CBF is Working to Change MS! - Katie Carter

My journey at CBF of Mississippi began only about three and a half months ago when I came on as an intern for Together for Hope and CBF MS. Throughout these past few months the people and purpose of CBF MS have become very dear to me. I am an undergrad student at Mississippi College studying Social Work and originally came on to do community development work with Together for Hope, but I have learned and experienced so much more. One of the things that I really value about CBF of Mississippi is how the four public witness pillars of racial discourse and dialogue, poverty relief and development, interfaith and ecumenism, and gender equality are truly upheld in word and deed. In my short time at CBF MS, I have seen each of these be a priority to the people and churches of CBF MS.

I am so excited about the work that Together for Hope is doing and really would not be able to do in full without the help of CBF members. Whether you are a potential partner, practitioner, or just a church member who is on board with TFH’s mission and purpose, we need you to reach the poorest people in our state. Just for some background information, Together for Hope is a rural development coalition that is committed to the 301 counties of persistent rural poverty in our country. Mississippi contains 42 of those counties. FORTY TWO! That means that about 14% of the nations most impoverished people are right outside of our doorstep. Together for Hope believes that each person was made in the image of their creator and therefore has inherent dignity and worth. That being said, the community development practices that we implement must reflect the fact that we fully believe in the dignity of all people. Together for Hope abides by the asset-based community development model, which focuses on the strengths, assets, and resources of each community and then aids the community in leveraging those for sustainable development. Together for Hope truly believes that the people of the community have the answers and they have the potential for change within them. They just need to be given permission to see, celebrate, and move toward action. The work that Together for Hope is doing is extremely important. As the name expresses, more than anything, TFH desires to unveil hope in communities where hope is a rarity. However, the work of community development is slow and takes patience, persistence, always being fueled by hope. CBF of MS, we covet your prayers and support as we engage in this work. Be praying for the leaders of Together for Hope, the practitioners, our current and future partners, leaders in communities, and the people of the communities, that all would be led in wisdom, truth, and grace as we seek His Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Because I do work primarily with Together for Hope, a lot of my work has looked like involving the people of CBF MS in the work that TFH is doing across the state. In the past month I have seen people rise up in numerous ways. We were able to pack 30 buckets with cleaning supplies that will be distributed to 30 different families that were affected by the floods in the Delta. In addition, CBF MS churches raised both cash funds and collected supplies for families who lost everything that they had in an apartment fire. These families were able to go “shop” for items in a space that was set up in store-like fashion, thus extending dignity to numerous families. Two more events are in the works for the coming month. At the end of this month, CBF of MS is sponsoring a Racial Discourse and Dialogue at the Mississippi Civil Right Museum (more information on cbfms.org and on our Facebook page). Lastly, the missions team is planning a work day to serve a partner church in Jackson that needs some serious repairs to their building. Just in this month alone, CBF MS has been involved in poverty relief, interfaith work, racial discourse and dialogue, and is still upholding its commitment to gender equality as men and women work equally alongside each other in roles of leadership and service.

Wonderful things are happening at CBF of Mississippi and Together for Hope and I am so thankful to have been a part of it!

Northminster Spring Break Trip- Major Treadway

“There’s not a lot to do.”

“The people are so nice and friendly.”

“It seems like a lot of buildings aren’t being used for what they were made to be used for.”

After spending four days being with Delta Hands for Hope in Shaw, Mississippi, I asked the eleven students from Northminster Baptist Church, in Jackson, Mississippi, what they had learned or observed about Shaw in our brief time there. These were their immediate responses. The four days that preceded this conversation had been spent engaging with children and adolescents who had entrusted their care to Delta Hands for Hope (DHH). The students from Northminster had talked about tornadoes – constructing water tornadoes in two-liter plastic bottles duct-taped together, molding tornadoes out of Play-Doh, and coloring pictures of tornadoes while discussing how to seek safe cover should a tornado descend upon Shaw. They spent a lot of time painting – a concession stand and ticket booth at the local high school football field, fire hydrants all over the community, newly installed doors at DHH’s facility. They built tomato trellises for community gardens. Importantly, all of these activities were done alongside residents of Shaw. Teenagers from Jackson and teenagers from Shaw working together on projects identified by stakeholders in the Shaw community. There were plenty of opportunities for play, as well. Every step of the way, where time and opportunity permitted, the two groups of teenagers were together – working, eating, playing – together.

