There are perks to what I do. My relationship with Pastor Robert Burnside, whose story is in Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot, led to a meeting with Dave Clark, the event coordinator for Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). I had never heard of the organization until a breakfast was sponsored by CCDA to honor the ministers in my book. While chatting with Dave, he invited me to film comments from conference attendees and write about my experience at their national conference held the second week in September at the New Orleans Hyatt Regency.
Before the conference, I explored CCDA’s website, read Let Justice Roll Down by Dr. John Perkins, one of the original founders of CCDA, and read portions of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I concluded CCDA and its adherents fell in the liberal spectrum of Christianity. I fall in the middle leaning slightly conservative, as do most of the Christians I fellowship with. However, writing the Faith, Beliefs and Spirituality blog on NOLA.com has opened the door for me to interact with Christians of various beliefs as well as Pagans, Atheist, Jews, and Muslims. Regardless of our beliefs, I’ve learned humanity desires the same things: to be loved, accepted, safe and at peace with one another. The culprits that keep us apart and quarreling are usually misinformation and assumptions. I looked forward to viewing Christianity through a different lens at the conference.
I’d heard the term social justice but knew nothing about its concept. During the breakfast Noel Castellanos, the CEO of CCDA, spoke about the heart of God to help the poor. The churches I’ve attended had benevolence funds, and sent missionaries to impoverished nations but did little (that I was aware of) to raise the standard of living in the poor neighborhoods we avoided driving through. I had even experienced resistance to helping the poor. “You are just enabling them to buy drugs and liquor,” some claimed.
The original three components of CCDA, redistribution, reconciliation and relocation were conceived in the heart of Dr. John Perkins. Redistribution when he was paid for $0.15 cents for a job that should have paid $1.50. (The word “redistribution” led me to believe CCDA embraced socialist concepts, which I later learned to be false.) Reconciliation after his brother was killed during a racial incident with white police officers. The final component, the need for relocation, became apparent when Dr. Perkins converted to Christianity and spoke to prison inmates who were barely more than children. For a more thorough explanation of CCDA’s ministry, I recommend Making Neighborhoods Whole by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins.
My husband dropped me off at the Hyatt. I walked into a crowded foyer. As the long line inched toward the registration desk, I chatted with a man from California. “A number of years ago my wife was transformed at a CCDA conference,” said Benjamin. I typed his cell phone number into my Ipad’s notepad intent on learning about her transformation.
The mass of people in the hotel foyer made the room warm. My parched throat was screaming for water by the time I reached my room. I filled a glass with tap water and opened my Ipad to record some notes. I don’t recall why I hit backspace, but I did, and backspaced right over Benjamin’s cell phone number. Benjamin, if you happen to read this, I really wanted to talk to you and your wife.
Obtaining my conference badge proved a little more difficult than checking into the Hyatt. Fortunately, a supervisor recognized my name and told Fernando from Puerto Rico to make me a badge. The delightful Fernando rejected the first badge. “Your name is off center,” he said. He asked his partner to make me another one. The second one passed his inspection.
On the elevator, I made the acquaintance of David Spickard, President/CEO of Jobs for Life, which helps those struggling with unemployment and underemployment. David was appointed CEO in 2006. Dr. Perkins was on their original board, and the organization has been associated with CCDA for many years. A representative attends the CCDA conference every year for encouragement and inspiration.
I was on the way to Stage II, a designated area for exhibitors and special activities, when I ran into Pastor Burnside, one of CCDA’s Host Team’s Co-Chair and the driving force behind the breakfast. He paused long enough to tell me how excited he was about the conference. Most of the exhibitors in Stage II were still setting up. One gentleman looked up from the book he was reading and flashed a warm smile. I stopped to chat. Malcom Wall told me about Biblical Theological Seminary (BTS). The school was established in 1971 when a Bible scholar and evangelist prayed for God’s help to teach those who wished to understand the scripture and communicate the hope of the gospel. BTS had been blessed by the ministry of CCDA and the school strives to return that blessings.
