I attended my first Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference in the mid 1990s. Since that first trip, I’ve returned twice—hungry to know more about how other believers are living out reconciliation and justice among ‘the least of these’ in communities around the world.
Each time I connect with people of every hue and tongue. They think like me. We understand each other. With these community developers, there is no need to rehash those tired kumbayah platitudes about our oneness in Christ. We talk about real issues like gentrification and sustainable reconciliation. We pray for God’s intervention in tangible practical holy ways.
This year’s conference brought more than 3,000 people in one place, intent on rebuilding the waste places of our society in Jesus’s name. We have Dr. John Perkins, a third grade dropout from Mississippi, to thank for that. But real reconciliation and justice work like the kind you see in CCDA member ministries around the nation is bigger than one 80 year-old black man turned civil rights activist and preacher. It’s God’s work. I heard the Gospel fervor in the people all around me. It was in English, in Spanish, in Chinese, and even in Navaho. It was exciting and contagious.
We started gathering on September 7. Most of the crowd stayed until the 11th. I flew into O’Hare around 11 am on the first day, with full sun glinting blindingly off Lake Michigan. Two El (‘elevated’) trains and almost two hours later, I arrived at Circle Urban Ministries‘ apartment. As I trudged from the El along the busy innercity sidewalk, my bulging duffel bag banging against my tired body, I questioned the wisdom of my decision to stay so far away from the conference hotel. But over the course of the week, that decision proved to be a good choice. God revealed himself again and again as He extended grace, provided direction, and opened my eyes just a little bit more to the dynamics of poverty in the US.
The trip had its share of disappointments but looking back I realize that those letdowns were rooted in my own misguided expectations. I realized several months ago that what I do in the realm of community development has less and less to do about the number of books I sell (or don’t sell) but more about doing what God has set before me–John 17 reconciliation. But there were times during the conference that I lapsed into old habits of envy and anxiety. I want so much to be on the ‘front lines’ again. Maybe one day my family will be moving back into the inner city. Maybe one day I will serve on a ministry board again. Only He knows.
In the meantime, I have to continually remind myself that ‘success is going in the right direction for a long time.’ I pray you do the same.