The Texas Christian Community Development Network held its annual No Need Among You Conference on October 5-7, 2016, hosted by Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas. There were 520 people in attendance at a conference that focuses on how to empower the poor and revitalize communities.
Michael McMinn (Carroll’s Online Community Director and Social Media Strategist)
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 by Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas. With over 55 workshops led by practitioners in the field of Christian Community Development, Carroll students could participate in the sessions and receive course credit 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 which include topics that range from Justice System Reform to Racial Reconciliation to Literacy to Poverty and Hunger. Instead, I want to focus on another aspect of the conference that seems fairly unique to the NNAY Conference. Each day of the three-day conference, the conference organizers and presenters took about 2-2½ & hours out of the day to offer 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 of these two tours as they 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 seven 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), and the trappings of the welfare state, you have a neighborhood devastated by a lack of hope and a lack of dignity. Daron and Bonton Farms is changing all that.
I am not ashamed to say that 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 that was about an acre and a half. Men from the neighborhood, former inmates, and former addicts worked the soil and gathered produce. These men now have a job, a purpose, a way to learn new skills, while at the same time creating something that gives back to the neighborhood and fulfills other needs. 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, as well as chickens and eggs. Daron has developed an entrepreneurial model that is ingenious. You can read more about that in my upcoming blog article on Bonton. Needless to say, the Bonton experience is one I won’t soon forget. And, as you can read here, it is a model that I believe the church can reproduce and sustain the world over.
The next day I toured Cornerstone Ministries which is nestled between the Cedars neighborhood and Fair Park area of Dallas. It is another neighborhood riddled with drug abuse, drug houses, homelessness and teen pregnancy. Cornerstone and its community are also in a food desert. The City of Dallas has actually offered three million dollars in incentives, plus tax breaks and more, to grocery store companies for them to build other stores in the neighborhood, but as of yet no one will take them up on their offer. (Anyone know how to help me start a grocery store?) After approaching the drug dealers about buying a drug house, Cornerstone church now owns a drug house that is around the corner from the old church building (more on that in an upcoming article). This small church of 350 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 AmeriCorps for deliveries, and 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. Now, if Cornerstone Baptist Church were to cease to exist, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the neighborhood would feel the loss. Countless lives beyond the 350 church members would go hungry, or without prenatal vitamins, or 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 cannot say enough about getting outside the walls of a lecture hall 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 or a way to get involved in other like-minded organizations to 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.