jr Street. Neighbors met, many for the first time, during barbecues at a local church parking lot. From there the neighbors starting a neighborhood meeting. Together they decided to work on neighborhood safety and wanted to become a registered neighborhood watch block. First they had their local beat police officer share about the neighborhood. Just recently, Lisa, coordinator of neighborhood watch for Long Beach, orientated the neighbors on neighborhood watch. The neighborhood is finally an official registered neighborhood watch block!

These are just a few stories from the two neighborhood Somatra and I are working in. There are so many more stories of individuals and relationships developing through our involvement with these neighborhoods. Community development is difficult work. There is no set structure, hours, or boundaries because you work where you live. It takes lots of time, commitment and love. But it is so rewarding! The relationships that I have built with my neighbors is irreplaceable. The growth within my neighbors is encouraging to witness. I get to share life with them and see them take responsibility and ownership of their neighborhood. They have great commitment and care for the community. Sadly my time with AmeriCorps is coming to an end, but my time within my community is just beginning.

Kingdom Causes Long Beach is looking for an individual who would like to work with a neighborhood in North Long Beach as an AmeriCorps worker. If you have a heart for community development, bringing neighbors together to work toward a better community, then please contact us! To learn more please see the job description at the Kingdom Causes Long Beach website.

Susana Sngiem

When Worlds Need to Collide

Sometimes we need have our worlds collide to learn what it means to “act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We often think that giving to a cause, or feeding a homeless, or writing a letter to a congressman will suffice, but to really live out Micah 6:8  we need to interact with the people who are suffering from injustice, we need to show mercy by really being with a homeless person, we need to walk with our God by walking with our fellow human being.

At LifeLine we try to make those opportunities possible. One example is our Bus Boutique, a converted school bus that has new and gently used clothing and travels to various communities.

The Bus Boutique was a dream to bring clothing to under-resourced communities where the community members can barter (exchange the clothing) or volunteer in exchange for the goods. Manned by community volunteers the bus would provide clothing for families who often struggle with making ends meet. This opens doors for conversations and interaction with neighbors.

Radio Merced donated their former “Bear Bus” to LifeLine. John and Jim checked the bus and equipped it with the clothes racks.

Many volunteers donated clothing, while others washed and mended them. Sorting, storing and hanging are done by volunteers.  And then in the process we build relationships, because when you work together the barriers of ‘them’ and ‘us’ are broken down and all of a sudden the drug addict is no longer ‘them’ but is becoming a friend and we find out her story. We realize that the lack of justice and mercy in her life brought her to this point. We walk with her and we learn from each other and as we ‘walk humbly with our God’ we get to do life together.

The bus was painted as part of a worldwide community service for a major bank in the US. 6 members come out to paint the bus. They did an amazing job in several hours.  Last week we started with the final part, decorating the Bus Boutique. It was so much fun to see a young woman who cannot find a job (but has incredible artistic abilities), a single mother (who has the most organized mind and a passion for the success of the Bus Boutique), a homeless man (who has a master’s degree, is great with people and very creative), a welfare parent (who has a very giving heart and a dream to break the chain of poverty) and a number of students (all with their own stories), get together to decorate the Bus. People who never thought they could draw created a beautiful piece of art; people who thought they had nothing to give gave life to each other.

We create venues where people can do life together and we learn again what it means to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Because when we build relationships with people, when we hear their stories, when we learn about each other, then we can live out Micah 6:8.

Monika Grasley

Transformation Through ESL and Financial Literacy

Over the last six month community members have been gathering at the Spanish Baptist Church for ESL classes and to learn financial management.

One person who has excelled in both is Bertha Guerrero. Her language skills have improved from a level one to a level 3 in less than a year. In addition to this both she and her husband have put into practice what they have learned. His business is turning a profit for the first time, and their personal finances have improved to the point of almost being debt free. They expect to be debt free within a couple of years.

Another Success story is Eva Macias. In the past both she and her husband, have been financially strapped. But after learning how to manage their money and be good stewards of God’s blessings, they have created and implemented a financial plan that is helping them get out of debt. They have gone from being in the red every month, to being able to save $100 dollars a month on average. In addition to this, Eva has been using what she has learned in the ESL class to help her children in school and to tutor other neighborhood children.

The Importance of Being Needed

Virginia, known to most people in Westside neighborhood of Austin as Cookie, could not keep from smiling as she walked home from Spencer elementary school with a packet full of papers.  These papers had been given to her by the school requesting that she become a regular volunteer for the third grade classroom. Cookie is fifty-eight years old with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, the victim of multiple accounts of physical abuse, has been unemployed for over a decade and is one of the most well known and loved person in the neighborhood.  Cookie has never felt very useful or had a sense of purpose.  But on the day when the school asked HER to be a permanent volunteer she knew she had found her purpose.

