A recent article in al-Jazeera America provided an inspiring glimpse of what restoration looks like.
You heard me correctly: al-Jazeera.
The article, “Downwardly Mobile for Jesus,” tells the story of what sociologist James Bielo of Miami University calls a “hot thing”: younger evangelicals moving back into the city, not out of a desire to enjoy the attractions of city life, but out of Christian commitment to make a difference in poor neighborhoods.
The story focused on families in Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood, a 72-square block area where the median household income is less than half the national average.
Matthew Loftus, the Chief Resident at a Baltimore hospital, moved into the community in 2009 with his family. Loftus and others like him are not dreamers or people seeking an adventure before getting on with their “real” lives.
Instead, they are people moved by a vision articulated by longtime Prison Fellowship board member John Perkins. That vision is dubbed “incarnational ministry.” As the name suggests, it takes its inspiration from the fact that God became flesh and shared in human suffering. Or put more colorfully, Jesus “did not commute back and forth from heaven.”
The institutional expression of this vision is the Christian Community Development Association or CCDA. The CCDA starts from an obvious point: the world is not as it should be. There is brokenness all around us, most visibly in communities like Sandtown.
The good news, as the CCDA puts it, is that “God longs to work through us to help restore things to the way they were intended to be,” what the Old Testament calls shalom.
The key words in all of this are “restore” and “through us.” In the case of people like Matthew Loftus and his family, the calling is to live among those whose community he is working to restore. Not as a know-it-all or as a “white savior,” but as a member in full standing of the community.
While people like Loftus bring “more education,” more wealth,” “more connections” and more expertise into their new communities, they are intent on encouraging local leadership. Thus, CCDA “relocators,” as they’re called, started a Habitat for Humanity chapter that has built 300 houses and a school. Both are now run by longtime Sandtown residents.
Part of the work of restoration is reconciliation, and as al-Jazeera suggested, this may be the hardest part of the CCDA vision to implement. As a sign of this reconciliation, relocators like the Loftus family worship alongside their neighbors at the appropriately named New Song Community Church.
Another sign of that reconciliation was articulated by Mark Lange, also a relocator. After pointing to things such as the Habitat houses and school, Lange acknowledged that “the brutality and the violence is all still here.” But then he added, “Maybe all we’re here to do is just to come alongside people and suffer with them.”
It’s hard to imagine a better summary of the Church’s mission. Restoration isn’t only, or even primarily, about fixing things—it’s about the mending of relationships and binding the wounds caused by sin and evil.
Not all of us are called to relocate physically but we are called to come alongside those who suffer, which starts with redefining whom we call our neighbors.
Come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to the al-Jazeera article. And we’ll also link you to how you can join with Prison Fellowship and its work for restoration among prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: July 18, 2014