Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Transforming the City: The CCDA National Conference

Farr & Kimberly
This past Sunday Farr and Kimberly Curlin shared about their work in urban Chicago with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). The National Conference for the CCDA is coming to Raleigh September 24-27. To learn more about how you can become involved with the conference either by attending or volunteering (or both!), visit our website

Here is Farr and Kimberly's story:

Kimberly and I lived nine years in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood, just a few blocks from the offices of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).

CCDA is a network of Christians who live in some of America’s neediest neighborhoods so that people can be restored to God and each other.

In Lawndale we observed among our friends and neighbors many examples of what CCDA is about: Ordinary Christians choosing to live and become good neighbors in somewhat tough neighborhoods, and in many cases seeing God do extraordinary things. We’ll briefly describe just two examples:

Rob and Amy Castaneda moved into South Lawndale in 1998, the same year I moved there, to be near the public school where Amy would be teaching. Shortly thereafter, Rob observed gang members flashing guns outside their home. When police arrived, Rob showed them where the gang members had hidden their guns behind a car. Over the next two weeks, gang members twice set fire to the Castaneda’s house and repeatedly threatened to kill them. Rob and Amy refused to leave in the face of the threat. In fact, they doubled down to get more involved in our community.

Rob started coaching the basketball team at the school where Amy taught. He got permission to open the school gym on Saturdays and weekday evenings, where he began to host what quickly became a nearly constant schedule of basketball clinics and leagues for youth. As Rob and Amy tell it:

"A community was formed within that school space—a safe place where rival gang members played together, and kids sat on the sidelines talking about life. Friendships were made across racial and cultural lines. The relationships with youth that began on a court grew deeper and spread throughout the neighborhood. Thriving under the influence of positive role models, youth discovered how to participate in their community in a responsible way. Beyond the Ball was born.”

Out of Rob and Amy’s insistence on loving their neighbors, an organization has grown up that has changed the face of our old neighborhood, involving more than 1000 children last year. And Rob and Amy are giving those children a vision for coming back to Little Village, as our old neighborhood is called. Several of the boys who I played basketball with 12 years ago when he started his after-school basketball program are now school teachers and professionals who have chosen to live in the neighborhood and continue to serve its members together.
Notably, Rob and Amy have lived this adventure while working in the marketplace—Amy as a school teacher, Rob as a low voltage wiring contractor.

Our friends Laura and Brent Michel have lived on Avers Avenue, a block south of the CCDA offices, for over ten years. As Neighbors on Avers Avenue, they began by inviting kids into their backyard to play basketball and yard games.  Backyard games grew into summer VBS in partnership with another like-minded neighbor, and then into an after school club.  While running these activities Laura felt called to invest in three young girls, sisters, for the long haul.  She has mentored them, helped them seek out opportunities in and around the city, and channeled monetary donations to the girls’ tuition at a local private Christian school. All this while working and raising her own three children.   

Of note: A few years ago Laura rallied her neighbors to turn three vacant lots into a community garden. The property had become a trash dump. After trying to contact the legal owner to clean it up, she and her neighbors took matters into their own hands.  It is a beautiful garden today, full of fruits and vegetables, a track around the outer rim, and even playground equipment which she and her neighbors won through a local news contest for people making a difference in their communities.

These are just two of the many examples we saw of people discovering extraordinary grace to be good neighbors and becoming true salt and light in an underserved neighborhood. If you attend the CCDA conference, you’ll hear meet many people like the Michels and Castanedas and perhaps discover your own call to love your neighbors in one of the more underserved neighborhoods in Raleigh.

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