At our Servant Partners staff meeting yesterday, we spent some time discussing how community organizing and church-planting can relate to one another. We talked about a holistic view of people and salvation; we talked about redemption that is both physical and spiritual; we shared stories about how our work in community organizing in urban poor communities had been transformational, for us, for our communities, and for our churches.
At one point in our meeting, our executive director shared a story from his own experience in Pomona. He said that, as they gathered neighbors together to share concerns for the neighborhood, the single issue that everyone agreed on was the need for adequate street lighting. As one who lives on “the darkest street in the neighborhood”, I can attest to the ways that insufficient lighting can totally impact a street and a community. It is not a coincidence that so many are killed on my street.
He shared that, as they brought this concern to the different “powers that be” in their city, they were told that all of the budget for street repairs/lighting was being directed to improvements on White Street, one of the main streets running through the city, which leads to the fairgrounds, a place that draws many visitors to the city each year. The representatives of the city were clear: making White beautiful and usable was the thing that would most benefit Pomona. It was the “face” of the community so to speak; if White looks good, then the city will too! Yet the residents were unanimous: we don’t care about White; just please give us street lights.
It struck me that so much energy and resource is given to creating and sustaining weekly Sunday worship. It is the “face” of the church, for sure. It is often the first impression people have of who we are. Yet in my context, I know firsthand about the gritty realities of people’s lives; people struggling against powerful forces of darkness ranging from hunger to gangs to unemployment to affordable housing. While we work so hard to landscape and resurface our main street, could it be that what people really need are street lights?