What we see is not always what is seen. I found this out this weekend when we went up to work with a church we are partnering with in South Central LA.
The story of how this partnership started is fantastic and deserves a place on this blog in the coming days. However, it is incredible to see a little church plant like what we are part of reaching into another community to serve the under resourced. Our church has started partnering with an inner-city church, Faith Community, down the way from where the Rodney King riots climaxed 23 years ago. Faith Community is a little but powerful church with a great history. Two churches with similar hearts to serve their community have joined together to see Jesus’ name lifted up. Both churches have such passion for the people in their neighborhoods, yet the two churches look and feel super different.
One church resides in South Orange County while the other sits in the middle of urban blight with liquor stores dotting the neighborhoods, and metal gates surrounding most properties. Safety and security are held at a premium in the neighborhood of Faith Community Church while South Orange County is known nationwide for their high ratings on being safe towns to live in. Furthermore, the two communities couldn’t be more distant on the poverty/wealth spectrum.
Nonetheless, the two churches have the beginnings of a partnership because of a common vision to be a blessing in the place they have been located. Both churches strive to care for those less fortunate, to serve the community, and to proclaim Jesus’ love. Both churches have felt a common call both in their community and for each other. What we have to offer is some expertise in some small ways to help Faith Community take steps toward a long standing vision. All we want to do is help them become more of what they are already doing.
Some of the things I love about partnering with this wonderful church include:
New relationships. I love the young and old. I have met talented young people who can sing, dance and ball. I have met tough, indomitable deacons who just cannot be held back. One man, Frank, is out there working every time we come. Either he is painting, or putting in flooring, or helping fix odds and ends around the building. Frank recently turned 80, but I think he could put many an 18-year-old to shame with his muscles.
Learning from others: Each and every time I go, I learn from the stories of these people. Their faith, their prayers, their passion is incredible. To a person, the people of Faith Community have a story worth telling. I wish we could all get to know them and where they have come from.
Vision: In the midst of overwhelming circumstances, the pastor of this church has incredible vision. The building is old and quirky. It comes with its challenges. The neighborhood wreaks with despair. The members have their own burdens. Hope is not a commodity in reserve, yet the pastor sees what God can do to transform a church and through this church to transform a community. I’ll close with a story that illustrates this.
In partnering with Faith Community, we wanted to help them see their vision become a reality. Pastor, which essentially is his name around the church as it is spoken with such honor by his people, says he wants this church to be so relevant that the community could not live without them. One way that they desire to be relevant is in tutoring students from the middle school across the street. Literally, the middle school is 100 ft. from the church building. Faith Community hopes to turn one of their rooms into a tutoring center. The rooms are small, and the building is old and in need of tender loving care. And this is happening now as both churches move forward in this vision to help kids as young people in the inner city have less than ideal structure at home for help with school. Faith Community would like to fill this void and be a blessing to young people.
Now, when we found the church, their room was unusable. The electrical had issues, the ceiling needed help, and on the list went. Pastor, a gifted minister and artist in his own right, came with no skills, only a vision. However, the vision seemed impossible as the skill set to renovate a room was not within the church. The people did not know how to make the room into what they wanted. Second, the church had little to no resource to make this happen.
When we were connected with the church, we immediately caught their vision and hoped we could play a role in remodeling this room into a safe, clean and sharp looking tutoring center—a blessing to the neighborhood. Now, through a few workdays over the year, we have made some progress. But we are going at the pace that the church can handle in order to make this their project. We do not want to simply do it for them. Our goal is to come alongside of them. We want to facilitate what they want to see happen. And it has been awesome watching the two churches work side-by-side in this endeavor. A real partnership is forming.
On our last work day this weekend, we were able to put up a drop ceiling, which was the highest hopes that pastor had for this room. However, he did not even ask for that specifically up front as he thought the price was too high. As we dialogued over several weeks, and this idea was suggested Pastor, never short on words, became speechless as he tried to tell how much he had wanted that specific idea but hesitated to ask. We knew it was costly, but also knew we could find a way.
As a church plant, we need to be creative in where we find our materials as our budget is slim. Long story short, we were able to salvage materials from an office building that was going to be torn down in order to make brand new, beautiful apartments in Laguna Niguel. We donated these pieces for a drop ceiling to our friends in LA.
But what seemed like a simple task of installing drop ceiling quickly became a challenging task as the walls, ceiling and floor were anything but level. Nothing went at 90° angles. Nothing seemed straight. No matter, that did not detour guys from finding a way.
When our day was wrapping up, the workers were feeling a mix of satisfaction with finishing a difficult piece in the project and disappointment that lights were not installed yet. This does not even include the experience we had to know how much nicer things could look. This is what happens when we bring our culture into a situation. We see what we see in comparison to what things could look like in South Orange County or in Newport Beach. This is not what the people of Faith Community saw.
Pastor came in at the end of the work and gushed with gratitude. He saw the vision beginning to come into focus. As he put it, we were putting shape to their vision. This warmed my heart, as our goal all along has been to be a true partnership. We do not simply want to go into the city to do something that makes us feel good. We want real partnership. What we can offer is helping a wonderful, little church have a pathway to their vision.
While we worked together, we each saw things differently; good but differently. The people in LA were so appreciative of the steps taken forward, while we thought we could have done so much more. We know access to money and materials is not hard to come by for us if we put our minds to it, but the folks in LA have a completely different world to compare with what they saw happening.
Pastor concluded by saying he can start to see what the room can look like when it is finished, painted, and decorated. He told of how he could see students being tutored by people from Faith Community. He believed that kids would say one day that their life was saved because of this tutoring room. Stop, and pause here. Read that again. Kids’ lives can be saved, because of this little room. I believe it too. I believe it deep in my bones.
Sometimes we see one thing, while those living in the place see something totally different. Perspective can be so helpful.
In conclusion, I love learning from my friends in LA. I love asking them to tell me what they see, because they see their situation so differently than we do.
Has there been a time that you have had your perspective changed or learned from another culture?