We hope you are enjoying the church strengthening team’s new blog. This week, we begin a series of posts based on the 8 principles of Christian community development explained in the book Making Neighborhoods Whole (2013) by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins.
I first learned about the principle of relocation in 1996 when I read Wayne Gordon’s Real Hope in Chicago (1995). At the time, I had just moved into a rental home in the low-income Oak Cliff neighborhood near the church I had served as a church’s children’s minister for several years, driving in from the suburbs. Although Wayne Gordon and his family had intentionally moved into Chicago’s Lawndale community, my move into Oak Cliff was forced by necessity. A tragic and unexpected divorce left me with few choices. Suddenly financially impoverished, my two boys, ages 3 and 6, and I moved into the affordable community.
God used that little house and that neighborhood to provide some of the biggest blessings of our lives. There is a tremendous difference between driving into a community to serve the “poor” people and living there as a neighbor. My “us” and “them” mindset regarding the families around the church quickly changed to “we.” My kids attended the same public school as the other kids in the neighborhood. They were part of the after-school program that our church provided to help working parents. I attended the same PTA meetings and shopped at the same grocery store as the other parents in the community. Our kids had sleepovers at each other’s homes. We moms shared carpool duty. So, when I picked up Gordon’s book more than 25 years ago, what I read put words to what I had discovered since we moved into the neighborhood. Living where you serve necessitates a personal investment in the community that God can use to change your life and transform your ministry.
Now, I’ve just finished reading Gordon’s more recent book, Making Neighborhoods Whole (2013), written with Dr. John Perkins. In it, he restates the principle of relocation, first in terms of what it is not: “‘Relocation’ as we want it to be understood is not about wealthy people from the suburbs going into poverty-stricken areas to save the day with their supposed expertise. It’s certainly not about white folks treating ethnic minorities like projects or problems to be solved” (48). In fact, the authors emphasize that the people who live in a community have the best knowledge concerning how to make it better. Rather, the relocation principle encourages people who have left poor communities to move back into them. It asks young adults who live in a troubled neighborhood not to leave it as soon as they are able, but to stay to help make it better. And, it encourages new people called to a community to go as listeners, learners, and neighbors.
This is not an easy proposition. Lower-income neighborhoods generally have higher crime rates and subpar schools. Many of them are in food deserts because the local economy does not support a Kroger or Tom Thumb. As parents, we want the best for our children. Why intentionally take on these kinds of challenges?
While these are crucial concerns, relocation is the best option for you and your family if God has called you to go to another place. After all, going is an essential characteristic of our missional God. He asked Abram to “go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). He called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Moses to go back home to Egypt. And, of course, Jesus is the ultimate example of the principle of relocation because He left heaven, taking on the “very nature of a servant” to live among us (Philippians 2:7).
As Gordon and Perkins warn, don’t romanticize poverty and move to a neighborhood thinking that you know how to save it. You don’t. Instead, simply ask the Holy Spirit to give you the faith to live in community with others, wherever God places you. When He sends you, go to that “other” place joyfully, knowing that God is giving you and your family an amazing opportunity.