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After four short days, when asked what the students from Northminster had learned about Shaw, the three above responses came. Incredibly, and likely accidentally, these teenagers stumbled on two exceptionally common traits of impoverished communities around the world and one that distinguishes a community as having not always been impoverished.

Before accompanying this group to Shaw, I had spent the greater part of the last decade living and working in Southeast Asia with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). My life and work with MCC was limited to communities in two countries. In these places, I encountered thriving communities of people living with less tangible wealth and property than many people in the United States – even in the Mississippi Delta – would think possible. Communities where electricity was inconsistent in availability and strength, communities where water was only available in public spaces to be carried to private spaces, communities where a “Boil Water” notice would be laughable because water always had to be boiled, communities where houses had only one room and no doors.

By any monetary or development index consideration, these communities would be considered impoverished. Stories I heard from colleagues living and working in impoverished communities in all corners of the globe, similar to what the students observed in Shaw, supported the observation that there was “not a lot to do.” There were no movie theaters. No cellular network would support streaming high definition digital content or gaming. Stores, restaurants, and other businesses were few. There was not a lot of time for entertainment, but when people were able to make time for recreation, they entered into it the way they did most other activities: In community. They would play soccer, tell stories, or go to worship.

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Somehow, in each of these spaces, despite their lack of material wealth and that there was “not a lot to do,” people exhibited notable welcome and kindness – something that the students observed in Shaw, noting that “the people are so nice and friendly.”  One of the best examples I can remember from Asia occurred in a small mountainside farming village. A friend was visiting my wife and me over the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday (the biggest religious holiday of the year in Indonesia). We decided to take a morning public bus from our home up to this little village so that we could hike a relatively short mountain (though tall by Mississippi standards). Having made this trek many times, I knew the route from the bus stop to the mountain (and back). I also knew that, while we were likely to find a motorcycle taxi to take us to the mountain on this special holiday, we would almost certainly have to walk the two miles (or so) back from the mountain to the main road, where we might (hopefully) catch a bus home. What we did not predict was the rain waiting for us on the mountain. When we descended, thoroughly soaked, we started our trek back to the main road that would take us home. We walked through a village that was devoid of signs of wealth. To our surprise, a van pulled up beside us. The family (easily outnumbering the seats available) motioned for us to get into the van. We protested that we were wet with rain and sweat, and they were all wearing their finest clothes, in celebration of the holiday. They insisted. They took us directly to the bus stop, offered us water and snacks, and refused to take any compensation for transporting us. There are so many parts of that story that seem unimaginable in the suburbs of the United States. Yet, when I imagine the many other impoverished communities I have visited (inside the US and outside), it seems very possible, if not likely.

The first observation by students from Northminster about Shaw, that “a lot of buildings were not being used for what they were made to be used for” stands far afield from what I observed in impoverished communities in rural SE Asia. In these communities, the people had always been subsistence farmers. There had never been enough commerce to merit building anything beyond what was immediately necessary and useful. In Shaw, and in other towns like it scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta, there are many buildings that have long been abandoned, sometimes repurposed like the one that is home to DHH, more often (it seems) left vacant until they eventually collapse. These buildings are evidence of a thriving economy that once was – a time when these buildings had a purpose and when there was enough economic activity to support their use.

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Together for Hope is a coalition of development practitioners organized under the direction of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Together for Hope started with a twenty-year commitment to the twenty poorest counties in the US. Bolivar County, home to Shaw, in Mississippi is among these twenty counties. Importantly, Together for Hope subscribes to development methodologies rooted in Asset Based Community Development, which has as a core belief that the development of a community should begin with identifying what assets, or strengths, the community already possesses (rather than starting with deficiencies).

Utilizing this methodology, DHH and the community in Shaw were able to repurpose a building that was no longer being used for the purpose for which it was constructed. The building that houses Delta Hands for Hope formerly housed a grocery store, a club, and a retail store. This space now has new occupants with a fresh purpose: DHH operates a computer lab, library, community activity space, and food service space. They make available to the community a safe after-school and school break space for elementary-aged children. When children come to DHH, they are provided with a meal and meaningful interaction with volunteers who are interested and invested in their positive development. DHH also hosts a pharmacy technician class and opportunities for adults to complete a high school diploma equivalency. They are active agents in the community, seeking out ongoing activities, making concerted efforts to avoid redundancy in provision of goods or services, while also looking to make connections between existing assets and opportunities.

