A couple of days ago, "Carlton" posted what follows (black font) in the comments section of one of my posts.
I love his heart, his vision and his hope. His questions and his struggle are very familiar to me. I thought I'd try to respond (red font) to his comments here:
Sorry to change the subject but Jeremy from Central Dallas Ministries suggested I bring my concerns to this blog community that cares about the plight of the poor and oppressed.
Glad you did! And, I'm glad Jeremy directed you to us. I expect that many readers here will have better advice for you than I will. I hope everyone with a point of view will join the conversation, Carlton. Thanks for engaging us in this way!
I need wisdom and advice.
Who doesn't! I know I certainly do. A good place for us all to begin, as well as to return again and again, is to this point of realization: we are not alone!
I'm a young preacher in a small Church in New Mexico. We have a large population of poor and over the last several weeks I have been working closely with some homeless individuals.
It sounds like you are responding to the people around you in a positive manner. For a minister with a heart for taking seriously the words of Jesus about the poor, this is the only place to begin. As a leader, you must be willing to befriend, with a heavy emphasis here on "friend," the poor who live near you and your congregation. Your leadership and heart connection will be key in mobilizing your church. When you tell me that you "have been working closely" with folks in difficult situations, you tell me that you are on the right track. Direction is almost always more important than details. The details change with each person and situation. The basic direction of your ministry and leadership must not.
Every situation is so different, and our city has little-to-none to offer the homeless and poor.
By making this statement, you tell me that you are getting to know, really know the people with whom you are working. This is a very good indication that you are taking each person seriously and that you are giving your time up to their stories and dilemmas. Again, essential to any progress for you, the poor with whom you are working and your church.
As far as city resources, your experience is the experience of people who are concerned all across this nation. That said, I expect there are more resources than you realize. Have you talked to anyone at City Hall? How about the county? I recommend that you go and meet the leaders of your community, people like the mayor and city council members, the city manager, the county judge and others. Is there a hospital in your town? Go talk to the Emergency Room doctors and the hospital administrator to understand their challenges--they have some of the same ones you are running into, I promise you.
Are there charitable organizations in your community? How about civic clubs, like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis? What about student service groups in your public schools? Is there a ministerial alliance in town? What are other churches doing? Can you find out?
Do you have a local newspaper? Could you submit an Op-Ed piece for publication that would point out what you are seeing to raise awareness and help "flush out" others who share your concerns?
I'm at a loss on how best to act redemptively in the lives of these individuals and how best to lead a congregation into intentional ministry to the poor and homeless.
I understand your feelings here, big time! Here's what I am learning.
1) Don't just do something, stand there. In other words, continue to listen to the poor in your community. Talk with them about both their needs and their assets. Everyone has assets of some sort. The poor can contribute to whatever solutions and strategies you develop, but they need to be in on the ground floor of the process. Ask the homeless what they think should happen in your city. What are their concerns, their assessment of the needs? Once you hear what they would like to see and to help happen, begin to do "asset mapping" to really understand what is available to you. Take some of them with you to meet with leaders so that their stories can be shared with a wider audience. In general leave all of the "redemptive" functions to God. You and your people need to focus on keeping your feet firmly on the ground and just love people, no conditions, no strings attached.
2) Don't just stand there, do something! After listening or, better, as you listen, begin to act. Never under estimate the importance of your own action, even if no one else from your church joins you as your begin. Attempt to draw others into your vision by creating a small group, possibly in your home, to discuss the issues and the situations. Share your own theological basis for being concerned in this setting of supporters. Don't limit yourself to your own church. Receive anyone who shares your vision and values.
3) Teach your church the values you are discovering in scripture regarding the poor, justice and what it means to be a neighbor and disciple. That will give you enough material for the next 20 years or so!
I've read most of Ruby Payne's info which has been very helpful but I need practical advice on how to work within or around the system to best help many of these individuals. What resources would you recommend that would be helpful in understanding how to practically and purposefully help those broken by poverty and homelessness.
Ruby Payne's controversial book is helpful to a point. One problem I have with it is its stereotyping paradigm. If you take what she writes as gospel, you will expect all poor folks to be the same and respond the same. Then remember, she writes primarily with public schools in mind. Go beyond what you can learn from her.
Check out Building Communities from the Inside Out, by McKnight and Kretzmann of Northwestern University. I refer to it as the "green book" or the "bible of community development."
Read John Perkins' classic, Beyond Charity, a primer on Christian community development. Visit the website of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), an organization that Dr. Perkins helped found years ago. This is a group you need to know about. Try to attend their annual conference this fall (usually in October). You will meet a couple of thousand people who share your concern and who are leading organizations that are attempting what you dream of. Most will be from urban areas, but not all and there will be much to learn.
Read David Shipler's new classic Working Poor: Invisible in America. Send me your mailing address and I'll send you a copy, I have several.
Plug into Jim Wallis' Call to Renewal and Sojourners organizations. Read Shane Claiborne, Gustavo Gutierrez, Dallas Willard and Bruce McLaren.
Plan a trip to Dallas and spend a couple of days with us. We can learn from one another.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
I'll send you this by email, as well, Charlton. Let's keep the conversation going here. I look forward to reading what others share.
Whatever you do, keep at it.
Over the past 13 years I have learned that 95% of just about everything is a matter of simply "showing up" and not going away.
Let's stay in touch! And again, thanks for the post!
One more thing, Carlton, take a look at this site: http://www.city-data.com/city/Grants-New-Mexico.html.
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