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.