Delta Hands for Hope invites groups to join in what is already happening in Shaw. When I first called and talked to Executive Director, Lane Riley, about the prospect of Northminster being with DHH for Spring Break, I asked what she hopes for most, from groups that come. Her response was telling of the kind of relationship-focused work in which DHH is engaged. “Repeat visits,” she responded succinctly. I am already looking forward to our next visit and what I might learn from my new friends in Shaw.

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Survival and More - Jason Coker

Jason Coker-  CBF MS Field Coordinator

Jason Coker- CBF MS Field Coordinator

I confess that I used to watch Survivor when it first came out—a hundred years ago! I’ll also confess that I like the current slate of survivor shows with people like Bear Grylls (Google him if you don’t know him). Basically, all these survivor shows drop someone off in the middle of nowhere—specifically a “nowhere” that is very difficult to survive in: Amazon Jungle, Namibian Desert, Andes Mountains, Louisiana Swamp, you get the idea. In every show, those trying to survive have to do at least three things in order to survive: make some sort of shelter, find a way to produce safe drinking water, and find a food source. Food, water, and shelter—the three basic ingredients to survival. If you don’t have any one of these three components, you cannot survive! Survival skills help one to find and secure these three basic necessities of life.

A couple of years ago, one of our small towns in Mississippi (this is not the only one, but just one that I know of) had to issue a Water ban/boil for the whole town because the water lines and water infrastructure were so dilapidated that the water that came through them and ended up in the houses and schools and churches and town hall was not potable. It was actually dangerous to drink the water because it had too many contaminants in it. There are a lot of reasons water systems fail, but this one was from years of neglect. Not long after the town elected its first African American mayor in the 80s, the white population began to move out in masses. This left the town with a much lower tax base, so it had much less income to do basic maintenance on municipal projects like roads, sewers, water systems, electrical systems, etc. Without the economic power of these families, the town slowly began to decay. Stores closed, jobs left, crime increased, and those who could get out, did.

It took eleven months for the town to figure out how to fix the water problem. This was during the school year. Kids couldn’t drink from the water fountains in the hallways, wash their hands after using the bathroom, and the cafeteria had to improvise in just about every way imaginable. The whole town was lacking a sustainable water source—one necessary component for human survival. While the town was able to work together to alleviate the problem, many still feel it was only a temporary fix, so they are always waiting on the news of a renewed water ban/boil.

In this same town, all the grocery stores are gone. The Dollar General on the edge of town has started selling some grocery items like milk and bread, but not much else. People have to drive over 10-15 miles to find a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit. The only food available in the town is at the local gas stations that has chips, candy, and other forms of “junk” food. Healthy food is not available unless you have adequate transportation, which is one of the major issues facing rural America. Food—another necessity for human survival.

Food and water are legitimate concerns for the citizens of this town, but Shelter is also a problem. The vast majority of housing in the town is falling down. Old wood structures sag under the heat and humidity of the Delta and many houses are simply falling in and collapsing. I was in another one of our small towns in Mississippi just last week and I saw a house with the front door wide open. I thought the house was so dilapidated that no one lived there, and then a young girl—maybe 10-12—walked out of the house and closed the door behind her. I don’t know if she lived there or was just visiting, but it hurt me to think about a kid the same age as my children having to go into a house that run down. In an area where there are not enough jobs for the people and where the elderly barely hold on to these old houses, this is the rule not the exception. Shelter—another necessity of human survival.

In Mississippi we have 42 counties of persistent rural poverty. People in these counties and many of the other counties in Mississippi struggle not to excel, but to simply survive—food, water, and shelter. There’s enough blame for all of us to find fault with ourselves in the reasons why our state has the highest poverty rate in the nation—and has had this distinction for nearly all my life. However, blame won’t change anything! CBF of Mississippi is committed to poverty relief and development. We want to be part of the solution to the blight of poverty in our state. In an attempt to change this narrative and reality, we are partnering with churches, organizations, and individuals across the state to intervene in systems that continue to produce these issues, bring innovation to some of these issues to try something different, and advocate for policy that we know can make a difference.

CBF of Mississippi’s work in poverty is not an attempt to be some other political action group. We do this because every human being in the state of Mississippi is created in the image of our loving God. Every child, every teenager, every adult, every senior adult reflects back to us the image of God—the God we worship and love. We are compelled by the love of God and the love of neighbor to work for all people in our state. And, honestly, I don’t want to work hard just for the people in Mississippi to survive. I want more than basic survival for our people. I want our people to live into the plans God has for them, and that’s got to be more than survival.