“Not by might, nor by power…” Thoughts on neighborhood development by Christine Chang

Lee-Chang familyWhen I consider the Biblical vision of a community binding together to end poverty, I’m often left feeling lost among the questions and fears this vision presents.  How might I, a second-generation Asian-American woman who maximized my access to higher education, interact with this complex question within a culturally and socioeconomically diverse community of Christ-followers?  As someone entering into the West Humboldt Park neighborhood as an outsider (in more ways than one), what does it really mean to participate in neighborhood development?

Not too long ago, I thought I had answers that were reasonably close.  I would relocate, living within the Humboldt Park neighborhood.  I would redistribute resources by dedicating my career to under-resourced communities, and financially contributing to ministries that furthered the cause.  I would pursue reconciliation through my diverse church and work communities.

I soon realized that this well-planned approach might not be enough.  A few years back, I was participating in a Bible study delivered by Dr. John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association, who has had significant influence on River City’s vision.  Dr. Perkins was addressing faith-driven physicians, health workers, and administrators at the Christian Community Health Fellowship’s annual conference.   His message that morning: in order to deliver “Christian healthcare,” you must submit to the sovereignty of God, walk in humility, and repent of the sin of self-determination.

Despite the simplicity and broad applicability of Dr. Perkins’ message, the impact of his encouragement/rebuke continues to resonate with me whenever I think of my role within River City’s vision for neighborhood development.   What I heard was: you may have years of advanced education, you may have the skills to help people in their time of need, and you may be inspired by a deep sense of calling and passion for your work and for justice… but the second you start relying on your own strength, you have isolated yourself from the true power of God.  Put simply, I need to recognize daily that I need God.  Always.  In everything.

Applied within our church context in a corporate setting, I have also come to realize that seeking shalom together, through neighborhood development and reconciliation, requires us to recognize that we desperately need each other.  In a Christ-centered community, we can’t be divided into the haves and have-nots.  We can’t see ourselves as only givers or only as receivers.  We must see one another as codependent collaborators, pouring out our God-given blessings indiscriminately, whether those gifts be relational, spiritual, financial, or skills-based.

This is a difficult path that inevitably involves reconciliation, given the numerous barriers we face as a diverse community across socioeconomic and cultural lines.  As someone who is fortunate to have a number of life choices available to me (where to live, where to work, who to associate with), it is sometimes tempting to physically, emotionally, and spiritually disconnect from others when I’m faced with inter-personal conflict related to sociocultural misunderstandings, or when I’m feeling cynical about whether this neighborhood development thing can really happen.

But then I pull back and repent – of the sin of self-determination.  Because this is not about me.  This is not about what I have to offer, and it’s not about my strength to accomplish something “for” God.  In fact, if I relied on my natural inclinations, I don’t know that I would have written this post.  I understand the inevitable limitations of my perspective on this topic, and I worry about potential misunderstandings as a result of that.

Ultimately, though, I think this risk is worth it.   I believe in the power of God’s call on our community.  And I’m learning to submit, and trust, in the grace of God – grace that can transform lives, transform our community, and lead to true neighborhood development.

–Christine Chang is one of the elders at River City

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