Community Garden Takes off in Bellflower

Check out a new post from the CFA AmeriCorps blog:

Community gardening is a way a number of our AmeriCorps members have been able to engage their neighbors in meaningful relationships, and create opportunities to serve each other. Please check out the recent post on the AmeriCorps blog on the community garden efforts in his neighborhood!

Kids Art Exhibit

For the past 7 weeks, 20 neighborhood kids have been coming through our community center doors working on fabulous art projects! They have been learning all about different art mediums including painting, drawing, photography, oil pastels, 3D building, collaging, and more! The cool thing about this Art class session is that all the art work is about Community! We have been learning all about Community and the different aspects of our city while creating Art!

Here our some pictures we snapped at the Kids Art Exhibit! It was so great to see how exited all the kids were to show off their art work to their families and everyone who stopped by!

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Christy Padilla, Associate Catalyst, Kingdom Causes Bellflower

Kingdom Causes

Stacks of Applicants

Hiring an employee is a fun and difficult process, and at Good Soil Industries we do it frequently. The opportunity to give someone a job is a privilege not to be taken lightly. Each month I collect a small stack of resumes on my desk and prayerfully begin searching for who will be the best fit.

There are many criteria for choosing a candidate, but the most valuable question is: “Are you connected with a local church?”. The reason is that we can’t overcome our past by ourselves. First we need Christ to do a miracle in our hearts, and second we need a community to support us through the tough times.

I’d like to say thank-you to the churches of Bellflower for being the supportive community we are called to be. Our current employees continue to praise their local churches for being a place that accepts them for who they are and encourages them to continue following Christ. They have felt loved, and this love gives them the strength to keep making the right but difficult choices. So keep it up! Keep finding ways to love those who are different from you and being a church that reaches out to anyone, anyone, who is searching.

Joel Holwerda, Kingdom Causes Belllflower

Homeless Families and Empty Sunday School Classrooms

I got a call the other morning from my friend Justin. A family that he has known for several years through his youth ministry told him that they were being evicted. This mom of three kids between the ages of 9-14 had been paying $650 a month to rent a travel trailer. When she lost her house cleaning job that was paying her under the table, she could no longer pay the rent. Her neighbor has offered her the back of her truck to sleep in for the night and that might be where they end up staying.

Justin called me because in his words, “that is unacceptable.” He wants to help the family but doesn’t know what resources are available to the family and he is trying to get his church to do something about it but that bureaucratic process will be a long one which will end up with help being too little, too late.

The frustrating thing is, I don’t really know what to do either. Despite the fact that social workers in our organization deal with families like this everyday I have little help to offer. If they do not fit our relatively narrow qualifications for immediate financial assistance we have no place to send them.

The reality is there is NOTHING in our immediate area that is set up to help families like this. Evicted, broke, out of work… I want someone or something to blame for this dilemma. I jump automatically to the family, they should have called sooner, they must have some sort of addiction stuff going on, they must be lazy.

The reality is stark though. Whatever the cause is of this family’s crisis, our local system in Bellflower has nothing for this specific family. 211, the LA county resource call center, will refer her to a shelter out of the area and or give her access to hotel vouchers for a few nights but there is nothing after that. What is the answer? Shelters are expensive financially and socially. Immediate financial assistance will not really help in the long run because of her eviction. What the family needs is a LOCAL place for at least 3 months were they can land long enough for mom to get a job and the kids don’t have to leave their school.

What will we as God’s people in this city do? We have resources. We have people. We have money. We have buildings (approximately 30 church buildings with countless classrooms that sit empty 90% of the week.) I wonder what Jesus feels about that? With hurting and poor neighbors all around us, is Jesus pleased with our clean and tidy classrooms that sit empty, preserved for telling Bible stories to the kids of the saints a couple of days a week?

Would it be possible to set up a Hospitality Network in Bellflower like this one?

Kingdom Causes

Meet Good Soil’s New Employee

A job interview for Good Soil Industries is unique compared to most any other job. We cover the basics, but equally important is to hear their life story and the transformation that God has done in their lives. I repeatedly hear testimony of how a man experienced rock bottom and in their desperation called on God and He answered.

I asked a current employee to share his story of transformation with you. I hope his story inspires you to call on God to do something great in your life.

“My name is Jay Steele. I’m writing this to let you know the miraculous changes God has allowed me to make in my life!!
I once was a hardcore drug addict who went to prison because of my drug addiction. I cared about my drugs more than my life or anyone elses. I in a sense wasted the first 30 years of my life. My family wanted nothing to do with me, and society wanted to put me away.

I got blessed to meet Pastor Fred of I.C.M. He cared, never gave up on me and let me go to a summer camp for kids as a counselor. The experience changed my life for good. I knew of God and Jesus, but didn’t KNOW them. To know that people and God care about a homeless, convict, drug addict. To allow ME to do this, to be trusted, to show faith in me.

