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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Today I am taking a second look at the concept of relocation, a primary missiological principle from the work of John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association. I am asking two students to respond to this mission practice by reflecting on two books they have read. The first, With Justice For All, by John Perkins, addresses the principle of relocation after about twenty years of ministry in Mendenhall and Jackson, MS. The second, To Live in Peace, by Mark R. Gornik, also addresses the principle after fifteen years of ministry in Baltimore, MD. Gornik, having been influenced by Perkins, began his ministry four years after the Perkins book was published. So between them, they represent about forty years of experience and discussion on the idea of relocation.

They are different people with very different backgrounds, including the region of the country, the historical economics and demographics of their locations, their skin colors, their opportunities and accomplishments in formal education, and much more. In both cases, they have moved into neighborhoods where they were outsiders and become part of organizing and community building for change.

What are the barriers to relocation? What difference does it make that Gornik is white, moving into a mostly black neighborhood? What difference does it make that the Perkins family was middle class, moving into a poor neighborhood? Finally, why do these ministry practitioners believe that relocation is so important?


Marcus said...

What are the barriers to relocation?

The primary barrier is probably self-preservation for people considering it. Depending on who is relocating barriers could include fear, pride, prejudice, no sense of calling, familial ties or responsibilities, economic inability or simply being unconvinced that it is necessary. Perkins points out that relocation “forces us to confront our own values.” He goes on to answer the resistance that the reader may raise item by item. He also states that “the decision to relocate is a big decision, a decision to be made only in obedience to God’s call.”

What difference does it make that Gornik is white, moving into a mostly black neighborhood?

As Gornik records his own experience he writes:

“People asked, ‘Who are these white people?’ It was a fair question! Most white people who come to Sandtown - or, for that matter, any other inner- city neighborhood - want something. They are bill collectors, insurance salesmen, landlords, or drug buyers. When people would ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ our answer was always the same: ‘We are here to be neighbors.’ We came to become a part of the neighborhood, to listen, to learn, to build friendships, and to live out our faith. We held tightly to a commitment of God's shalom for Sandtown, but we had no plans or programs. Instead of imposing our own agendas, we sought to place our lives in service to the community. We would make the road by traveling it together.” (p. 171)

From this statement it is clear that it mattered a lot because mostly black neighborhoods, especially in the city, are not places for white people. This does not reflect so much the will of the residents (unless white people are bringing trouble to the people) but rather the will of those who created these places to deposit black people into. The people in places like Sandtown are adept at reading the world and the conditions around them. They know what it means even if they can’t explain why it is or who is behind it. So white people (seen as representatives of institutional will) in a black neighborhood are not there for good, but for more evil in the minds of the people. I think this is intelligent and appropriate analysis of “good willed” white people until they demonstrate that they indeed are good willed toward the people of that community. Those looking at this from the top-down will probably disagree.

What difference does it make that the Perkins family was middle class, moving into a poor neighborhood?

The Perkins family was seen as being above living the same way that the poor community had to live. The way I read it is that out of a love and out of hoping for the best for others, even if they themselves could not attain it, that they wanted it for the Perkins family. The Perkins’ had made it out. They didn’t want to see their success story ensnared again by the hell they all wanted out of. I know the feeling on both sides. But, as Perkins writes, “Once they got over the embarrassment, we could minister to them in those cotton fields. The people knew that we really understood their problems, their needs, their feelings, because we had the same problems, the same needs, the same feelings.” (italics mine)

Because I know what it means for most of those on the bottom to see fellow bottom people get out, it makes it difficult to quickly agree with Perkins’ position of going back, as one who got out. Not in the sense of not helping others get out too, but in the since of letting go of what is keeping you out. As I read Perkins, this is what he teaches. How much can you help when you are as destitute as those you want to help? I know John Perkins’ story, but all stories might not end the same way. This is a real consideration when seen from the bottom-up (which was John’s perspective too). I’m convinced that it is easier to give up a lifestyle you’ve had than to give up one you haven’t had once you get it; especially when you factor in the universal will of parents: “to see my children do better than me.”

