A blog series on “Kingdom Vision”; to live and orient our lives according to His ways.
By Eric Basye
“Evangelism is necessary but insufficient by itself to untangle the complexities of poverty, some that date back generations. Effective poverty-fighters, particularly those located in historically underserved neighborhoods, know poverty isn’t just an individual issue. They push for a community wide effort that seeks a whole-community transformation. They try to reconcile and reunite needy individuals with their families. They know what’s going on in public safety and education and economic development.
Effective poverty-fighters are also in tune with the local lingo, history, and culture. They understand the assets and needs in their community, because every community is different. That understanding doesn’t come from reading books, watching local news, or exchanging friendly waves and handshakes. It comes from sharing life in all its messiness and bickering.”
A core value of CLDI is that we are relationally based, but really, it is about so much more. Go with me on a journey 20 years ago. I had met my lovely bride, Shelly, a few months prior in Denver, CO, while she was living with a friend and enjoying the mountains before the gauntlet of medical school. By the time we were dating in the fall of 2001, she had moved to Memphis, TN, to start medical school. Meanwhile, I was back in Denver to complete my studies at Denver Seminary.
With plans to marry in June of 2002, Memphis would become our new home after spending two months as newlyweds in Jackson Hole (my hometown). It just so happened that I had an open elective my last semester of seminary. Knowing that I was moving to a predominately African American city, I thought it would be wise and enlightening to take a course titled “urban ministry.” The class was taught by an African American working on his Doctorate of Ministry while he also lived and worked in one of the worst neighborhoods of Denver. As a kid who grew up in the vastly unpopulated and white state of Wyoming, I was like a sponge in his class! Truth be told, at least as far as I can recall, this was my first exposure to men and women who had intentionally taken up the call to minister among the poor in America. Of course, I had been exposed to world missions but honestly had given very little thought to the marginalized in our own country.
As I think back to my time in that class, there was one particular moment when everything clicked. Rather than sit in another lecture, our instructor decided to take us on a field trip to his home and neighborhood one day. It was in this ‘hood’ that we sat in his house, saw the church he pastored, and toured the outreach community center that they had started. He had intentionally immersed us into this “dangerous community” to give vision to all we had been learning. It was at this moment that I experienced a radical shift in my thinking. If one had a burden from the Lord to minister to particular people, it seemed that the best means of engagement was to become fully immersed in and among the community as a neighbor and friend. Undoubtedly, this is what our instructor and family had done for many, many years. But, it was then and there, sitting in his home in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver, that a conviction came upon me. If I were to ever minister to the vulnerable, I would follow the example of my instructor, move into the neighborhood, and become fully immersed.
CLDI has four core values that provide a framework for our missional engagement: 1) Gospel-Centered, 2) Imago Dei, 3) Integrity, and 4) Relationally Based. As we do a deep dive into the underpinnings of the last core value, relationally based, it is often the most overlooked and neglected among sincere followers of Jesus. As a people motivated by the gospel, we are all about the restoration of relationships with God, self, one another, and creation. Relationships, not programs, drive this transformation. While this sounds beautiful and easy on the forefront, it requires that one lay aside their ambition, desires, and comforts to seek the greater good by loving those to serve with great intentionality. With our interns, we call and invite them to immerse themselves into the fabric of the neighborhood such that they may know the characters of the community and become known characters themselves. To do so, proximity really matters. One must be fully immersed.
Loving our Neighbor as Ourself
Another cliché that we often say around CLDI is that “life is ministry and ministry is life.” What do we mean by this? The reality is that our call from the Lord is first and foremost to love and serve Him with all that we have, and second, to love our neighbor as ourselves. For us, this emphatically means the South Side community. I will be the very first to say that we don’t do this perfectly. I will go a step further and say that though I have been living and working in low-income communities for over two decades, I have much to learn in this regard. Yet, our heart is that the community’s needs become our needs. Why? Because that is where we live, the streets we walk, the relationships we build, the place where we raise our families, and the community we hope to invest ourselves in relationally. At times, I find it incredibly hard, difficult, trying, and exhausting on so many levels, yet so very good. Over the years, I have been greatly humbled by my neighbors in the way they demonstrate love, thoughtfulness, acceptance, and servanthood towards myself and one another. And as I think about those I have the opportunity to minister with at CLDI, I am blown away by how they exhaust themselves to the fullest extent as they strive to love God and neighbor. I could not be more proud of them. They have chosen a life of service, laying down their lives, a path of less pay and acknowledgment, and they have traded the comforts of the suburbs for the grit of the urban context. As a result of these choices, they often experience further isolation from their peers and family. Undoubtedly, they are heroes of my faith.
Calling & Joy
Going back to my first statement, though we are relationally driven, it is so much more. First, let it be clear that we do no great work ourselves, but it is the Lord who is to be glorified and thanked for everything. Secondly, I do believe this burden to be fully immersed among the poor is a calling. Like many callings, there are blessings on many fronts, but it also comes at the cost of great sacrifice, hardship, and long-suffering. Interestingly, these are the very things that lead to joy. Lastly, to fully invest relationally is to follow the example of Jesus, who entered into our broken, messy world, engaged those in His path to love and restore hope to those who were poor in spirit. This is our heart at CLDI. To engage as Jesus engaged, in the flesh, to see, know, and love those the Lord has put in our path. Our prayer is that through our humble acts of service and relational engagement with love, those in our community may feel seen, heard, and valued as we love them with the love of Christ, compelling them to seek the One who is greater.
Bloom Where You are Planted
Regardless of where God has planted you, are you being intentional about building relationships with your neighbors, creating space where the gospel can be heard and felt? Have you ever asked the Lord where He desires for you to be planted and fully immersed? If you sense a nudge from the Lord to relocate into the South Side (or among any marginalized community) as an intentional neighbor, I invite you to reach out to me so that we further explore what this might look like for you.