Now I’m happily married, go to church regularly, teach the Bible to at-risk youth and even have keys to the church. I’ve been sober for 2 years, live in an apartment, have a job with Good Soil and have been off parole for almost a year. God is the only reason my life has changed so much. And now I am very blessed to have a phone book full of friends and now my family that I can call.
God turned Saul to Paul, so what can he do with a homeless, convict, drug addict like me? Only God knows & time will tell.

God bless,
Jay Steele”

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.

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

Háblame Class

Last week’s Háblame (Reciprocal Language Class) was a blast! In each class we pair up people who want to learn English with people who want to learn Spanish and empower them to teach each other on the weekly teaching theme. Our instructor, Aura, does a great job preparing both language learners with words and phrases during the first part of class and then we practice in pairs for the second half.

There’s something very humbling about learning language. You can hear sheepish laughs as each partner tries to pronounce words in the language their learning, but later they’re the one teaching their partner. It’s beautiful to see everyone at the same level teaching, learning & having fun with someone they don’t usually cross paths with outside of the class.

Last week we had a great time learning words and phrases that would help us go grocery shopping for Thanksgiving. I never new that “relleno” meant stuffing. This week we will learn basic conversation skills, vocabulary and phrases that could be used in a parent/teacher meeting.

Chrissy Padilla Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower blog by clicking here.

Bellflower Churches Acknowledged by Caring Connections

Caring Connections is a network of school caseworkers, teachers, organizations & churches in Bellflower.  The group meets monthly to discuss community events, train on a local resource or skills that can help our community and share stories of how we’re working together to address the needs in our city.  The meetings are held at the BUSD school board room.

For the last two meetings our local churches have received special recognition for how they are helping families with food and support during these hard economic times.  This morning the group collected canned goods to help support the local church food pantries.

Also, this morning the following churches were recognized for their tutoring programs that help the Bellflower Unified School District:

  • Bellflower Brethren
  • Bethany Christian Reformed Church
  • First Christian Reformed Church of Bellflower (Bell 1)
  • Holy Redeemer Lutheran
I love sitting in meetings like this where the body of Christ in Bellflower is acknowledged for really making a difference.  How is church contributing to the good of our city?  People are watching.  Let us do good and glorify the Lord.
Ryan VerWys
Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower website by clicking here.

Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower blog by clicking here.


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.

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.

Christmas, Carols, and Cocoa

Earlier in the week, Erwin, the pastor of El Camino, called me and invited me to “Christmas, Carols, and Cocoa”, the church’s attempt at gathering some of the neighbors to Lydia’s house to meet them and tell them the Christmas story. Lydia lived in Baker and was very active in El Camino; I’d spoken to her a few times, but this was the first time I would be spending any substantial time in her house.

It happened that their neighborhood party was the same day as the Mika Christmas Store,  so when I arrived at Lydia’s house, I had already worked a 10 hour shift on 5 hours of sleep after surviving an incredibly hard week for me personally. I wasn’t thrilled about having to leave the Store and return an hour later to spend the rest of my night cleaning, but I went anyway.

I walked in right at 5pm and was greeted with the smells of beans, rice, and fried tortillas. Erwin sat me down with a plate full of food and an excited look on his face and said, “Michaela” (my Spanish name), “we would be honored if you would read the Christmas story to the children. The story is in English and the kids will respond to you.” I knew they had wanted me there to talk to some of the neighbors, but I didn’t realize I would be heading up the activity that was the central purpose of gathering the neighbors together.

Because I had to get back to the Christmas Store within the hour, I hardly had time to think about it. Immediately after we finished eating, we went outside in the back alley behind the apartments where all the chairs and the nativity scene were set up. I was introduced to a few families and sat down in a chair in front of a group of 20-30 people. I was handed a microphone, a book, and a bag of prizes– to give to the kids after they correctly answered my questions about the story. All the children in the crowd gathered at my feet, and I stared back at them as they waited to hear what this girl that couldn’t communicate with most of the crowd could possibly have to say.

And then I read. I could hear my voice projecting through the speakers down the alley and into the apartments. Most of the kids had no idea what was happening. They fidgeted a lot and occasionally looked up at me to see the pictures. After I finished the story, I had to come up with questions about what I just read. “Who told Mary she was going to have a baby?” Silence. “God,” one child quietly answered. “Well, technically, yes…but…” I trailed off. “Okay, how about another question..Why do we celebrate Christmas?” I asked. “God,” another child answered. After what seemed like hours, we were finally able to coax the kids into giving the right answers and gave away all the prizes. A wave of relief came over me and the neighbors clapped and cheered for me.

Before I left, I sat at the sidelines to take it all in. Neighbors went and got food. Kids ran around and looked at the nativity scene. People smiled at me and I smiled back at them. I had left the comfort of my behind-the-scenes job at the Store with the rest of the Mika staff to stand in front of a crowd of native Spanish speakers who I hardly knew. They had invited me– insisting that I re-arrange my schedule so I could be there– to put me in a leadership position in their community. I realized what an honor it was to be a trusted part of their lives although we have so little in common. However, that which we do have in common– the desire to be in community despite our obvious differences– brought us together. I was refreshed, and suddenly going back to finish cleaning the Christmas Store didn’t seem so daunting.

