Last week I attended the Phoenix Neighborhood Transformation banquet, which brought together organizations, churches and all sorts of people involved in the Phoenix area putting the Neighborhood Transformation (NT) model into practice in their own unique ways in their own unique neighborhoods. Phoenix is the first city in the US where a NT network has been formed, so it was exciting to hear about some cool stuff underway in four different parts of the valley: downtown Phoenix, South Phoenix, Granada Estates (northwest of Phoenix) and Guadalupe (southeast of Phoenix).
So, what’s NT, exactly?
Neighborhood Transformation is a strategy which helps churches minister in a wholistic manner to people in urban poor neighborhoods. It empowers people to take responsibility for their own lives. It helps neighbors to help their neighbors and moves them from welfare and relief to empowerment. It focuses on assets found in the neighborhood which fosters local ownership instead of being based on problems which they expect outsiders to fix for them.
Though I’m not that familiar with Neighborhood Transformation as such, it’s quite similar to what is known as asset-based community development (ABCD), and all the great work that happens in US cities under the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) umbrella. I’m not sure how much collaboration happens between CCDA and NT folks, but it seems to me they’re pursuing a common cause, so I hope they’re willing to work together and learn from each other along the way. I should also add that NT has its roots in the international CHE model (community health evangelism, no relation to the Latin American revolutionary). CHE, which integrates evangelism, discipleship and community health, has been around for a long time and has been put into practice all over the world, but it seems clear to me that CCDA has more expertise at its disposal here in urban US contexts. (Note: If you want a better understanding of CCDA and urban ministry, last spring I did a 5-part series on Christian community development, based on John Perkins’ book Beyond Charity.)
The guest speaker for the banquet was Dr. Gil Odendaal, who heads up The PEACE Plan at Saddleback Church in southern California, and says he has learned everything he knows from Stan Rowland, who was honored by Odendaal at the banquet for pioneering the CHE model. When I was living in Costa Rica I read Rowland’s book, and instantly recognized that CHE must have been the inspiration for the work I was so impressed by in Cambodia with World Relief.
Odendaal considers NT/CHE “the most exciting thing happening in the church today” and emphasized that one of its greatest contributions is that it’s based on the fundamental belief that the urban poor, and all of us, are made in the image of God. “People aren’t projects,” he asserted. It’s time we stop living as if they were, and it’s time our urban ministries take seriously the reality of the imago Dei. I’m grateful for those who are giving it a shot.
If you’d like to learn more about all of this, check out the Collaborative for Neighborhood Transformation (and, while you’re at it, CCDA). And if you live in the Phoenix area, check out what’s happening with Apprenticeship to Jesus and Barrio Nuevo Phoenix.
[Photo credit: Barrio Nuevo Phoenix]