Recently I was taking our CLDI interns through a book written by author Bob Lupton. By all accounts, Bob is a well-respected Christian community developer guru that has lived and worked for decades in the poorest communities of Atlanta, GA. In his book, Toxic Charity, he shares a story about a group of young people that had caught the vision to relocate to the inner city to love God and love their neighbors. One particular couple, anxious to join the kingdom task of fostering transformation in the community asked, “Where do we begin?” Here was Bob’s response:
“Don’t initiate anything,” I told them. Not at first. Be a learner. Ask a million questions. Learn your neighbor’s names, kids, church membership (if any), where they work, what they like or dislike about the neighborhood, the history, who knows whom. Meet the school principal, the city-council representative, the police-precinct captain, local merchants, PTA presidents, pastors. Find out what is happening in the community from their unique perspectives. Attend community-association meetings, public hearings, church services, high school athletic events, local art and musical performances. Meet with city planning staff and find out what if any plans the city has on the drawing board for your community. In short, become an expert on your community. Immerse yourselves in every aspect of community life. Volunteer as appropriate, but make no long-term commitments. Be an interested, supportive neighbor for at least six months before attempting to initiate any new activity.[i]
As I reflect on Bob Lupton’s words, I am reminded of the principles of “neighboring”… be a learner, ask a million questions, know people by name, become an expert of your community. Personally, I need to get back to the basics. Often I find myself greatly discouraged by the lack of change in our community and the lives around me, and no matter how hard I try to manipulate transformation, I can’t make it happen. Years ago, when my wife and I first moved into the inner city of Memphis, I unknowingly moved in with the mentality that by our being present, people would be saved, children would be educated, drugs and gangs would be eliminated, housing would be improved, and He would use us to do all of these amazing works (for His glory, of course). Here I am, nearly 14 years later, living in another low-income community, but my mindset is slowly beginning to change. Of course, I do desire all those things mentioned above, and strive for them in both our work and home life, but I am beginning to understand in my heart that I can’t change anything on my own… in fact, we are called to live in obedience to Him regardless of the results (or lack thereof). We are called to be present, love God, love our neighbors, and do those things which are most pleasing to Him. Fully aware of my own limitations, I find great comfort, hope, and renewed zeal in the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (vv. 14-16, NASB).
Let your light shine before men… that they may see your good works… and glorify your Father who is in heaven. This is why we live and work in the South Side; to this end we have been called to neighbor. This is why we invest with our whole life in a community like the South Side. This is why we engage our neighborhood, seek to be purposeful in knowing our neighbors, serve the schools, provide quality housing, landscape our yards, shovel sidewalks, play at the park… so that in loving and following the teachings of Jesus, we might be transformed more to His likeness, and along the way, He will use our lives to point to the true Hero of the story – JESUS – for His glory and renown… which I have to believe will lead to transformed lives, reconciled relationships, and community Shalom.
– Eric Basye
[i] Lupton, Robert D. (2011). Toxic Charity. HarperOne, p. 160.