A few weeks ago I had the privilege of representing B.H. Carroll Theological Institute at the annual No Need Among You Conference 2016, hosted at Cliff Temple Baptist Church. With over 55 workshops led by practitioners in the field of Christian Community Development NNAYC a student can actually receive course credit for at Carroll Institute for attending the conference. There are several articles and posts around the web written about some of the attendees experiences at the conference so I do not plan to rehash the sessions or plenary speakers. Most of them have books, youtube videos or websites of their own not to mention the fact that topics range from Justice System Reform to Racial REconciliation to Literacy to Poverty and Hunger. I instead want to focus on another aspect of the conference that seems fairly unique to NNAYC. Each day of the three day conference they take about 2 to 2.5 hours out of the day to offer ministry tours of local ministries engaged in Christian Community Development in some form or fashion.
It was my pleasure to get to attend two such tours. On Wednesday I toured Bonton Farms in an incredibly impoverished neighborhood in South Dallas. On Thursday I attended the tour of Cornerstone Ministries, the amazing missionary arm of Cornerstone Baptist Church and Pastor Chris Simmons. I will be posting in-depth articles about each one of these tours in the coming weeks on the Carroll Community blog. But for now this is just an overview as these tours relate to the No Need Among You Conference.
Bonton Farms, was founded by Daron Babcock. The farm is in the middle of a south Dallas neighborhood barely 7 miles from Downtown Dallas. Bonton is in what the social sciences would call a food desert. Couple poverty with other systemic problems and the fact that getting groceries for most people in the community warrants a three hour, round-trip, bus ride and you have a snapshot of the problem. When you add in gangs, drug addiction and the violence that comes with those things, the disease and health issues brought on by lack of fresh foods (diabetes, heart disease, cancer), the trappings of the welfare state, and you have a neighborhood devastated by lack of hope and a lack of dignity. Daron and Bonton Farms is changing all that.
I am not ashamed to say, I wept on this tour. (I was glad it was outside and sunny which gave me an excuse to keep my sunglasses on.) As Daron told the story of Bonton, how he came to be involved in the neighborhood and how he came to start the farm, I watched as men worked in the garden behind him. Men from the neighborhood, former inmates, former addicts, worked the soul, gathered to produce. This men now have a job, a purpose, a way to learn new skills, all while creating something that is adding other needs back into the neighborhood. 5 years in the garden is about an acre and a half. The farm has 400,000 bees (I wanted to ask Daron, “Who counted all those bees?”) and produces its own honey. They have goats, for meat, cheese and milk. They have registered Berkshire Hogs, a highly sought after brand of pork. They have chickens and eggs, in this case the chickens came first. Daron has developed an entrepreneurial model that is genius. You can read about that in my upcoming article on Bonton. Needless to say the Bonton experience is one I won’t soon forget. And as you can read next week, it is a model that I believe the church can reproduce and sustain the world over.
The next day I went to I toured Cornerstone Ministries, nestled between the Cedars neighborhood and Fair Park area of Dallas is another such neighborhood riddled with drug abuse, drug houses, homelessness and teen pregnancy. Cornerstone and it’s community is also in a food desert. The City of Dallas has actually offered up $3 million incentives, plus tax breaks and more to grocery stores companies to build in the neighborhood but as of yet no one will take them up on it. (Anyone know how to help me start a grocery store?) The church now owns a drug house around the corner from the old church building after approaching the drug dealers about buying it from them (more on that in an upcoming article.) This small church of 350 or so people has a high school, a ministry to unwed mothers, a ministry to rehabilitate men just coming out of prison, a food kitchen that serves nine meals a week, a food pantry that partners with Ameri-core for deliveries, a clothes closet for the homeless that also provides showers and haircuts. They provide dental and medical check ups for many of these groups as well. This is a church that asked the question “Would the neighborhood miss us if we were gone?” When they answered honestly, they had to say no. But they didn’t let the no be a discouragement. It was a starting point, and now, if Cornerstone Baptist Church were to cease to exist there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the neighborhood will feel the loss. Countless lives beyond the 350 church member count would go hungry, or without prenatal vitamins, they would not have access to clean clothes or health care.
While there is much more to be said about the No Need Among You Conference I can not say enough about getting outside the walls of a lecture or conference room. The value of these two ministry tours was eye opening, hands on experience you can’t get from a Power-Point presentation or a tidy list of bullet points. If you, your church, your staff, your non-profit, your small group or your grandma is looking for a missions conference, a way to get involved in other like-minded organizations, and discover new networks, strategies and people to do Kingdom Work then please take a look at the Texas Christian Community Development Network (@TxCCDN) and the No Need Among You Conference 2017 in Houston, TX.