At eleven o’clock on Thanksgiving night I heard a loud knock at my door.  It was Cookie standing there in the cold with the biggest smile I had ever seen on her face.  She just had to tell me her news, she had tried two other times but I had not been home.  She told me the story of how she accompanied her niece’s son to school one day because he was having so many discipline problems in his classroom.  She stayed with him for the day and the teacher was delighted at the difference it made.  After talking with the principal the teacher then asked Cookie if she would be a regular volunteer in the classroom and gave her some papers to fill out.  Standing at my door Cookie announces that she now has a reason to get up in the morning, she now has a purpose. I hugged and congratulated her seeing first-hand the importance of being needed.  Cookie has been on the receiving end of the “need equation” for most of her life, now was a time for her to be the solution to a need.

As I said goodbye to Cookie that evening I was extremely honored that she had such a strong desire to tell me her news.  She did not want to tell me her good news because she knew I was a pastor or because I could have anything to do with her volunteering. She wanted to tell me because we had spent hours talking and sharing together, she wanted to tell me because I am her neighbor.

Cold Eggs and Reconciliation

“About a year ago, I beat somebody up really bad. Like really bad.” 

Kenny, the big, tattooed guy wearing a bandana and leather sitting next to me was reporting on “signs of transformation” he had seen since the last meeting of the Homeless Task Force, a group of Christians from several different congregations in Bellflower, who work together to love our homeless neighbors. Kenny, who had been homeless himself for many years before coming to know Christ, now serves weekly, building relationships with our homeless neighbors.

The transformation happened after the previous week’s breakfast. At the end of the weekly meal where we serve 40-50 neighbors we had left over eggs and beans. We were about to throw away the excess when Kenny offered to load up his Harley and bring them down to the riverbed. As he walked down the embankment near the intersection of the 605 and the 105, the first person he encountered was this man with whom he had brawled a year back. Tensions were high as you might imagine, but as Kenny reached out and handed him the cold left over eggs reconciliation happened. This simple act of love and concern melted whatever conflict had remained between these two former enemies.

I am constantly humbled to be involved in the story of God’s Kingdom work in Bellflower. I get to see God use people who most would consider too far gone, or damaged to minister his love and peace. I am blessed to see the Body at work, with our many gifts and backgrounds, all working in symphony as God uses us in His ministry of reconciliation.

Ryan VerWys

Kingdom Causes Bellfower’s Blog

The Second Annual ATLAS Christmas Store

We were so excited to open our store again this Christmas season!

Here’s how the store worked.  Several days in December, we transform some of our office space into a place where people can come to shop for their families. The store is stocked with new items donated from churches, groups, businesses and individuals. Items are bargain priced, somewhere between a garage sale and a wholesale price. Families who feel that cash flow will still be a problem have been given the opportunity throughout the year to volunteer work hours in exchange for store credit. Revenue generated from the sale of the items is invested back into the store.

Why not give the gifts to families? We were challenged by Robert Lupton’s book, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life to be more intentional about people’s development and dignity. “If we are to rightly care for those in need, the responsibility lies with those with the resources to create systems of exchange built on interdependency rather than dependency.”

The store was a mutually encouraging and uplifting experience for shoppers, volunteers, and donors. We were a little surprised ourselves by how much more positive feedback we received from everyone involved than the years when we gave Christmas gifts to families.

So how can I be involved in the future? Here are some ways: 1. Donate new items to stock the store.  2. Donate time to help organize and run the store in December.  3. Donate work opportunities through your business so that individuals may earn store credit.

Holy Scribbles

Okay, okay, it might not look like much to you after a quick glance. But, this bunch of scribbles on an oversized napkin is indeed a very holy document for me and for our community.

It represents dozens of organizations that are feverishly at work seeking to provide housing, support neighborhood connection, advocating for environmental justice and on and on.

On this map are the homes of people in just about every income range. There are multi-national corporations beating Wall Street predictions and small start-up businesses struggling to make it another month.

This is the sketch of a neighborhood we love and showcases a God very much at work.

As I write these blog entries for the practicing church, even if I don’t mention it directly I’m going to be talking about this map because it represents a neighborhood, my neighborhood, and much more importantly, our neighborhood. Our church community has swallowed the “parish” pill, which effectively means that we are interested in joining God of all creation who is active in each square inch of this downtown neighborhood of Seattle. We figure that if we take God’s shalomic vision seriously, then we simply must begin where we are and take our locality quite seriously, the chances of losing security and comfort rise exponentially, but so far, there is nowhere I’d rather be.

Tim Soerens

For more on Tim Soerens church, DUST, visit their website:

A Community Comes Together

In December, a week before Christmas, one of our faithful community volunteers, Melinda, and two of her children were volunteering on Saturday at our annual Christmas Store.  Our volunteer has been a real story of transformation herself as she has connected with our AmeriCorps representatives to volunteer for many community events that Hope for the Inner City has been involved in throughout the past year.

