Some of my Projects
Almost all Christian ministries for the poor focus on emergency relief (i.e., the clothes closets, food pantries, assistance with utility bills, etc.). Emergency relief is the right solution for emergencies. Emergency relief, however, does nothing to change the mid to long term circumstances for the families who are affected by situational or generational poverty. Churches found themselves working over and over again with the same struggling families. Most would return after a mandated period required between assistance visits. Christians really want to help, but often don’t know how to do so beyond emergency relief or writing a check. Efforts within the community … AND …even within a denomination are frequently duplicative and not effective in producing long term, generational, systemic change. Community service agencies most often offer eligibility-based services that produce dependency and that do not stimulate self-esteem and leadership within the population served. In addition, denominational boundaries often produced territorialism as well as redundancy.
A priority for the United Methodist Church is to engage in ministry with the poor, not just for or to the poor. The Alabama West Florida United Methodist Conference was seeking a new and innovative way to have more effective and lasting impact when working with families who were struggling to make ends meet. Because of that the AWFUMC formed a community-wide leadership team that transcended denominational boundaries. Community agencies and government entities were also brought to the table. The project team also included representatives from among local families who were struggling to make ends meet. Initial claims of territorialism slowly gave way to a shared vision of a new approach to relational ministry – ministry that is not transactional in nature – ministry that produces leaders within families, self-esteem, and greater visibility of the systemic issues that hold people back. The North American view of poverty is that it is defined as an absence of financial resources. If that were true, simply applying financial resources would solve the problem, but that has not worked! During the project, Communities of Transformation (COT) became a reality, a relational approach that elevates families and brings people together as equal partners. COT is not a mentoring approach. Mentoring implies a hierarchy: “I’m here to show you how to be more like me.” In COT people come together in equal, reciprocal relationships and problem solve together. COT is now represented in 10 communities in 2 states (Alabama & Florida). Representatives of a number of denominations as well as service agencies and governmental officials have pooled their respective resources to apply a systematic, relational approach to working with families who are struggling to make ends meet. COT participants have gotten GED diplomas, graduated from college, achieved nursing degrees, gotten out of debt, opened savings accounts, acquired more reliable transportation and safer housing, gotten jobs with 401(k) and retirement plans, been promoted into management, and have become leaders in the community. Denominations and service agencies have worked together in new, collaborative ways.