Seeing with God's Eyes

by Pamela Stringfield on

womanmiddleofroad.jpg

One of my favorite parts of being the Neighborhood Engagement Coordinator is the fact that in some ways, my job can be different every day. I get to choose my own adventure. Mondays are typically my “admin days,” but for the rest of my time, I get to focus on building partnerships in the community, mapping out the organizations and activities already at work throughout South Atlanta.

Whenever I make a new connection, I always aim to lay the groundwork for mutual relationship and cross-pollination. I want to know as many of the workers and entities in the area. Hopefully, our relationship, our face-to-face connections, will enable us knowing each other, talking and serving each other rather than replicating efforts or stepping on each others’ toes.

I see neighborhood engagement as getting better at seeing both people and communities. Much of my role involves observing and making connections. I have space to do just that, and I try to do it with God. I’ve noticed that when I expect God’s presence, my perspective shifts. On Tuesdays, I have time set aside specifically to be out in the neighborhood in South Atlanta, paying special attention to letting God’s presence interrupt my schedule.

One day, God did just that. In the car, I heard God say to me, “I want you to see.” Behind the wheel, I kept driving until I found myself in a neighborhood adjacent to South Atlanta. Suddenly, as I rolled down the street, I saw a woman. She walked into the middle of the street, turned, faced away from me, and walked slowly down the middle of the street in the lane I was driving in.

My driving slowed as I followed her, not wanting to pass or get too close.  “Just look at her,” God said.

At first, I resisted, telling God I couldn’t see anything but her back, that I didn’t know who she was or anything about her life. In this thought stream, though, the realization that I did not know her, but I could see her, sank in. As my gaze lingered, nearly idling behind her down the street, I thought “I don’t know her story. I don’t even know who was the last person who asked her how her day is going.”

God replied, “I want you to feel my heart for her.”

My eyes filled with tears. I realized that I had been feeling tense, afraid. No one knew where I was, I didn’t have my GPS, and the neighborhood I was in felt scary and unknown to me. Yet here was a brown and beautiful woman, walking in front of me. She had a name and a story. She had dignity; I had dignity. And we had both received it from a greater source. In that moment, I felt the desire for more of God’s kingdom, more celebration of all people’s gifts, more acknowledgement of the dignity of this woman’s story as she walked before me.

This desire comes from God’s heart. In my time partnering with communities as they face distress, I’ve heard God say before, “I want you to see what excites me, what saddens me, what infuriates me.” God doesn’t just want to manage our brokenness or our community’s struggles; God wants to address root issues to bring forth a more glorious work.

At FCS, I’m trying each day to respond to this call to hear God’s heart and praying that all of us as a staff would believe and experience more deeply each day that God is present and powerful, that the work we do is ultimately God’s work. We want to see what God sees and then partner with Him, and each other, to bring more of what He dreams He’ll see.


Comment

No Comments

Mission vs. Business

by FCS on

CG window signs-L.jpg

“Are you a business or a mission?” she asked me. She served as the board chair of an organization that has invited FCS to help them transition from a relief program to a community development organization. FCS, through the Lupton Center, helps organizations like this one manage the process of creating sustainable organizational and community change.

“Are good business and good ministry mutually exclusive?” I asked in response.  

It is tricky ground, this balance between for-profit and nonprofit. Especially for those of us in the faith community. We are driven to respond compassionately to needs we encounter without asking for anything in return. In fact, organizations often ask business leaders to leave their experience at the door as they enter the boardroom. At FCS, we recognize that good business principles often strengthen the work of ministry.

One organization we’re working with began their work in Haiti after an earthquake devastated the country eight years ago. Since then, they have been serving faithfully three communities by providing four to five free medical clinics per year. But they recognized that their model of relief was having little impact on changing the community. They asked the question: what does it mean to move from relief to development? Now, two years later, they’re assisting the community in building their own permanent clinic, which will be staffed by Haitian doctors.  They are building programs and partnerships to address acute illnesses, employment, water treatment, recycling, and disease reduction. They are doing all of this great work within the context of community engagement with great business sense.

We know from decades of experience that solely relief-based ministry will not truly address chronic need. Relief aims to reduce immediate symptoms of pain. When dealing with crisis, relief is the right answer. But chronic need requires a sustained response that includes economic catalysts like jobs, businesses, lending, and planning.

For instance, FCS no longer has a job-readiness program.  Over time we learned that job-readiness without a job in place did not really solve any problems for the participant.  Now, FCS has local jobs via our businesses that also serve the neighborhood! This change required FCS to partner with business leaders to help us shape our programs so that they are more sustainable.

Does FCS still require strong donors? The answer is yes!  We do not open businesses like Carver Market or Community Grounds without the help of donors that subsidize our projects. We don’t provide affordable rentals in our neighborhoods without donors that understand their gifts enable the affordability. But for every dollar donated to FCS, we create two more dollars in program income. By establishing sustainable business models in real estate and food service, we can help to create homes, businesses, and jobs that impact hundreds of our neighbors every day!  

Thank you for your support of FCS and our “business-minded” mission. We know it is out of the ordinary to support this type of cause, but we are grateful that you do. Your investments are reaping benefits all over the world!

If you are interested in seeing some of those outcomes first-hand, let me know. I would gladly share a cup of coffee at Community Grounds and show you what your investment is creating in South Atlanta.


Comment

No Comments

The Newbie, the Expert, the Learner

by Shawn Duncan on

fcsclassroomstyle2.jpg

As the Director of Training and Education here at FCS, I wrestle with the tension between God’s ability to use anyone, regardless of credentials, and the helpfulness of applicable skills. When it comes to ministry and working towards holistic community development, the role of expertise can feel sticky and complex.

So perhaps we can start with something true: when it comes to loving our neighbor, we don’t have to take a course on “how to serve.” Our course is God’s Word. We read the Bible and watch Jesus in action. He went everywhere. He taught the Gospel, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the hungry, and loved people. We are called to do the same, no certificate needed.

But I also know that the Lupton Center emerged, in part, because people like to learn about what matters to them. People like to improve, to grow. Surely this drive applies to us as we seek to be good neighbors! Our founders noticed that many folks who had delved into their neighborhoods knew how to help engage immediate need, but did not know how to leverage efforts and partnerships for long-term impact. These practitioners wanted to know more, to gain more expertise. They asked us to share from our experiences so they could be more effective in caring for their neighbors over time. God was continuing to use them, growing us all along the way!

Luckily, we have much to explore and continue to learn. Our time in South Atlanta has taught us that poverty is complicated - its causes, effects, and solutions. The systems that perpetuate it are also intertwined and complex. This reality means that many of our friends and coworkers find that their passion, sacrifice, and generosity need continued learning and training. Like any work worth our life's passion - whether it is engineering, medicine, education, or the work of charity, justice, or mission - we have to keep honing our perspective, knowledge, and techniques. We do so precisely because we love our neighbors, and we want them to have the best.  

Even as we offer training and education, we know the Lupton Center continues to refine its approach. It arose to support those who have found themselves in need of continued development in their lives of service. We are excited to support fellow practitioners and continue growing and developing together. Thank you for your commitment to love and serve others and to call others to that way of life!

If you want a take another step on the path of learning to love your neighbor, be sure to check out  The Lupton Center website to find upcoming seminars, resources, and events.

What skills has God been growing in you? What do you feel like you’re learning? Comment below!

Comment

No Comments