I had spent my first day at Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) conference at the activities on the third floor of the Hyatt. Thursday morning, I took the elevator to the second floor. There wasn’t much on the second floor connected to CCDA: volunteer room, prayer room, childcare. The Hyatt’s Starbucks was a strong factor in moving my exploration into new territory. I exited the elevator to witness a group of people sitting on the floor having a meeting. Snippets of conversation as I walked by told me they were conference attendees planning their day.
I spotted the CCDA Prayer Room sign. Starbucks would have to wait. I enter the room. Gentle instrumental music set a peaceful atmosphere. The walls were covered with pictures clustered by categories to prompt prayer for the city of New Orleans. On my left, two women were holding a quiet conversation. To my right a man and a woman were on their knees in silent prayer. I sat in a nearby chair. Two prayer warriors paced the center of the room interceding for the conference attendees, ministers and speakers.
Everyone had left the prayer room when the prayer warriors sat down to talk to me. Nancy Alonzo, a street evangelist, is friends with CCDA’s Host Team Co-Chair Kevin Brown. Kevin invited her to oversee the prayer room. Nancy enlisted the help of Mimi Crabtree. Nancy, Mimi and I had a few mutual acquaintances. They are now on my list of potential stories for NOLA’s faith blog.
I headed for Starbucks and a cup of vanilla iced coffee, but changed my mind when I saw the long line. I returned to the third floor to view the Art Gallery and chat with the exhibitors. Colorful clothing at the Mera Parivar exhibit caught my eye. Pastor’s wives make the clothing to support their husbands explained Anil Landge. According to Landge, the organization in Gurgaon Haryana, India was among the first international ministries to be associated with CCDA.
A friendly Pastor Mike Ballman, Cornerstone Church, Utica, New York and Ros Bellassai, an elder of Cornerstone, told me about their ministry and the Oneida Square Project. Both the church and project utilize the eight components of CCDA’s philosophy. They were candid about the challenges of relocating. Ros, who had been living in a quiet farming community prior to relocation, admitted concerns about education and safety might have deterred him from moving to an urban area if his children were still living at home.
Dr. Perkins’ original intent for relocation was to encourage talented people who had fled their neighborhoods to return. Over the years, that concept broadened to include people who are not indigenous to the community. The people I spoke to about relocation shared a similar experience. Adjusting was difficult, but they found wonderful neighbors.
My next stop, a corner booth about Perpetual Help Home (PPH) located in Victoria, Texas. The chatty Bonny Garcia volunteered to speak on camera. The home is a nationally certified site for Christian Women’s Job Corps. They provide training and jobs to help women rebuild shatter lives that they might become productive members of society. After finding the help she needed at PPH, Bonny became the Director of Center for Peace. Center for Peace teaches women entrepreneurship, business and computer and office skills.
Around the corner from the PPH exhibit were three delightful ladies with a common bond. They told me how Palmer Theological Seminary started in 1925 and gave birth to Eastern University, which gave birth to Evangelicals for Social Action. A pleasant woman from Trinidad, Sharlene Brown, Development Programs Coordinator at Eastern’s School of Leadership and Development, started the conversation. She moved to America more than ten years ago but has not forgotten Trinidad. She continues to support a church in her homeland with the skills and knowledge that she has acquired from Eastern and CCDA. Next year she plans to return to Trinidad so she can check on the progress of the church and show her husband around her homeland.
Nancy Stahl, Admissions Coordinator for Palmer Theological Seminary loves interacting with the diverse students who attend Palmer. She pointed to posters emblazoned with photos of graduates from Alabama, Ethiopia, and South Korea. Even though Nancy is not involved with the theological aspect, she feels called of God to the work she does at the seminary.
“Dr. Ronald Sider tackled social justice issues before social justice ministry was popular,” said Tiffany Gilmore. Dr. Sider, the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, recently retired. The organization, currently run by co-presidents, produces Prism Magazine, which challenges the church to respond to injustices. A free web version of the magazine is available at prismmagazine.org.
Hunger pains reminded me that I had not eaten yet, but it was after 11 am and I had lunch plans with a friend. I was sipping coffee when my cell phone rang. “Where are you?”
“In the Butcher Block Restaurant on the third floor,” I replied.
Five minutes later Dallas McGlinn dropped her purse on my table, “The people at the entrance thought I was crazy.”
Dallas laughed, “This is the 8 Block Kitchen!”
Sheepish grin, “At least I got “Block” right.”
I met Dallas when I became a contributor to Gathering Magazine, which she published to spotlight non-profits in the New Orleans area. While the magazine is on hiatus, she is working as Pastor’s Assistant at Celebration Church in Metairie. She had attended CCDA’s Leadership Development Panel and gave me the details that were now becoming a familiar theme. Teaching people in poor communities how to improve their neighborhoods by raising up indigenous leaders and working together to apply Christian principles. CCDA is a perfect fit for Dallas; serving the less fortunate is her passion.
Dallas liked being downtown where she had worked for many years. We left the Hyatt to walk the streets of New Orleans. She pointed out new businesses and told me how Hurricane Katrina had changed the city. She was thrilled to see a favorite restaurant had not been washed away by the hurricane, so we stopped to eat lunch.
