Jesus never leaves us empty-handed after an encounter with Him. Jesus is a wealth of teaching if we will listen. This week, I have had the privilege to travel with a colleague to Atlanta Georgia and attend an open house at FCS Ministries (or Focused Community Strategies Ministries). FCS has been working for decades in the impoverished neighborhoods of Atlanta, Georgia to bring holistic solutions to these areas. I want to share with you my takeaways from this encounter. These are my own personal insights, and not necessarily direct teaching from their materials we received.
Move In or Don't Make a Move
If you are going to "minister" to a neighborhood, you have to do it through relationships. You will never be trusted by people with whom you are not willing to live. If you move into an impoverished area and let your kids attend the schools, eat at the restaurants, shop where the residents shop, etc., then you've established the credibility to have a voice in the lives of the residents.
Neighbors Aren't Experts
If you have the posture of the "Expert with the Answers," then don't bother. How can you have the answers to another person's problem if you've never met them, conversed with them, heard their hopes and dreams, etc. Your dreams are not their dreams. Your solutions may be no solution at all ... in fact, it may create more problems.
Focus, focus, focus.
Set a boundary around the neighborhood you're going to serve and stay there. I spoke to one of the team at FCS and expressed my heart-hurt over not seeing more progress in my own hometown after nearly six years of investment there. His response was, "yeah... you should start seeing results after about 15 years." Intentional focus is needed, not quick fixes.
Create Opportunities, Don't Give Them
It's better to create opportunities for people to thrive and flourish than it is to continually provide out of your own resources. People take pride in the dignity of work ... they want to provide for themselves... they need a sense of accomplishment. Making spaces for others to succeed is far more important than giving them handouts. Dr. Robert Lupton calls this "toxic charity." We met a young girl that works in a Bike shop started by FCS here in Atlanta and she said, "I will own my own shop someday." You can't put a price on that kind of thing. This girl now sees a way to something better... but no one just gave it to her. She was given a space to dream, not a bike.
There's more there than you think
Impoverished neighborhoods are not devoid of people with talents, dreams, aspirations and hopes. They have them, they're just oppressed under years and generations of oppressive patterns and decay. Find the spark and fan it into flame. This is why Jesus sent out the disciples with no provisions. The provisions were in the homes where they would go. Most ministry gathers resources, then goes out to give them away. When we run out of resources, we run out of the neighborhood. Bruce Bennett of Community Church Planting says, "The resources are in the harvest."
Take Risks ... Because Someone has to.
We walked into a corner grocery story called "Carver Market." This store serves the Historic South Atlanta Neighborhood with access to good food that is not otherwise available without a long commute... something not possible for many with no means of transportation. We say homes renovated then sold to people who cold actually afford them on their means. They were given opportunity to thrive. We heard directly from residents who spoke with voices of hope about the progress they see and yet the big tasks ahead of them. Opening stores, rehabilitating homes, implanting hope takes great risk, and someone has to do it.
Honor those worthy of honor.
We heard from Jay and Nellie, two 28-year residents of the neighborhood who had rode-out the long and difficult decline of the neighborhood, yet never gave up hope. After their talk I approached them. I told them that when people stay and commit for the long haul, they are worthy of honor. I told them, that even if no one else had never said it to them, I wanted to honor them for their 28 years of battling crime, loving their neighborhood, refusing to move out, believing change could be possible, and tirelessly working for a preferred future. A few tears were shared. They're amazing people with huge hearts.
There's more that could be said... far more. I'm glad for encounters that produce takeaways. I need them. You need them. I'm not the same guy I was three days ago.
What are the life-changing takeaways from your encounters with God?
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.
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