Finally, why do these ministry practitioners believe that relocation is so important?

Both Perkins and Gornik see the incarnation of Jesus as paradigmatic for ecclesiology. Loving like Jesus means living like Jesus; that is, among those who are to be the recipients of the love of God and beneficiaries of the gospel. In essence Gornik restates the teachings of John Perkins and accepts them as the way to go about ministry. Gornik though, does makes reference to Peter Marcuse’s work The Enclave, the Citadel, and the Ghetto: What Has Changed in the Post Fordist U.S. City, in which Marcuse suggests a similar strategy for non-church reasons. Gornik writes: “Relocation reverses the ongoing demographic decline of the city." (p.168) and shows a footnote to Marcuse. To me this speaks of ecclesial and socioeconomic reasoning that supports relocation. For Gornik then, no matter how one thinks about or justifies relocation, relocation is presented as an effective way to reverse neighborhood decline.

haitianministries said...

Thanks for getting this discussion going, Mike! I just conducted a workshop on incarnational ministry at a church here in Nassau two nights ago, focusing largely on the the need for relocation. As Marcus points out, I've found that it is very difficult to ask folks to consider giving up what they've worked so hard to obtain so that they can go back to the inner-city. Needless to say, I'm interested in learning as much as I can about relocation so that I can respond to objections more effectively.

Mike Broadway said...

I'm posting for Cathy, who wrote . . .

The prospect of living in an undesirable neighborhood may be more than some people desire to take on. Considerations such as poor educational opportunities for ones children, rampant crime, substandard housing, ones personal wealth and values seem high on the list as being barriers to relocation. Cultures, races, and classes usually have a tendency to make-up a community. The difference with Gornik moving into a predominantly black neighborhood is his race, and the difference
with the Perkins family moving into a poor neighborhood is their wealth.

Perkins and Gornik believe to care for the poor is a charge that Jesus bestowed upon His followers, and the Body of Christ has a burden to carry out Christ’s mission. Because it is not likely that the poor will come to the suburbs, they stress that we must go to the poor in their neighborhoods.
I am black and I was poor while striving to get an education, in the seventies ,when I lived in a community where personal safety was a constant challenge and when I was not as dedicated to serve God. I was, therefore, not able to impact change on my neighbors. I found myself moving with the flow of the community - just to survive. I would have (possibly) frowned upon persons like Gornik and

Mike Broadway said...

I'm posting for marcus, who wrote . . .

After reflecting on Cathy's response I would add that Gornik was not only racially different, but economically different (this encompasses all the other privileges he had) from the people in Sandtown. Also, reading how she thinks she would have responded to Gornik or Perkins raises again the difference between a bottom-up perspective and a top-down perspective. I understand exactly where she is coming from when she says this, as one who came from the bottom. Others coming from a top-down perspective may not be able to see this reaction as "reasonable". After all, "they just came to help you people..."


Mike Broadway said...

I'm posting for Cathy, who wrote . . .

Marcus seems to adapt his views of barriers to relocation from an inner perspective, whereas I express that those barriers are more external in nature. Although “Fear, pride, prejudice, no sense of calling, familial ties or responsibilities, economic inability” are excellent points to barriers to relocation,
they do not seem to encompass the whole idea of what people contemplate prior to relocating.

Yes, I agree that moving into a predominantly black neighborhood seemed to matter a lot to Gornik. Why wouldn’t it? Your are correct that in these neighborhoods, there is a pattern of visitors such as bill collectors and sales persons. I too can remember growing up on a farm - back in a field. The only fancy car that we saw drive down that long dusty road were those of salesmen. When we saw it coming, we knew that it was a white person for we did not know anyone with fancy cars like that.