By the time we returned to the Hyatt, the afternoon workshops had begun. Having different interest Dallas and I parted ways. A workshop about stewardship and the poor had caught my attention. The workshop summary promised to “…examine biblical stewardship and its relationship to the poor.” Many years ago, I became disillusioned with making large donations to churches that built bigger buildings and TV studios to win the lost, but their year-end financial statements revealed paltry amounts in benevolence.
I often wondered if the churches I attended were following Jesus example regarding the poor. His alms giving was so prominent, when Judas left during the Passover the disciples thought he had departed to buy something for the feast or to give something to the poor. Giving to the poor currently outweighs what I give to the church, and I wanted to learn more about stewardship and its relationship to the poor.
The workshop speaker opened the session dismissing the word fundraising in favor of “stewardship and development”. When he made the point that small churches don’t have to be dependent on large churches for funding because God is able to supply the need, he had my rapt attention. The Bible states God is able to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory. Yet, most of the churches I have attended never had enough.
I gained some insight into why churches fail to have enough when my husband and I approached a pastor about starting a Teen Bible Quiz. The pastor wanted the church to have the program, but informed us we would have to raise our own funds. “That is what quiz teams do at other churches,” he said. I respectfully informed the pastor that I would not sell T-Shirts, hot dogs, or cupcakes nor would I wash cars to raise money. God is able to supply our needs. If the church could not afford to fund the program, the church did not need a new quiz program. My husband and I collected our things to leave. The Pastor said, “Sit down.” The church funded Teen Bible Quiz.
Apparently, some churches have enough for what they want. This and other similar experiences have made me skeptical about giving. I always question if I am financing what God wants or financing what man wants. During the workshop, I learned that I am not alone. The speaker addressed the current generation as skeptical givers.
Referencing 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, he made a case for stewardship being a vital part of discipleship, which draws us closer to God. While most think of stewardship only in terms of money, he defined stewardship as more than money by including time, talents, prayer, etc. He then challenged ministers to treat stewards as more than a source of money but an integral part of one’s ministry.
The most memorable statement he made was this: “Giving is from the heart. If you don’t capture someone’s heart, he will not give to you.” The speaker was organized and provided detailed notes for us to follow as he spoke. Yet, I left in a bit of a fog. He also identified the poor as stewards, which left me uncertain about the relationship between the steward and the poor. When I returned home, I listened to an audio copy of his workshop. Listening a second time did little to focus the relationship.
He had encouraged us to “consume” 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 and 9 if we wanted to understand stewardship, so I read the chapters numerous times in various translations. I’ve heard some of the scriptures used to teach tithing, but Paul was writing about giving to a specific group of impoverished people – the poor saints living in Jerusalem. He argued that the Gentiles had received from the Jews spiritual things. Therefore, it was right that the Jews receive carnal things in compensation.
Apparently, the poor were not due help simply because they were poor. Paul was the reason many of the Jerusalem Christians lived in poverty. Prior to his conversion, he was determined to destroy the church and put many of them in prison. Paul’s passion to help the poor saints flowed from a passion to make amends for the injustices he and other religious leaders had committed against them.
The church at Corinth had promised to give a large gift to help the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem who had been persecuted into poverty. When Paul wrote the letter, the Corinthians had not kept their promise, which put Paul and the Corinthians in a potentially embarrassing position. Paul went to Macedonia boasting about the Corinthian’s zeal to help the poor. His boasting about Corinth had stirred up the Macedonians to give beyond their ability. While Paul was raking in money for the poor in Macedonian, he received word that the Corinthians had not even started collecting their promised donation.
Paul had already taught the Corinthians that our reason for giving is more important than the gift. In his first letter to Corinth he wrote, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3, niv). Paul was concerned that his return to Corinth with some of the Macedonians in tow would force the Corinthians to give the generous gift they promised grudgingly. To avoid embarrassment Paul sent some brothers in advance to collect the donation before he arrived. Paul’s urgency that they give out of love may have been rooted in the experience of Ananias and Sapphira, whose insincere gift to the poor and attempt to deceive the church cost them their lives.
The workshop speaker spoke of sacrificial giving several times. I could not find that theme in Paul’s writings. Giving what you don’t have is an unacceptable gift. Paul wrote, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12, niv). The speaker also referenced this scripture, which may be why I had difficulty following his message. But I might have created my own confusion by misunderstanding what he meant by sacrificial giving.
I noticed that Paul applied God’s instructions to Israel for collecting manna to the way we should live and give to the poor today. Paul quoted from Exodus 16:18 when he wrote, “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:15). He did not want the Corinthians to give beyond their ability as the Macedonians did because the goal of giving is to create equality. He did not want one group of Christians to be burdened so another could be eased. Our abundance should supply those who are in need. I have heard many sermons about sacrificial giving in the churches I’ve attended. I cannot recall a sermon about creating equality by freely, without compulsion, manipulation or force giving from the abundance God gives us.
After the workshops, Dallas and I reunited to discuss what we had learned. She is the last person to speak on the video.