Joining the Poverty Fight

Do we have to fight poverty on our own, or have the poor already started the fight?

Below is a response from our Director of Development, Jordan Harper, to an inspiring article that can be found here, in Christianity Today.

I came across your article “These Churches Fought Domestic Poverty with the Gospel” in Christianity Today recently and was inspired to see so many churches jumping on board the fight to end poverty. Our organization, C24/7: Father’s Arms Ministries, serves the Rogers Park community of Chicago, using the same Work Life curriculum mentioned in the article and can attest to the power of Christ-based solidarity. I couldn’t help noticing, though, the uniquely middle-class lens this perspective of “fighting poverty” is seen through, despite its best intentions at establishing community participation as the bedrock of the approach. I would like to suggest a slight change in perspective here, from “fighting poverty” to “joining the fight on poverty.”

Our work in the community started because of one man’s journey through poverty and prison. James Crockett, our Executive Director, experienced the same struggles many of our neighbors face, until his life was renewed by embracing God’s parent-like love. Now James leads a community-wide effort to fight poverty in all its forms: spiritual, economic, academic, and mental. Along with his wife and cofounder Natalie, he is recruiting people like Montrell, who grew up in our rough neighborhood without either of his parents. Gun violence took many of his loved ones, and joining in this violence ultimately led him to prison. But he kept fighting.

Montrell completed his GED while in prison and stepped up to take control of his life once released. He enrolled in our job development program, took over as the main caretaker for his recently born son, faithfully started attending our local church, and will soon be hired to help train men and women fighting poverty like he did. This job will go a long way in breaking the cycle of poverty he inherited and give his son a chance to thrive.

The fight has already been started by the people poverty affects most. It is therefore important for churches to keep in mind the Chalmer’s Center’s stated goal of participation when joining the fight on poverty: “Getting community members to participate more fully in all that it means to be human” (When Helping Hurts, p. 137) because “[p]articipation is not just the means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right” (p.136).

When churches are interested in joining the fight on poverty, there is one thing above all else that communities need: faith. They must have faith in people who are crippled by poverty. Faith in the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And most importantly, faith in the God of solidarity and miracles. When churches establish faith in these regards, there is a foundation of beautiful relationship which raises community members up, instead of dropping aid in from above. It enables communities like ours to grow leaders like James and Montrell, who then turn around and raise more leaders, creating lasting systems to fight poverty.

Once faith is committed and shared, these beautiful relationships can hold up the needs of the community to the resources of the church. Time, money, operational expertise, and connections to various networks outside the confines of isolated communities strengthen those fighting and expand their reach.

But it all starts with a commitment to join the ongoing fight, and to bring faith along the way.

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"Do You Know Jesus?" and the Presumption of Abigail

This week our guest writer, Scott Parker, tells a story of standing strong in our faith instead of relying on the futility of earthly power. What do we choose to ground our identity in?

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him.
— 1 Samuel 25:23-25

Do we take God’s judgment seriously?  Abigail did. She knew “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” After throwing herself at David’s feet, denouncing her husband and separating herself from his actions, she plead for David’s mercy.


“Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live…When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself (1 Samuel 25:28,30-31).”


Notice that Abigail’s appeal is not to David’s might, but to God’s. Her appeal is to the living God, not to an earthly king. In making her appeal this way, she points David to the source of his power and authority. In essence, she is asking David to remember to whom he belongs. Perhaps years of marriage to a wealthy fool had taught her the futility of earthly power. This woman is standing on a firm foundation and when David meets her it is him that is moved, not her.   


Late one night I was walking to my apartment on Greenview and Howard. Just ahead of me, I saw a man taunting another man out the passenger window of a car. The guy outside the car reached into the car, opened the door, pulled the passenger from his seat and began to beat the mess out of him. I was immediately reminded of a time I was in the passenger seat of a friend’s SUV, stuck in traffic on Howard Street. I could hear a man berating his girlfriend, I looked over to see the two of them walking down the sidewalk. They were both angry and it looked like he was about to punch her.


“Hey man, are you okay?” I shouted, hoping to diffuse the situation. “What did you say?” The man shouted right at me.  He leapt into the street and headed right at me.  He was moments from grabbing me. 


