We are pumped to present Episode 14!

This week, we present the second part of our interview with Rev. Mike Mather, the person who inspired us to utilize an asset-based approach in our work. We split the incredible conversation into two episodes and encourage listening to the first episode before this second one.

In the last episode, Mike outlined both his shift and his church's shift from scarcity to abundance. In this episode, Mike first presents practices that can help us stay focused on abundance before detailing how individuals, organizations, and institutions must structure themselves differently in order to be built around abundance. Next, Mike describes how he sees this movement of abundance-focused work taking shape around the country. To finish, Mike re-frames the idea of Christian discipleship and details what discipleship looks like for both him and his church.

Like Mike's first episode, this second one also contains discussion of religious topics. We want to reiterate that we do not present these episodes to promote any one religion or being religious but instead because we think they are helpful and encouraging for all neighbors, religious and non-religious alike.

We also want to take a moment to promote Mike's book, Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places. It is an amazing read, and we recommend it to everyone! You can find more information about the book here.

The Neighborhood Animator Project is LIVE!

The Neighborhood Animator Project is LIVE!

We recently announced that with funding from the Wichita District 3 Neighborhood Preservation Grant we have launched the Neighborhood Animator Project. Catherine is the director of this project, and this week she updated our website with information about the project and how people can apply to be a Neighborhood Animator. Click here to check it out! 

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ABCD Institute Conference: Connectors

One of the topics that really inspired me at the ABCD conference in Chicago this week was "Connectors." Like many of the key ideas of Asset Based Community Development, it is appealing because it is all about working with the gifts that are already in the neighborhood. When it comes to Connectors, that means finding those people who are well-connected in the neighborhood, who are able to see people as gifted, and who are trusted.

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Sharing About ABCD in Portland

Last weekend Matt and I traveled to Portland, OR to share what we have learned about Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). We met with a Missional Wisdom Foundation Launch and Lead cohort at Camp Magruder on the Oregon "coast", not to be confused with "beach" (which is a warm sunny place), the locals informed us. It was a great group of people, all working on amazing projects in their community. 

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Appreciative Inquiry

Adam, Ashley, Matt and I have been reading Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. Tippett includes part of an interview with the social venture entrepreneur, Jacqueline Novogratz, who works in some of the poorest places in the world. Wherever Novogratz goes, she asks this question...

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Why we do what we do!

Last Friday, Mark and I were out knocking on SoCe doors interviewing neighbors. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, so many people were still at work. We covered a lot of ground, moving from one house to the next, hoping that a few people would be home. The first person we met said she did not want to participate. So, we continued down the street. A few houses later, we met a woman named Alice (not her real name). Alice was fun to interview because...

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Our neighbors are awesome!

On Saturday night Catherine and I got home from visiting family in Colorado. Within the first 24 hours we got four phone calls from our neighbors. One neighbor called to tell us she had collected our mail for us while we were gone. Another neighbor called to welcome us home and let  us know that he was the one who covered our vegetable garden with a tarp to protect it from frost. Adam, Ashley and Prescott called and invited us over for dinner since we had been driving all day and didn't want to cook. And finally, a forth neighbor called to let us know he was still visiting family out west and he would not be driving home with the roads as icy as they were. 

Maybe other people have neighbors who are this kind and thoughtful, but for us, this is different than anyplace we've lived before, because our neighbors are so awesome! 

Discovering a Good and Beautiful World Pt. 1

Discovering a Good and Beautiful World Pt. 1

Our work at SoCe Life can sound pretty exciting at times. When we start knocking on doors, there is no telling what might happen. However, we don’t think of ourselves as adventurers, and we don’t think what we are doing can only be done by us. In fact, we really believe the opposite: we believe anyone, anywhere can be doing the work that we are about. 

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Food Outreach in Reverse...

From Catherine…

In SoCe, we have the good fortune of being able to partner with other organizations, such as the SCNA (South Central Neighborhood Association), the SCIA (South Central Improvement Alliance), and Legacy Ministries. Legacy has a branch called Garden Works.  I have been working with Garden Works since January of this year to do food outreach in SoCe.