I entered Wednesday evening’s plenary session to a jazz rendition of “I’ll Fly Away”. Mid-way through their fifteen minute set a group of people broke out into a second line (an impromptu parade common in New Orleans). The exuberant second liners returned to their seat. I heard Noel Castellanos speak for the second time. He seems to be most comfortable presenting his points with a dry erase board and hand-full of dry erase markers. The message was basically the same one he presented at the breakfast.
Rev. Leroy Barber, CCDA Chair, followed Noel with a masterful job of weaving Isaiah Chapter 61 into an explanation CCDA’s mission. He emphasized that God had convened the convention and each of the attendees had divine appointments. He then pointed out that the Spirit offers divine healing and divine healing is the heart of cultivation – the theme of the New Orleans conference. Finally, if the practitioners allow the Spirit to use them as agents of healing, the people they cultivate will become the planting of the Lord. Not the practitioners, but the plantings of the Lord will rebuild the waste cities.
I am not a practitioner of CCDA. I won’t be relocating or raising up indigenous leaders in poverty stricken neighbors, but I did have a few divine appointments during the conference. Within 48 hours, I encountered two very different faces of CCDA. More about that in my next post. Until then, enjoy the video of my day. I especially enjoyed the Salsa dancing.
Christa Allan reads from her first novel Walking on Broken Glass at the Celebration of Words sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society and hosted by the Mandeville Barnes and Nobles.
Susan Muth reads from her latest book The Beach at Herculaneum at the Celebration of Words sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society and hosted by the Mandeville Barnes and Nobles.
Pamela Ewen reads from her latest novel An Accidental Life at the Celebration of Words sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society and hosted by the Mandeville Barnes and Nobles.
Last year, Mike Marchese addressed the Southern Christian Writers Guild, and I requested to write his story. He invited me to visit his recording studio. Mike plays rhythm and lead guitar for Counting the Day; a Christian band he formed with a friend. He built his studio to record their music and to service Christian artists. I arrived expecting to record Mike’s story and received a bonus. He wanted me to Keva Fontenille’s story as well. Keva is the lead vocals for Counting the Day.
Keva always had an awareness of God. A benefit of attending Catholic schools until the eighth grade. But an awareness of God did not satisfy the deepest need of her heart for guidance and a consistent loving relationship. Her parents had divorced when she was a year old. During the school year, she lived a model 1950’s sort of life in New Orleans with her father and step-mother. She made good grades in school. Her family ate dinner together, but her father was often absent. Her summer months, living with her mother in Texas, were filled with stress. Her mother and step-father had a volatile relationship. Memories of fleeing the house with her mother for safety created fear and insecurity.
Her mother dramatically changed when Keva was seven years old. An uncle had shared Christ with her mother. That summer Keva attended church with her mother every Sunday. Instead of fearing an eruption of violence, she was surrounded with love. She liked attending the church full of people who sang happy songs and were kind to her.
One day, Keva and her mother were alone in the living room. Her mother asked her to join her on the couch. She gave Keva a beautiful children’s Bible and told her the story of salvation. Keva didn’t pray to accept Christ that day, but she thought about Jesus and his love for her.
After she received the Bible from her mother, their pastor preached a sermon on water baptism. Keva listened intently as the pastor explained how being submerged in water was an outward symbol of what happens spiritually. Christ takes away our sin, and we rise to newness of life, spiritually clean and adopted as a child of God. Keva wanted to be a child of the loving God her mother had told her about, so she asked her mother if she could be baptized in water.
Her mother wanted to be sure Keva understood what it meant to be baptized in water. “Tell me what water baptism is?” Her mother queried.
“It’s like a locust,” said Keva. “Sometimes I find their shells on a tree, but the locust is not there. When I go in the water and come back up that old, yucky shell will stay in the water. I will have a new shell.”
Her mother laughed. “Yea, that’s kind of what it’s like.” Satisfied Keva had grasped the basic concept of water baptism, she made an appointment for Keva to speak to the pastor.
Their pastor questioned Keva and shared scriptures with her until he was convinced she understood what she was doing. Then he led her in a prayer for salvation. Keva left his office excited about her new found faith.
