It is easy to enter a neighborhood and see all the things wrong with it, especially in the under-served communities that dot our American urban landscape. Driving through them you see all the things you do not like and often you can list them in your head, after you make sure the car door is locked, of course.
By Jeff Bisgrove Arizona Neighborhood Transformation
The reality is that God put incredible gifts throughout His world, including these under-served neighborhoods. We just do not take the time to look for them since we are overwhelmed by all the bad we see. Often we get so focused on fixing the bad we never even give thought to the gifts God has hidden everywhere. Because we are focused on fixing problems we see, we ignore the wonderful work of reconciliation God is doing.
Far too often I see big churches sallying forth to fix the ills of a poor community with bright T-shirts and uniform skin color. Into this I love to see God work the seeds of His reconciliation. One church in one community I am working with has a huge heart for its community and has put major focus on trying to help the community for many years; mainly with help from the outside. Big painting parties of non-community people inviting lots of big-hearted outsiders coming trying to make a difference. There is nothing wrong with helping your neighbor and much of this work is very commendable and reflective of the love of Jesus, but the neighborhood was not stepping up to own this work over these many years, so it has stayed highly “outsider owned”.
Over the last few months, they have started doing asset surveys – asking the people in the community what they like, what they would change and what they would be willing to do to help. It seems like a small step, but it is a major step in moving from relief into betterment. Listening to the community and looking at how the local community people might be able to help make change in their community real. It was like seeing a small flower break through the concrete and grow a tiny bloom.
I know this is not the end but simply a shaky beginning. Lots could go wrong. This a very broken community and getting people to step up to any level of ownership is very hard. However, nothing is impossible with God and I know he has great treasures planted there, if we would only look. I praise God for the simple step of looking for His gifts and for the chance to continue the journey with my friends here.