the top ten things i’ve learned about community development

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I’ve been learning to live incarnationally from a ridiculously cool organization for the past three weeks. Which has been amazing. My program mentor is basically Shane Claiborne only he’s cooler and he brews his own beer. Yep, I know. So with no further ado, here are the top ten things I have learned thus far:

10. Carry a pocket knife at all times, because you never know when you’ll need to pick a lock (which is something I can now do). I feel this is self-explanatory.

9. Keep your Bible within ten feet of you at all times. That’s a huge thing I’m learning: the Bible is awesome. It’s like…the original book about community development and love. Going into this, I was a little burned out on the Bible. Then I heard a two hour talk on community development laced with scripture. It was probably the closest to God I have ever been in my life. And this Book is changing me. Something I’ve noticed about my mentor: his Bible is always within arm’s reach. It’s like me and my phone. Only…more functional? Yes. That’s the one.

8. If you don’t know what to say to someone, tell a joke. Even better if it’s at your expense. Nothing makes people feel comfortable with each other like laughing together.

7. Poverty is about more than money. If I took everything you own and left you with nothing, it would probably take you less than an hour to find a meal and a place to spend the night. It might take you a week or so to find a source of income. But it wouldn’t land you on the street. Poverty is complicated. It involves self-esteem and knowledge of systems and relationships. All kinds of relationships. We can try to put a band aid on someone, but change doesn’t happen until we invite them to be part of a body. It’s a painful process, yes, but that’s the only way change can really happen. If someone feels safe, it’s easier for them to be honest, and for healing to happen. And when you’re willing to be open and vulnerable with someone, then suddenly you’re no longer the person in power trying to help and give things. You’re a friend. That’s what people really need, anyway.

6. It’s not Lebron’t’ James. The ‘t’ is silent……..And Kevin Durant wrote “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Both of those things are true.

5. You are not a used car salesman. Used car salesmen sell things. They are really nice, and will talk to you about anything. They will treat you with respect, do you all kinds of favors, and go to great lengths to make sure you feel important. Two things, though. They want to know your financial status and they want to sell you something. You are not a used car salesman. A lot of people are, functionally. They meet someone different than them and the first thing they think is “Does this person need something from me” and the second thing is “are they listening to what I’m saying about Jesus?” But you are not selling cars. Love people because God loved you. Any other reason is an idol.

4. Your adjectives aren’t working. The people around you aren’t poor or rich or smart or successful or black or white or…you can’t put them in neatly marked boxes like that. You can’t tape a label to someone’s forehead and expect that to tell you what they need or want or do or are. In fact, you can’t really know anything about someone until you get to know them as a whole person.

3. Loving people well starts with that person in your life that you absolutely cannot stand. The one who hurts you. The one who makes you look less cool. The one who chews with their mouth open…it’s sexier to love an orphan or a homeless guy or something like that but if you can’t love your classmate with the terrible laugh then you don’t understand love.

2. Getting taken advantage of is not as bad as you think. In fact it’s probably already happening to you. You might as well embrace it and use it to glorify God. Our goal is not to change someone else’s life or to fix a policy or anything like that. Our goal is our own obedience. Our goal is to be people who follow Christ and love well, even if we never see any kind of result.

1. We need to learn to tell new stories. Part of this goes back to learning not to label people or assume things, but it also goes deeper. If you’re like me, you have a narrative in your head for the way certain people are. Someone has hurt you or let you down or something like that and that becomes the way that they always are. But if you finish the story before it’s really over, then they will never surprise you. We need to learn to tell new stories about ourselves. We need to learn to let the hurt go. We need to learn to tell God’s story. The story when sacrifice and grace are making things new. When Saul becomes Paul and weakness is turned into strength. Your story has happened. Maybe a million times. But we’ve been given grace, and sometimes that means believing the best about people. It means being vulnerable. Not just to strangers or lonely people or people we have power over. Sometimes is means being vulnerable to the people we are the most angry at. Or most afraid of. Because maybe we can rewrite the story together. (and maybe this time it starts somewhere as close as your family)

 

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