Is there a contradiction when you make these two statements? (1) “This does not reflect so much the will of the residents (unless white people are bringing trouble to the people) but rather the will of those who created these places to deposit black people into, and (2) So white people (seen as representatives of institutional will) in a black neighborhood are not there for good, but for more evil in the minds of the people.” I do not agree with either of these statements because you seem to speak for a majority without expressing any previous experience in these situations.

The Perkins family had made it out of the poverty of the South only to return to it out of a calling by God. This is what led to their success. You mentioned that a barrier to relocation is “No sense of calling,” which I believe that John was not guilty of not knowing. This is what led to his long-term perseverance.

Yes, they both know that if our Lord walked, lived, taught, and ate with the less fortunate, we too must be living examples of His Holiness.

Mike Broadway said...

It's really me this time. Here are a few of my thoughts about this conversation.

1. It has been valuable to have the opportunity for specific reflection on relocation. You have articulated in argument and narrative some of the barriers to relocation that I have heard mentioned more briefly in previous discussions. They have both to do with convictions about possessions, identity and calling and with the actual experiences of black people who a) have to put up with bad treatment from whites at work and in public places and would rather not have to deal with them at home, and b) who are suspicious, based on a history of bad experiences, of whites who propose working together for mutual benefit.

2. You have also made it clear that relocation cannot be a romantic idea. A calling to a better world is not the same as a romantic, “automatic” happening of a community where everyone who has been divided can suddenly “just get along.” As Jonathan Wilson, and Gornik, and Perkins all have indicated, building community is hard work. A new dean who was charged with starting a nearby seminary spent a year or more putting together a plan for organizing the various parts that would create a new institution. Toward the end of that planning period, he joked, “I think I could like being a dean like this, with no faculty or students.” Of course, there would be not point in being a dean without them, but we understand his sentiment that everything gets harder when the real people start sharing their everyday lives. And as both of you have pointed out, there is nothing romantic about living in a poor neighborhood.

3. One thing this conversation has made clear to me also is how the three Rs of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution are so thoroughly intertwined. Any kind of relocation, and especially this kind, means moving among people with whom one previously did not spend one’s life. It is paralleled when we get in-laws, when we get a new job, when we go to a new school, or when we go to a new church. But relocation as Gornik describes it raises the level of intensity. It is a bold move, but it cannot be an arrogant move. It must be done, as Marcus quoted Gornik, “to become part . . ., to listen, to learn, to build friendships.” It must be to be reconciled with those who a) we have avoided, both by social barriers and by choice, b) are not like us, and even c) who do not like us. The New Testament teaches that when a conflict arises, if I am the cause and have offended someone, it is up to me to seek the person out and be reconciled; on the other hand, if someone else is the cause and has offended me, it is still up to me to seek the person out and be reconciled (Mt. 5: 23-24; Mt. 18:21-22). So relocation cannot be a “heroic” deed. It must be a way of asking forgiveness and offering oneself in friendship. It must be tied to reconciliation.

4. The close connection of relocation and redistribution is also critical. Without police protection, without access to laudromats, banks, and other services, without adequate facilities or repairs to housing—distressed neighborhoods need to become more livable. People need access to jobs, and there need to be more and better jobs in the neighborhood. People need connections both within and outside the neighborhood to bring about the kind of action that can bring changes. Neighborhoods thrive when they are inhabited by people who have a variety of skills and professions. As Marcus pointed out, relocation can be an effective path to revitalization, and much of that comes through redistributing skills, talents, ownership, professions, and other resources. Cathy is right to say that relocation is about caring for the poor where they are, and bringing what one has to offer to be part of a community where it can be useful beyond an individualistic way. This is why "going back" seems so counter-intuitive. Can the neighborhood change for the better, or is it, as it seemed, something that will always be as it is? Why go back to that? One would only do so with a commitment to and hope for redistribution.

Thanks for good work.

bfine107 said...

Great discussion by the way.

I guess I just find it as simply a given that we should be relocating to the 'abandon places of the empire.' There is so much of scripture that seems to support it.

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