Our Territorial Social Services Conference held just outside of Chicago ended yesterday afternoon.

I met Jan Nowak-Lumm from our Niles MI Corps.  Jan directs the corps’ caring ministries and social services.  The Niles Corps is where Soldiers and the community work together weekly to provide school children with food filled backpacks sent home so they don’t go hungry over the weekend.  It’s a great way to meet a need which brings people together.  And engages Salvation Army Soldiers in what we claim we do.  How many corps do Soldiers merely attend church?

In the Christian community development roundtable I heard ‘creative’ and ‘imagination’ used a lot.  Imagination in the sense of using it to find ways to meet those very human needs.  Creative in making do with what we have, a common experience we all have faced.  There never seems to be enough. Creativity and imagination bring us a surprising discovery as we see those we tend to discount step forward as agents of change.  Our under-resourced communities do have assets.  The question is whether we are helping them to emerge and engage.

The Conference ended with Wayne Gordon talking to us.  ‘Coach’ serves as the President of the Christian Community Development Association.  If you come to Indianapolis this October you will get to hear Coach along with John Perkins, Bob Lupton, Mary Nelson and many others involved in this association of organizations and churches committed to working to bring change to under-resourced neighborhoods.

Coach told us a story from his early years of ministry in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, a place he, his wife and children have called home for 35 years.

There was a problem in the neighborhood.  People were afraid to use the laundromat down the street; there was too much gang trouble out in front.  Several young men in Coach’s Bible study suggested they get a washing machine and dryer, put it in the storefront building they used for church, offer a safe alternative.

Coach confessed to us that this was not something he wanted to get involved with.  In fact it took the faith and persistence of those young guys to overcome Coach’s lack of faith.  You can read the story in Wayne Gordon’s new book Who Is My Neighbor?

Another insight Coach received from the Lawndale young adults was a new understanding of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  His young people in Lawndale realized that if Jesus challenges us to care for our neighbor (“Who is my neighbor?” in Luke 10:29), then it also matters that we care for the place where that neighbor lives:  the neighborhood.  What about our neighborhood?  That, Coach explained, is Christian community development.

What about the neighborhoods our corps buildings are located?  How connected and engaged are we with the needs and problems on the block, at the school, in the community?  Or do we merely pass by, on the other side?  Do we notice that children also get hungry Friday night through Monday morning?  And that men and women living in the same community only need their hearts to be touched with this realization to step forward with volunteer hours and dollars?

When it’s good, the Salvation Army brings such diverse needs and people together.  At our most imaginative and creative, it is us.