CCDA 2016 National Conference: Go and See.
CCDA puts an emphasis on highlighting local ministries in the host city. As part of that effort, CCDA organizes Go and See tours to explore the work of different ministries in areas such as affordable housing, economic empowerment, and criminal reentry.
I participated in a Go and See tour hosted by InnerCHANGE, a Christian order dedicated to serving the marginalized and the poor. We walked around the Westlake/MacArthur Park area, home to a large immigrant community from Central America. The neighborhood is also facing a growing homeless population, a sign of the lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles. We heard about the neighborhood and its history of gang violence, as well as the work that InnerCHANGE was doing to be a good neighbor. We had an amazing lunch at Mama’s Hot Tamales, and heard about the efforts of entrepreneurs to start businesses using the restaurant’s commercial kitchen. We visited the UCLA Labor Center and heard about how the Center equipped immigrant youth activists to lift up their communities. We ended our tour at Tapestry Los Angeles Church, a mostly Korean-American church working to connect with the local neighborhood.
One place that struck me was an old paper store. The proprietor told us that way back when, many art schools existed in MacArthur Park, and the store was started to provide art supplies. As the community changed, the art schools left; the store was the last of its kind left in the area. The store was known throughout the city for its high-end paper and arts supplies, and customers would come from all corners. But the store had little interaction with the local neighborhood.
Then one day, John (one of the members of InnerCHANGE) stopped by the store. He regularly came by to purchase supplies for his collage art. He had been developing a book dealership to provide students in the area with books for school, and he was looking for a retail space. He talked with the proprietor and worked out a deal to have the store sell books on commission. The store sold the books for just a couple bucks each. John and the proprietor started with a table out in front of the store. Neighbors began to notice, and the table got a lot of attention What started as a table then became a shelf in the store, then a whole section, covering everything from philosophy to literature to graphic novels. The books led to more connection with the community. When we visited, John pointed out that the art that the store exhibited on its walls had been made by local youth artists.
John was able to connect the store with the neighborhood in a meaningful way. He was able to build bridges and connect people to resources that already existed in their community. What John did wasn’t spectacular or revolutionary. But his work was a simple expression of Jesus’s words: “Love your neighbor.”