“Do you know Jesus man? Do you know Jesus? Do you need prayer for something man?” I whispered through my adrenaline before I even realized what I had said.  
The man stopped in his tracks. His head fell in shame. 
“Yeah, I know Jesus,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
He calmed down walked back to the sidewalk.  The light turned green and we drove away.
It was my go to phrase for moments of danger. It almost always has the same effect. Violent, angry men would stop in their tracks.


Had Abigail’s security been grounded in her place as the wife of a rich man, if she had been earthly-minded and appealed to David’s physical might instead of his faith, I wonder how things might have turned out differently for her and her household. When Abigail abandoned the security of her earthly privilege and power she was able to speak to David a life-saving word of correction.    


Is there an Abigail in your life? A David? A Nabal? Do we see God’s righteous judgement aimed at our household, church, city, nation? By what authority do we presume to speak into the lives of the poor or powerful in our city? What steps of repentance can we take to abandon our earthly security and step into the role of an intercessor?    


"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you.” - Jonah 2:8-9.
 

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Carrying The Cross

This week our guest writer, Curt Berg, looks at the work of solidarity in Rogers Park as a “call to carry the cross.” Where might your call take you?

Lent is a journey many church communities symbolically walk with Jesus on His road to the cross. Throughout this trip, there are twists and turns. Many things happen to you that you would not expect. The big one is when a Roman soldier stops on the path, looks at you and shouts, “YOU! Carry the cross!” You think…What? Who am I? Why me? Maybe I don’t want to! Oh, oh, not a good thing to say when a Roman soldier gives you a command. Your life could be in great danger.

As I view from the outside – looking in, I see this sort of thing happening in the North of
Howard neighborhood. The twists and turns of life come in many forms – dysfunctional family
relationships, needs that can’t be met immediately, unplanned events, joys and sorrows. I also see people like Simon from Cyrene in Matthew 27:32, who are asked to carry the cross, but don’t feel equipped to do so. Yet, because they are asked, they get the job done. If you asked me to carry the cross I would be overwhelmed by the enormous task you’ve asked me to do. But when the need is there I would hope I would step forward and carry the cross. How about you? Are you willing and able this Lenten season to consider the offer to carry the cross?

C24/7: Father’s Arms Ministries tries to live in the twists and turns of life. When those twists and turns of life come, it’s not always what one expects. C24/7 lives amid the twists and
turns of life. I feel they are the Simon of Cyrene asked to carry the cross for Jesus. They carry
that cross in the north of Howard neighborhood. God has called them to carry that cross even
though it’s an overwhelming task. It’s also a huge responsibility and carries a lot of stress. 

You can pray with us during Lent! Click here to download our Daily Lent Prayer

I pray every day the LORD gives those working in the North of Howard neighborhood the strength to carry the cross and will give them the joy they need to keep going. Satan would love to snuff them out and make them feel ill-equipped and weak. “But thanks be to GOD, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere (2 Corinthians 2:14).” 

In a recent C24/7 Facebook post there was a picture of a peaceful street. Soon it would be full of activity and clutter. The vision of C24/7 is to instill hope, safety, and transformation in the North
of Howard neighborhood. It may seem calm and peaceful on the outside, but internally there is despair, fear, and addictions. As we expect the unexpected and bring the hope of Jesus who can make crooked paths straight, we thank the LORD for using C24/7 to accomplish His will and ways in and through others. May this season of Lent draw you nearer to our LORD and Savior as we contemplate the way to the cross and all it brings!
 

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When Your Sin Comes to Meet You Part 2

This week our guest writer, Scott Parker, asks whether “our provision has dulled our humility.” Has our abundance caused us to forget Jesus’ call to sacrifice so we can walk in solidarity with “the least of these?”

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” – 1 Samuel 25:10-11

The name Nabal is similar to the Hebrew word for fool. Like, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God (Psalm 53:1).” Jesus wasn’t scared to identify a “Nabal” in his parable about a man who stored up his riches so he could retire in ease. “You fool! God said to the man, ‘This very night your life will be demanded from you’”. Likewise, Nabal is living in a warped understanding of reality. In his twisted point of view, the fact that David has a need, must mean that David is his inferior. Unlike Jacob, who saw himself as unworthy and cried out for mercy, Nabal sees no need to show David any respect. “Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

Do we find ourselves feeling superior when people come to us in need? Has our provision dulled our humility? Have we equated opportunity and the fruit of our labors with being worthy? Are we recipients of an unjust system governed by unjust Nabals?  Do we benefit from those who have insulted the least of these and God’s anointed who identifies with them? 