We have seen Melinda’s life begin to change as her heart began to change for improving her life and extending her service in her own community.  As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Melinda and two of her children were volunteering at Hope for the Inner City the Saturday before Christmas.  The following day, her son who was with her at Hope was murdered in the Harriet Tubman community.  It was a senseless and violent event that in the past would have set off a reaction of more violence and retribution in the community.  If there is tangible evidence that transformation is beginning to take place in Harriet Tubman, it was seen in the reaction of the community residents toward this tragic event and toward Melinda in the aftermath of the loss of her son.

Our AmeriCorps representatives, along with many of the community residents who have stepped up to serve their community in this past year, came together in an amazing show of love and support for Melinda and her family in a time of tragedy.  The typical reaction in the past may have been more violence or in some cases apathy to an event such as this one.  So many of the residents in the community have supported her in many different ways.  They provided moral support, they provided meals for the family, they provided logistical support for the funeral arrangements as well as transportation for various needs.

A dinner for the family was organized by the AmeriCorps representatives and community residents after the funeral service.  In the weeks that have followed the loss of her son, the community and Hope for the Inner City continue to support Melinda and her family as they deal with this tragedy.

Community Building Intergenerationally

This was a new garden we set up in Monterey Park yesterday to add to the community gardens we’ve started in the summer. The grandmother of the woman who lives at this location mentioned to me that in the 68 (!) years she’s lived in Monterey Park, there have been many gardens grown in her backyard. Ears of corn, squash, tomatoes and all manners of veggies were grown which also helped to feed the 4 kids that grew up at this house.

I also appreciated how the grandmother said with pride about her granddaughter how she was “doing her grandfather right” by growing food again after many fallow years. And that blessing sparked me to think that part of what these gardens do in building community is that they can bring the generations together. They should bring the generations together!

Anyway, when these beds are overflowing with veggies, we’re growing to throw a “harvest party” for the neighborhood…young and old and of course, those young at heart!

Jesse Chang

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Enhancing Skills for Life

Roosevelt Park Ministries is a partner of Volunteers In Service, the West Michigan Communities First partner.  In 2008-2009, Volunteers In Service coached Roosevelt Park Ministries through some ministry planning, including community listening in review of their programs.  Out of this work came a new program offering in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood – English as a second language, or ESL for short.

Below is an excerpt from a recent newsletter, written by the ESL provider, and Roosevelt Park Ministries Board member:

The students work hard to improve their English at ESL classes.

Most commonly ESL stands for “English as a Second Language.” But here at Roosevelt Park Ministries it could also mean “Enhancing Skills for Life.” Everyday activities that are usually simple become much more difficult when there is a language barrier. How do you greet someone at work? How do you explain to the doctor what your symptoms are? How do you discuss your child’s progress at school?

These types of situations determine the topics for each ESL class. We focus on words and phrases common in daily living situations. Proper pronunciation is stressed each week – knowing the right words to say is only helpful if the listener can understand what is said. Weekly lessons build somewhat on each other but not exclusively. Students are encouraged to come to as many classes as they are able, but missing a class does not make the student “fall behind.” We want the classes to be structured for success, teaching students what they want and need to learn.

ESL classes benefit the students and enhance their daily living. But another benefit is the friendships that develop along the way. Because the classes are less structured, conversations often center around the lives of the students and teachers. We get to know each other and learn to care about each other. We are building a community as well as language skills.

The students love having conversations with English speakers. It’s also one of the fastest ways to learn English.

Vicki Vermeer

For more information on Volunteers in Service visit their website:

Community Garden Brings a Sense of Pride

“Our neighborhood is one of the most violent in the City of New Orleans. I would have never thought, in a million years, that our neighborhood would have a community garden. ” These are the words of Leonidas neighborhood resident, Mr. Lyndell Jones, after he distributed the vegetables on “Harvest Day.”

On October 18th, the Leonidas community members held its first “Harvest Day”, to distribute food grown in their garden.  The idea of the garden generated when the youth and young adult ministries of St. John’s Baptist Church surveyed the community and identified that their was a high rate of diabetes and poor physical health conditions.

Wondering what could they do? They researched and discovered that a community garden had numerous benefits from the production of fresh vegetables that promote a healthy diet to increased exercise to an enhanced sense of community.

The youth and young adults ask St. John Baptist Church pastor, Rev. Donald Boutte, for a small plot of the land in the back of the church, and they went to work. They focused on the aesthetics first, by cleaning up the land and planting a few flowers. Gradually, other neighbors began helping by laying out boxes and caring for the space. “We all begin to learn how to start plants from seeds, as well as, how to transplant vegetables,” mentioned Mr. Jones.  “We even began to socialize more, as we worked.”

The community members selected the plants and vegetables for the garden. They planted squash, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. As the crop grew, the youth and young adults began to reach out to the people they surveyed and offered them the first opportunity for vegetables.

This generated into “Harvest Day” for the community. People from throughout the community came to celebrate the work that had been done. Together they picked vegetables, placed them into the bins, and delivered them.  Pastor Boutte commented,” This garden has given us a sense of pride. I believe this garden is going to be the start of working together on other issues in our community.”


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