Mikkele Bringard

Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower website by clicking here.

Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower blog by clicking here.

Connecting Neighbors and Identifying Leaders

Exciting things are happening in the city of Bellflower, California.  Neighbors have started meeting and connecting with one another; they also are beginning to work together.  Community leaders are emerging and asking, “How can we make this neighborhood better?” But more importantly, these leaders are acting on their ideas.  Ryan Verwys is one of the people bringing neighbors together and identifying leaders.  Even though Ryan downplays his role and would be the first person to say that he cannot take any credit for what is happening, it can certainly be said that he is a catalyst.

After graduating from college, Ryan Verwys and his wife Rachel moved to Bellflower to work as service training interns in a two-year program through CRWRC. “We had the option to go to Kenya, Nicaragua, or Bellflower, and we accepted in the most exotic place of the three,” Ryan wryly says.

At the start of a very active two-year internship, he found himself thrown into the work of community development.  “We were just basically poured into all the resources of CRWRC,” says Ryan.  He attended numerous conferences, learned about the Communities First development model, asset-based community development, and leadership skills.  “I feel like I got a graduate degree, without getting a degree in community development,” laughs Ryan, adding, “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without CRWRC’s investment.”

After the internship with CRWRC, Ryan began another internship through Home Missions serving as youth minister and worship leader at New City CRC, in Long Beach, California.  There he gained experience in church congregational work as well as skills working with small groups.  “Home Missions has invested a lot in me in terms of training me as a leader.  A year internship with Pastor Carl [Kromminga] was really, very informative, and gave me a lot of experience.”

Putting their newfound experiences to work, Ryan and Rachel started a house church while doing community development on the side.  Although they did not originally intend to stay there, Bellflower became home.  “We kind of intended to just be here for [the] two-year peer commitment,” says Ryan, “But while we were here it felt like God just broke our hearts for the city and gave us some passion for staying.  I just felt like it [the Church in Bellflower] was this sleeping giant, that if we could help the church and people to see the felt needs of our neighbors that there’s this really beautiful opportunity for the kingdom to come in a really tangible way for our neighbors.”

One thing led to another and now Ryan works fulltime as community development director for a non-profit organization he nurtured in the Eucalyptus neighborhood of Bellflower, a low-income, diverse and crowded area of the city.  He is also a home church planter on the side.

Instead of creating programs haphazardly, Ryan and his staff set out to discover more about the neighbors and ask what they felt could be improved in the neighborhood. For the past year and a half, door-to-door surveys in the neighborhood mapped the assets and concerns of the residents.  Overwhelmingly the neighbors responded that they desired a safe environment for their kids.  “It’s been a process of slowly identifying who are those neighbor leaders who want to do something about it,” says Ryan.

For example, some women from the neighborhood, concerned about cuts in school art programs, proposed starting a community photography class.  With this idea in hand, Ryan and his staff went about figuring out how to make it happen.  They found funding to buy some digital cameras and identified local Christians who knew about photography, including someone who owned his own studio, to help teach the class.

Another leader emerged out of a soccer league that Ryan helped neighbors organize.  One guy named Carlos immediately showed signs of being a leader.  According to Ryan, “When [Carlos] would take things seriously the rest of the kids would take things seriously, and when he would goof off the rest of the kids would goof off.”    Ryan talked to Carlos and told him, “You’re a leader.  You have some leadership skills.  I’d really like to invest in you as a leader, and I wonder if you’d be willing to run this soccer thing.”  Carlos rose to the challenge and took charge of the program for the rest of the summer.

Then they invited Carlos to come to the community center and talk about what else he would like to do to make the neighborhood better.  But Carlos did more than just show up, he brought along a whole team of young people from town; they became a kind of team leadership core for the neighborhood.  Excitedly Ryan says, “What’s cool is this team of young leaders now is taking a responsibility to think about a plan for how to be involved in making [the neighborhood] better, which is really pretty cool.  I’ve probably been praying about a year and a half that God would raise up leaders and I feel like God just pretty miraculously answered that prayer…”

Now that leaders have emerged and neighbors are working together there are many issues to deal with from housing costs to crime.  So Ryan and the neighbors have their work cut out for them, but Ryan feels their investment in the neighborhood is going to pay off.

“We’re starting to see baby steps,” says Ryan.  “What’s rewarding is when I see deacons from some of the local CRC churches particularly, who are really just starting to see what it’s like to live with and share a life with the poor and to be involved in the mission and get excited about that.  I’m also excited that that same deacon is serving along side a Baptist deacon…and they’re loving their neighbors together.  That really gets me excited.”

That’s the thing about sleeping giants: sooner or later they’re going to wake up.  Sometimes they just need someone to rouse them.


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