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." - Matthew 25: 45-46.

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Sacrifice | Solidarity Round 2: When Your Sin Comes to Meet You

This week our guest writer Scott Parker, a pastor at Park Community Church, asks us to sacrifice our pride to continue our work of solidarity in the neighborhood.

“When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, ‘We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’” - Genesis 32:6

In Genesis chapter 31, God spoke. Jacob obeys.  He flees the exploitive relationship with his father-in-law and dashes off to the promise land. He leaves with no notice. And when Laban, his father-in-law, realizes Jacob is actually gone, he chases after him. But Jacob isn’t lured back.  He confronts Laban and tells him what he thinks of him. Laban backs down and finally his unjust treatment, his scheming, has caught up to him and he loses both his daughters and his most productive employee. It’s a feel-good moment. The bad guy has lost. The good guy has won. The next day angels appear to Jacob. Heaven has come down. Jacob has gone from glory to glory. “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty...” 

You can pray with us during Lent! Click here to download our Daily Lent Prayer.

Work in the neighborhood can be like this sometimes. You finally see an addicted single mom walk into a recovery program. You confront the drug dealer, survive and he stops selling. Rent is due, and you can’t pay because you’ve been doing the work for free. “I’m seeking you first,” you cry out. Then someone shows up the next day with a check. God is with you. 

“Of course he is,” something starts to whisper, “you made the hard choice, you took up your cross, you followed when others didn’t...You must be one of his favorites.”

And maybe you are. 

God help you. 

In chapter 32, Jacob’s sins come to meet him. He had swindled his warrior-hunter brother. He had stolen the blessing and tricked him out of his birthright. Fourteen years of free labor gave Jacob the moral high ground with his father-in-law. Yet against Esau this was not so. With Laban, Jacob could cry out for justice, but with Esau, justice would mean his own destruction. 

In this season, where are we feeling self-righteous? Where are we feeling worthy? Is it because of our work with the poor? Are we God’s special child because of just how many people we’ve helped? Or victories we’ve won? Rules we’ve kept, memorized, studied?

In the end Jacob prayed “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau.” - Genesis 32:9-11

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Sacrifice | Solidarity: Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent: a journey many church communities symbolically walk with Jesus on his road to the cross. Throughout this trip, Jesus pulls the cosmic notions of sacrifice and solidarity closer and closer together. While one hand yanked at personal pride and called on privilege to humble itself, the other pulled the rejected, abandoned, and destitute people of the earth into Divine community. Our call during Lent, should we choose to accept it, is to embrace this path: to live simply and strive toward deep relationships with those the world casts aside.

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C24/7: Father’s Arms Ministries tries to live at the intersection of sacrifice and solidarity. As a community we acknowledge that renewal only comes through admitting our personal shortcomings, as well as those of our society. We try to embrace the new life we are given in Christ, instead of relying on pride, status, or extravagance to comfort us. This requires an incredible amount of “letting go,” and undoubtedly, we often fail. On our good days, though, the one hand of sacrifice brings us into community with people who suffer from systematic inequality, personal temptation, and societal negligence.

Solidarity, suffering alongside others, is at the very core of Jesus’ being. He came so people of the world could find hope in the darkest of places (Luke 4:18-19); love where it shouldn’t exist. He specifically sought out those who were sidelined because of their ethnicity, gender, economic status, perceived religiousness, and health. If we take seriously the path to the cross, we should find ourselves communicating the inherent worthiness of all people to those we encounter. It shouldn’t end with words, though. Our presence in people’s lives matters. Our attention and our empathy matter. Our healing touch, time, and financial support all matter. To all people. Those who need us the most, and those who think they need us the least.

You can pray with us during Lent! Click here to download our Daily Lent Prayer

Today, as we celebrate Ash Wednesday, we are confronted with a not-so-subtle reality: “for dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19b).” This painful and humbling reminder should help us in dropping our pride and seeking sacrifice. This simple sentence can remind us 21st century citizens that we don’t hold nearly the power we think we do. Once we learn to sacrifice, may we sprint toward solidarity with our fellow “dust mates,” with an eye on the ones who are all too aware of their dust status. Today and every day. Amen.

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Daily Prayer for Lent

Click here for a pdf version.