As I reflect on what food outreach has come to mean in SoCe, I am looking back on the goals that were on the food outreach job description: respond to the needs and desires of our neighbors and to implement programs for the ongoing food empowerment of SoCe.  We perceived the food concerns in our neighborhood to be the food desert (since our neighborhood grocery store closed in the summer of 2014), financial constraints, lack of transportation, and lack of culinary knowledge or exposure. We went door-to-door and asked for input from neighbors. They were not too concerned about the food desert, but seemed interested in getting together for some cooking events. We decided to host gatherings such as potlucks, make & take cooking nights, and spice tasting opportunities. These evenings were fun and we met new people and learned of some amazing cooks in the neighborhood. However, there seemed to be some missing element, something else we should be pursuing.

In recent months, since blending Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) with food outreach, I have learned that the outreach I am being led to cultivate is actually to facilitate ways for neighbors to reach out with their amazing culinary skills! This means finding ways for one neighbor to utilize her wonderful cookie-baking skills, for a high school student to share her love of baking cupcakes, or for my new friend one street over to be able to cater some SoCe Life events to share and showcase her delicious Cuban cooking. It also means sharing with her that my dream for her is to host Cuban cooking lessons. She was so excited to make my dream come true – we have the first cooking lesson date and menu set! ABCD strikes again! Food outreach in SoCe is about uncovering the culinary passions that are already here among my neighbors and helping them to share those passions.

The Gifts of Strangers Pt. 2

From Matt...

So, is this idea of welcoming and valuing the perspective and contributions of strangers (those who have been marginalized and labelled) a new radical concept? Not if you’ve grown up reading the Bible--ha! In the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah, we learn how Abraham welcomed unknown visitors and received an unexpected blessing. Here is the beginning of the story from Genesis 18:

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as [Abraham] sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

At this point in the story, Abraham does not know who the three guests are, he is simply practicing ancient middle-Eastern hospitality. However, as the story unfolds, the three visitors turn out to be the Lord! And the Lord informs the elderly (and childless) Abraham and Sarah that in due season they will have a son. The news is so unbelievable that Sarah laughs! And of course, in due season, Abraham and Sarah do have a son, and they name him Isaac.

What does this have to do with SoCe Life and Asset-Based Community Development?

Let me answer that question with a few questions to ponder:

  • Is it possible that God still speaks through strangers?
  • Is it possible that the hope we need in our communities could be heard in the voices of the marginalized?

I believe the answer is yes!

Up next, one more illustration…

The Gifts of Strangers Pt. 1

From Matt...

One of the first (if not THE first) books about Asset-Based Community Development was written by John McKnight and John Kretzmann and is called “Building Communities from the Inside Out.” It is an excellent textbook for exploring their ideas. It also reveals just how counter-intuitive, even subversive this approach to community development can be. One example of this comes from their attitude toward the “strangers” in the community. The “strangers” are people who may be marginalized because they are too young, too old, or they have been labelled in some way.

Unfortunately, the common cultural view of such people is that they are either 1) not able to contribute to the community/neighborhood (think of youth or the elderly) or even worse 2) they are a problem that needs to be fixed or removed (think of those with a criminal record). But ABCD turns that upside down because the belief of ABCD is that everyone, EVERYONE has something to contribute to the good of the community.

And so they write, “Who are the ‘strangers’ in this community? A community which pays particular attention to locating and mobilizing the gifts of the strangers in its midst is one which clearly welcomes the contributions of all its members to the community building process. ...the fact that they too are involved not as clients or recipients but as citizens and contributors can help to define this path as one which everyone can travel.” [p.347]

That is a major shift in thinking. I’ll stop there so you can think about the implications and challenges of their approach. Up next, I’ll draw in a few other sources to support this approach.

The Longing to Give

From Matt...

