“No Need Among You” Conference 2016 – Michele Reimer

Reflections on the No Need Among You Conference 2016

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.

This series of posts are reactions from Carroll Institute representatives present.

Michele Reimer (Carroll Institute Student, M. A. in Religion)

It is difficult to know where to start in reflecting upon my experience at the No Need Among You Conference sponsored by the Texas Christian Community Development Network, because every session impacted my personal pastoral development. The event is part of the Christian Community Development Course at Carroll Institute which is taught by Dr. Jimmy Dorrell who also pioneered Mission Waco. The following are some thoughts from the event:

From the first day, Professor Dorrell opened his heart of gold as he shared his experiences with incarnational living over the years in Waco. He explained that Jesus left home and went to the lepers, the prostitutes and others and that it doesn’t always lead to a comfortable lifestyle. However, he and his wife were called to do so. By living with the poor and marginalized, they developed relationships with their neighbors and were able to make changes in the neighborhood where they lived. We explored the continuum from evangelism to community development and taking care of the needs of the poor. He taught that the two are like mixing salt and water to become one. He framed it on a more holistic approach in that both are connected in the same manner, often referred to in the Hebrew world as right belief that results in right behavior. Evangelism and ministry to the poor is both/and as you cannot say that you love God and not do things for one another as is taught in 1 John 3:17 as well as in other parts of the Bible.

When we work in community with our neighbors, we see the Kingdom of God transformed before our very eyes. One speaker shared that many cannot take the time to leave the country on mission trips; however, there is plenty to do in our own cities. He went on to say that in community ministry, you can go on mission and still sleep in your own bed at night.

dallas-street-choir_nnay

Imagine walking into a beautiful sanctuary for one of the afternoon plenary sessions and seeing the entire choir loft filled with people who live in the streets and are singing together at the direction of a professional conductor. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I saw the joy in their faces and listened to the lyrics of their songs.

Here’s a sampling of the lyrics from Up Where We Belong. Try to visualize the stained glass windows in the front of the church framing the singers while hearing words such as these below being sung by those who are homeless:

Who knows what tomorrow brings in a world few hearts survive;
All I know is the way I feel when it’s real, I keep it alive.
The road is long, there are mountains in our way,
But we climb a step every day.
Love lift us up where we belong,
Where the eagles cry on a mountain high.
Love lift us up where we belong, far from the world below,
Up where the clear winds blow…

Wow! Their songs took on a new meaning when sung by the Dallas Street Choir members. I have always based my ministry upon love using so many of the scriptures on that topic to pour into those in my path. We cannot say that we love God and not show love to our neighbors.

I still cannot watch this video without feeling a stirring in my heart mixed with tears! The director has done so much to help restore dignity to those who are in this situation, and he does it from a heart of love. He is planning on taking them to Carnegie Hall to perform and to see a Broadway musical. I cannot imagine the impact this will make on their lives!

Another heart breaker was to realize that many who are living in poverty or in homelessness are treated as invisible. In years past, I have been guilty of that. It was very easy to look forward and not make eye contact with someone standing on a corner asking for help. Upon assimilating that people living in poverty (especially generational poverty) think totally differently, I was ashamed of some of my preconceived notions. The Holy Spirit worked overtime in convicting me of that. By putting myself in their shoes, my eyes were opened to the rugged truths of poverty. It was gripping to absorb that. My peers and I truly do not have a true concept of it. Additionally, we are not aware of the privilege we possess simply by being middle class. We heard stories of young ladies not attending classes because they were too poor to purchase feminine hygiene products on a monthly basis. I was amazed to learn that Texas is 51st in students graduating from high school. We have people who live in food deserts as they have no transportation to traditional grocery stores to buy healthy foods. We have neighbors who do not know where they will be laying their heads down at night or where there next meal will come from. How can we ignore that? These are people living in the grips of despair. We are the ones who can change that by replacing labels with hope. We must communicate the fact that others have value, and we can do that by seeing and treating them as children of the Most High God. One way to do that is to simply listen. That word came up in many of the break-out sessions. Before we can help, we must listen to their stories. We must make eye contact, greet, smile, ignore distractions and truly connect by hearing the stories of others. We can honor them by simply actively listening to them. It can bring healing to wounded souls. This is just one part of the higher calling that is upon all of us who are Christians.

Matthew 25 was mentioned in more than one of the sessions. Afterwards, I went back and read it. This passage is very direct in how we are to treat those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, without clothes, sick and imprisoned. It also speaks of the consequences for those who choose to ignore the disenfranchised mentioned in that passage. The last few verses (NIV) state:

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

This is an extremely powerful admonition. How can we ignore these verses?

There were several recurring themes throughout the week. Help should be transformational and not transactional. Community development is about building relationships. Many times they take a long time to build. Christ developed relationships first. He poured himself into his followers and then He empowered them. He set the example, and we should follow it. Just as Christ, servant leaders model the behavior and attitudes they want to see in others.

A huge paradigm shift for me was in reflecting on how I had engaged in helping others in the past and in what I learned this week. I now see the value in engaging those whom you are attempting to help from the very beginning in tailoring your endeavors. Most people want a hand up rather than a hand out. There are times of emergency when an immediate need must be met. However, in the long run, community development is about empowering others to get out of their circumstances. Many ministries represented at the conference have learned to involve whom they help by engaging them to share what would best help them and to encourage them to give back and assist others in the process. They also work collectively to find solutions. People living in poverty often have the answers to their problems and many times need help in connecting with what is needed.

My life is forever changed as a result of the week spent at Cliff Temple Baptist Church in the classroom as well as in the conference. I cannot ignore the plight of my under-resourced neighbors and know that I am now accountable for what was laid before me in this learning experience. Since walking away from my corporate career and entering into vocational ministry, God has only showed me one step at a time. My heart knows that I must find a way to incorporate what was placed before me this week into my ministry as it is part of His call upon me. As with all phases in my journey, it will begin with one action at a time while leaning on Him for wisdom, direction and guidance. As the song above states… who knows what tomorrow brings.

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