Keva’s voice filled with emotion as she described her experience. “I did more than believe that day. I was truly persuaded from the inside out that there is a living God who loves me, desires a relationship with me and would be an attentive father. It was an intensely personal and intimate moment. I knew I was making a pact with a best friend who would be my friend forever. In him, I found the peace, guidance and security I longed for.”
She returned to New Orleans at the end of the summer excited about sharing her faith with her father and grandmother. They listened politely but remained neutral about their daughter’s experience. Lacking the understanding of God that Keva had acquired, they were not able to encourage her in her walk of faith but neither did they discourage her.
Keva’s mother encouraged her daughter through the letters they exchanged when Keva lived with her father. Keva asked her mother what she should read in the Bible. Her mother knew that her young daughter was not ready to read the longer books of the Bible and offered her a workable solution. Knowing one or two sentences would be easier for Keva to read and understand, she instructed her to read one Proverb daily.
Every morning Keva opened her children’s Bible and read a Proverb. She also thought about it and prayed God would tell her what it meant. She often received insight, which helped her apply the proverb and gave her guidance in dealing with life. When she read “a wise son listens to his father’s rebuke”, she understood that it was okay for her parents to correct her. Instead of rebelling or resenting them she should think about why they corrected her. The result was an unusually well behaved child.
Keva also learned by watching the life of her siblings. They did not receive Christ until they were adults. Consequently, their journey to maturity was very different from Keva’s. “I spared myself a lot of trouble just watching them. I could see the lack of God’s word in action, and how that ends up. I learned that biblical principles work. They can give you a life of peace, stability and direction when life does not make sense,” said Keva.
Five years after Keva accepted Christ, her mother and step-father returned to Louisiana. Keva attended church with her mother on weekends. They joined the church choir where Keva’s talent for singing developed. In high school, she took choir as an elective.
“Music was not a lifelong dream, but it was always around,” said Keva. “Both my parents sang. I chose choir in high school because I needed an elective to graduate. I continued singing because my choir teacher told me to keep singing.”
Keva found her niche in music when her pastor asked her to sing a solo. She was nervous but didn’t think telling the pastor “No” was an option. After her performance, she received many request to sing and became a regular on the church’s worship team.
Ten years ago, she joined First Baptist Covington. She found a place to serve on the church’s worship team where she became acquainted with Mike Marchese. He was in the process of forming a Christian band called Counting the Day. One day, he showed up at her place of work and asked if she would be interested in singing with the band. “I said yes, and ever since then I have been singing with them, and I love it,” said Keva.
Author Christa Allan talks about her writing, retirement from teaching High School English and future works at the Southern Christian Writers Guild, Mandeville, Louisiana. Christa is the author of Dancing on Broken Glass, Edge of Grace, and Love Finds You in New Orleans.
I had a thousand things to do when Rod, my husband, told me to get my camera and come outside. He had an object lesson that he could not do inside. If you don’t already know, Rod is my wonderful husband and children’s pastor who keeps me young and makes life interesting. He wanted to illustrate how waters bust from underground during the flood that destroyed all humanity except Noah and his family. Since the lesson required a hose and lots of water he asked me to film the object lesson show he could show it to the children. I hope you enjoy watching this as much as I enjoyed filming it.
Missionary Ken Landiault uses scary magic to teach children at Hosanna Church, Marrero, Louisiana.
At a meeting of the Northshore Literary Society, Christy Award finalist, Pamela Ewen, and New York Times and International bestselling author, Erica Spindler, discuss expressing faith in secular writing.
Melody Bonnette-Swang gives advice to aspiring writers at the Southern Christian Writers Guild, Mandeville, Louisiana.
Education plays an important role in Melody Bonnette-Swang’s life. The Mandeville, Louisiana resident is a history teacher, serves as director of broadcasting for the St. Tammany Parish School System’s educational access television channel, and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in education at the University of Southern Mississippi. She was named Louisiana Overall Teacher of the Year in 1999. Melody has also contributed to Guideposts magazine and Angels on Earth magazine.