Monday, May 01, 2006

Community Development 101--Part Five


People ask me all of the time, "What do you do at Central Dallas Ministries?"

There are at least two ways to answer that question.

One is to launch off on a rundown of our various programmatic responses to the poverty that grips the lives of thousands of people who live in the inner city neighborhoods of Dallas.

Another way to get at an answer is to speak to the broad categories that best describe the different approaches we take to battling poverty. While I spend a great deal of time describing the specific things we do here, I've learned that it is best to begin with these descriptive categories because in them we can discover how our work relates to sustainable community development.

When it comes to these categories, I often speak of CDM's "three boxes." I even have a one-page graphic chart that sketches out these three important areas of concern for us.

Box Number 1: Compassion

If you show up on our doorstep passed out and basically "left for dead," as many people have across the years, then we will begin immediately pouring out the healing oil of compassion upon your body and soul.

When operating in this mode, we instinctively remember the story Jesus once told of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Several years ago on a very warm Sunday morning in August, I found a man passed out on the steps of the church. He had covered himself with a heavy wool blanket.

As I approached him, I wondered if he was dead.

Fortunately, he was not.

Trying to recover from a drunken stupor, no doubt induced by his bad choices the night before, the man began to come around as I shook him.

We helped him get inside where he enjoyed a cup of coffee, took advantage of our restroom facilities, washed up a bit and joined us for the church service. Afterwards, he ate lunch with us and we were able to visit and make plans for the next steps and the next few days.

People who find themselves in such situations often come to us for relief.

We welcome them.

And, we respond primarily with compassion. I mean, if you are passed out on my steps, your only responsibility is to keep breathing!

It is interesting to notice that when we do the work of compassion, everyone is happy! The person who needs the care, the volunteers (both from our community and from outside the community) are elated to help out and donors love the stories.

Compassion attracts lots of support. It makes for great press. Everyone loves to read and hear the stories of compassion played out.

Compassion occupies a huge part of what we do every day.

Community development depends on works of pure compassion.

We are set up so that very low-income persons can become first-class distributors of compassion every day. Our large Resource Centers, on Haskell Avenue and inside Roseland Homes, actually function as conveyors of compassion, hope and healing.

We work hard at transcending simple charity in an effort to move toward an empowering compassion that leads us deeper into the lives of people and closer to life-changing opportunity (but, now I am edging toward box 2!).

In one way or another, every area of our work is defined by compassion and concern.

6 comments:

L.E.Meredith said...

May God bless you and your work

Anonymous said...

Larry- This is not " on point", but I have been thinking about the " boycott" today and want your thoughts on it. Specifically, I have been keeping up with the "boycott" today through the media coverage, and I have found myself questioning the boycott strategy. I am puzzled by the strategy of inflicting economic harm to this country in an effort to bring attention to the economic benefits these same people want us to recognize they bring to this country. It seems to me that the boycott does not advance their position; to the contrary, I think it actually makes many Americans extremely angry and hostile to their position. You always make me think and see things from a different perspective, so I am very interested in your thoughts on this issue. Again, I am sorry for this diversion but it has been on my mind all day. David D.

Anonymous said...

I think what you do at CDM is amazing! I know that in my church, if someone off of the streets came to our church service, he would not be welcomed. I am so glad that there are places that are so much more accepting of people who really need to see Christian love! K. Bailey

Larry James said...

David, thanks for the post.

Obviously, you are not alone in feeling as you do.

I guess you have to try to put yourself in the shoes of those who stayed home yesterday in order to understand and put their actions in perspective.

First, the one-day boycott won't really hurt the economy. I read that on Sunday the grocery stores were unusually crowded as people shopped early and in advance of Monday's action.

The boycott was simply a demonstration of the size and strength of the group of people involved.

Many Americans are very quick to suggest that these 12 million plus persons go home. The boycott was a peaceful action to demonstrate a bit of what it would be like if they weren't here.

Those of us who have never had to prove up our legitimacy or our value may find actions like this strange or hard to understand. The best remedy would be to seek out someone who took part and begin a conversation. I think you will be surprised by the result of such a talk. Again, thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Larry - thanks for your insight to my concern. Clearly, I have the same view as alot of people do on the boycott... from very far away. You are correct that I - and others - should actually talk to some of the people that boycotted to understand them better instead of sitting in a nice air conditioned office and fuming over it. I am taking you up on your advice today. As always (and for me since I was in Junior High in Richardson), I truly appreciate your compassion and ability to make people like me change the way they view things. David D.

Daniel Gray said...

Compassion is definitely integral to serving others. It seems like compassion was always a word used when describing Jesus' interactions with people. Either Jesus "looked with compassion" or "had compassion" in most of his dealings. I think often times, we lose the joy in compassionless service, when it suddenly becomes a chore or responsibility and we feel the need to to something because it's "the right thing." I appreciate the encouragement in making sure compassion is one of the most important aspects of serving others.