(The names in this blog have been changed to honor their privacy.)

During the immersion week one of our teams interviewed Sharon and learned that she recently had a pacemaker put in and is no longer able to mow her own lawn. She was very disappointed about this because she loves to be outdoors (and she has quite the green thumb). After the interview, our roving listeners brought back the info and we started to look for a connection. Right away we thought of Tom (my neighbor). He is currently looking for a job and enjoys helping out others. We asked him if he was interested and he said yes! We asked Sharon if she was okay with that and she said yes!

And so, this morning, I introduced Tom to Sharon and they made arrangements for mowing her lawn. The conversation was simple, kind and genuine. Sharon shared about her health limitations and disappointments, Tom shared about the struggle to find a job, and we talked about the lovely flowers in Sharon’s yard.

As we were getting ready to leave Sharon said, “I love to be active, and I’m sad that I can’t mow any more. If there is anything I can do for someone else, please let me know.” I promised her I would do that (and I will--I already have an idea!).

Through these interviews and conversations, I’m learning that Sharon is not unique. People genuinely want to be connected with the people around them and they want to contribute to the overall good of their community. In fact, I’m starting to believe that the American dream of ‘bigger, better, and more’ is not a path to happiness, but instead it leads to dissatisfaction. In contrast, what if happiness came, not so much from what we consumed, but instead from what we could give for the greater good? And if this is true, does the size, value, or impressiveness of the gift matter? I don’t think so; it is the giving--just like the Widow’s Offering from the gospel of Luke 21:1-4. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+21%3A1-4&version=NRSV

Yesterday was OFF THE CHARTS AMAZING!!!

From Matt...

Day 3 of our immersion experience was so good in so many ways it is hard to put it into words, but I do want to at least tell you all about it.

We started the morning with prayer, communion and then breakfast. After breakfast we continued our brainstorming and connecting with ABCD which led to a series of action items for everyone to follow-up with. We made phone calls and walked to a few neighbors’ houses to see if they would be interested in assisting with various small jobs or connecting with different neighbors (to help with a project) or groups (like the nearby quilting club). It was exhilarating to take action and the response from our neighbors was all positive. (You can see a few pictures from Wed. on the previous blog.)

At 10:30 we met with Vicki Bond of the Raise My Head Foundation. Vicki is a long-time friend who has done an incredible job putting together this non-profit which plans to offer a two-year residential program for women who want to leave sex trafficking, homelessness, and/or drug addiction. Vicki is joyful and passionate about her work, which is contagious! We were able to tour the house they recently purchased and learn about their plans. Please take a moment to visit their site here: http://raisemyhead.org/

After being inspired by Vicki we returned to the house for lunch and naps or recreation. In the afternoon, we returned to Bethany UMC for another powerful time of teaching from Elaine Heath. This time was especially inspiring as Elaine shared with us various individuals and groups that she has connected with that are doing amazing, out-of-the-box ministry around the U.S. And yes, some of this type of ministry does not fit into the measuring metrics of those who want to keep the institutional church the way it has been for so long, but at the same time, these changes are anchored in the teachings and practices of Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

By 5:30 we were all starting to get tired, but we couldn’t slow down because at 6:00 we were hosting a street party at the house. It was definitely stressful at moments, but between the focused energy of our immersion students and the conversation and laughter of arriving neighbors, the stress soon melted away. After eating lots of wonderful food, we sang a few folk songs, which eventually involved a few of the kids leading the singing and even dancing!

Many hands made light work of setting up for our block party. I think Prescott was inspecting the quality of Elaine's work. 

Many hands made light work of setting up for our block party. I think Prescott was inspecting the quality of Elaine's work. 

Sami, one of our immersion students, teaches a dance step to one of the neighborhood kids during the party. Who would have ever guessed there would be dancing happening in our front yard? 

Sami, one of our immersion students, teaches a dance step to one of the neighborhood kids during the party. Who would have ever guessed there would be dancing happening in our front yard? 

