For the last 28 hours, I, along with Joel Shaffer, Davien Fizer and Pastor Jerome Burton (Coit Community Church) have been ushered around the Milwaukee area by my parent's friend and former colleague from the mission field, Tom Keppeler, to see what God has been doing through His church here. Our hope has been two-fold: 1) to bring back some transferable ideas and principles to implement in our context in the Creston neighborhood and greater GR area, and 2) to further our unity and partnership in the gospel. On Sunday I will be sharing some of what we have learned in the service, but here are some brief thoughts and observations.
From the James Place in Waukesha:
James Place is a community resource center operated out of a storefront downtown as a ministry of the Church of Elmbrook. They offer basic services to people in the community to connect them with a variety of resources. Their motto is to listen to, learn from, and serve with those in their neighborhood. As we heard about all that they are able to offer through their space, staffed by a couple of paid directors and as many as 50-60 volunteers, it was easy to feel that this would be beyond anything we could do. They encouraged us that when they started, they operated under the principle of "start here, start small, start now". Another pearl of wisdom was that they stressed relationships and responding to needs (rather than "meeting" needs).
From the James Places in Washington and Barack Obama High Schools in Milwaukee:
We saw how these inner-city schools invited local churches, in partnership with Elmbrook Church, to establish a permanent presence on their campuses with their own spaces to provide a variety of assistance to students. We met Colleen, the director of the Barack Obama James Place. She shared how she got involved with the ministry when she realized that to the extent that she had served the city "there had always been a table between me and the city". By that she meant that she had given clothes, food, etc. but never in a context of relationship. As she has gotten involved there she shared that she has found that she had believed a false narrative about inner city youth. She had a perception that was entirely negative and has found instead a group of selfless, kind, genuine kids from whom she feels she has learned more than she has taught them. A moving testimony of what happens when we give ourselves away without an agenda.
From talking with Pastors who have ministered to the Sherman Park community in the wake of police shootings in August:
We heard the message that the church cannot be crisis-driven. We must come together and be for the community in a consistent way. We heard that in Sherman Park in August, it was the prayerful presence of the churches that helped to de-escalate the tension and violence much faster than in similar situations in other cities. We heard over and over again that it was listening and not talking that opened doors of dialogue. We heard that churches cannot expect to have voice if we only show up in a crisis. We heard that churches must come together as a unified force for the good of a community rather than operate in silos. Of most interest to me, we heard that churches must deeply believe that the gospel works to change lives, that it impacts our everyday work, relationships and well-being in positive ways.
We come home tomorrow after a couple more meetings and I look forward to sharing more with you on Sunday!