Jesus,
Today the cross stands before me, as it did you.
This suffering world engulfs me, as it did you.
A feeling that God has somehow grown distant, pervades me, as it did you.

A yearning to be whole still beckons me, though, as it did you.
So today I will question. I will admit my mess. And I will listen…

And when I return to my humanity,
considering all its doubts, questions and hardships,
one thing brings my heart to hope:
While the cross stands before me, I am never burdened with the entirety of its unruly weight.

For as I stand and gaze, I see not the abysmal fare of this world,
but instead the one who cared enough to love it perfectly.
Help me love it perfectly, just as you do. Amen.


Steps to Take:
Read. Find Sacrifice | Solidarity, our weekly
Lent blog, at c247fam.org/blog.
Donate. Consider giving $5 each Friday during lent to help us love our neighborhood perfectly. You can click here
 

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MLK and Christian Solidarity

 

Today we celebrate a renowned figure in our nation’s history. But have we honored his mission by continuing his legacy of Christian solidarity?

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King once insisted “[t]he Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men, and thereby unites them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so the soul will have a chance after it is changed (Christianitytoday.com)"

The first hand is, for the most part, comfortable. Lying permanently in sentiment, in emotion, in alternating notions of longing and fulfillment, this foundation of faith draws us ultimately into the comfort of a savior we recognize as the complete lover of our soul.

The second hand, though, crashes this holy sentiment into the concrete despair and separation of our entirely too fragile human existence. In a quite divided America, the thought of reaching out in relationship to people of a different class, faith, race, or sexual orientation is daunting to say the least. It’s not that we indict the “other” as less worthy of receiving the first hand’s “changed soul”. In fact we are practiced in looking at others with a hefty pride, insisting they need this “changed soul” more than those of our own clan. “Most of my people have already been changed,” we claim.

Maybe, though, it’s time for us to concern ourselves with the “environmental conditions of men” that Dr. King urged us to consider. For, though progress has been made, far too many people right here in our city of Chicago face the overwhelming task of navigating the unfair hand they’ve been dealt. Suppose we took to heart the significant impact an unequal society has on individuals and communities of color who are longing to just “have a chance”.

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Could we bring about real change?

MLK did:

Deprivation – political, cultural, and most importantly, economic deprivation – has long been a way of life for millions of [black] citizens. Most of us in this nation have been blessed with affluence, but in our affluence, we must never forget our less fortunate brothers.

And he wasn’t patient in doing so:

Shallow understanding [in the work towards equality] from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection
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Jesus also called for equality which, for him, started with intentional relationship:

Calling for feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick, and visiting those in prison Jesus makes it personal: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."                                                                                                                                                                            - Matthew 25:31-46

And so can you and I. We can seek ways to build relationships with people who don’t look, worship, act or talk like us.

We can ask important questions and wait to hear their hard answers.

We can follow King’s call to share our "affluence” and time with organizations that build relationships and invest in communities where inequality persists.

We can follow Jesus’ call to live in solidarity with those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and in prison.

In turn, we can more faithfully connect the two roads of the Christian gospel we profess.

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God of Solidarity
Your very presence on earth enabled us to see you as relational.
You seek to build people up, to walk their struggles with them.
On this day of remembering a man who embodied Christ’s vision of radical equality,
Help us embrace the struggle.
We are all too aware of the forces that viciously pull us apart from one another, or keep us from ever meeting in the first place.
But you are bigger than those forces.
So too do we recognize how hard it is to seek relationships with those we don’t understand, to face rampant inequality, and to push against the systems which create it.
But you are bigger than those hardships.
God of uncategorized Love, God of all people,
Give us courage and strength to follow your call to solidarity in Christ. Amen.

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Summer Program 2017

2017 marked the year of C24/7's First Annual Summer Camp! The month started off with only 5 participants and by the end we had a total of 17 students participating. Our volunteers played a large part in helping create a fun filled camp. We had the opportunity to make individual pizzas, swim in the lake, read together, study the Bible, play football, create crafts, have picnics and much more. Here are a few pictures to recap our summer of 2017!

Covenant Harbor 2017

What a blast!!! We all had a wonderful time adventuring together at Lake Geneva's Covenant Harbor. Students experienced outdoor activities that they have never had the opportunity to experience before. Check out a few pictures from our trip. Thank you to Willow Creek North Shore and generous support partners for making this trip possible!