We ended the day by reflecting on the moments when we felt closest to and furthest away from God. I think it is safe to say the blessings of the day heavily outweighed the low points. Or as I like to say, the day was “OFF THE CHARTS AMAZING!”

More and More and More Immersion Fun

The Good and Beautiful World immersion is continuing with great success and joy.  Here is the pictures to prove it.

On our first field trip we went to the Envision.  Envision is an incredible organization that has created thriving businesses while improving the quality of life for people who are blind and visually impaired.  They are a major manufacturer of plastic bags and other products and many of their employees are blind or close to it.  Inspiring place!

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During Elaine's lessons we processed watching the movie The Mission with Robert De Niro.  From the movie we explored the themes of colonialism and it's impact on our American experience of Church.  Elaine helped us rediscover the co-equal, co-humble, co-communal nature of God.  And of course to truly explore our triune God you must do a circle dance.  The joy of dancing reminded us of the Holy Spirit's ability to fill us with Pentecost power.  It also proved that Matt and Adam should not dance.

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After making contact with neighbors earlier in the week we explored possible connection points and then made calls to help people find each other.  From our calls we were able to stimulate small paying gigs for neighbors out of work, social connections for people who are isolated, and potential groupings that could give birth to new businesses, apprenticeships, or more.

We use a giant map and lots of post-it notes to catalog all the assets and interest we discover.  Then we allow our imagination to run wild with the possibilities.  Crucial to ABCD and non-colonial evangelism is that we do not impose our own agenda.  Instead we make connections, experiment, fail, and allow people to choose for themselves what comes next. 

Still to come....

visit to Raise My Head Foundation House.

more mind blowing Elaine Heath time.

Fork-n-Folk neighborhood potluck with music and dancing.

closing worship and anointing.  

And our very first immersion promo video featuring our amazing first students.

This is so refreshing!

From Matt...

I remember being a kid and selling candy bars as a fundraiser for my marching band...I hated it! Going to the neighbors’ doors and asking them to buy something was fraught with opportunities for rejection.

That feeling returns to me when I start walking through SoCe to interview people for SoCe Life. I have a little seed of dread that is planted in the back of my mind. But then it all changes!

I just came back from interviewing a neighbor and it was fantastic! Myrna was with me and we asked the neighbor for about five minutes of her time. Then we started asking her about her work experiences and what she likes to do. Soon we had gone past 5 minutes because we were laughing and sharing stories and hopes for the future.

SoCe Life isn’t like selling candy bars! In fact, it is the opposite. It is refreshing and energizing. And here is why: we aren’t taking from people, we’re just asking them to talk about themselves--and people don’t actually get to do that very often. When we interview people, we aren’t using people to build up ourselves, we’re connecting with people because we care about them and our neighborhood. For me, this type of caring and this type of connecting and this type of encouraging is what the kingdom of God is all about! (Maybe the church needs to spend less time taking from people and spending more time just listening to them.)

How does ABCD work?

From Matt...

No, I'm not talking about the alphabet--ha! Asset Based Community Development is so simple it is easy to overlook its brilliance! Here is how it works:

  1. People who are part of SoCe Life go door-to-door throughout the neighborhood and ask people if they will spend a few minutes answering some questions. If the person says yes, they are interviewed. During the interview they share their work experience, special skills, hobbies, interests and talents. If there is anything they do well enough they could teach others that is noted. They can also list anything they would like to learn.

  2. This information is brought back to our office where we look for patterns of abilities, such as a group of people who have a similar hobby. We also look for correlations between skills and job opportunities (this can help strengthen the economy in the neighborhood).

  3. We connect the dots by inviting people to connect based on what we’ve learned and what we’ve noticed. People can always decline the invitation. The belief is that a connection between just two neighbors is good for them and the neighborhood.

There are more steps beyond this, but those are harder to describe because it depends on what happens in the neighborhood. For now we are planting the seeds, and we’ll wait to see what starts to grow.