We’re in the midst of a crisis with COVID-19. It’s revealing many of the deficiencies in our country and one is food insecurity among the most vulnerable.
It’s a beautiful thing that the church is responding to meet the needs of the vulnerable facing food insecurity and to live out what Matthew 25 says about feeding our neighbors in marginalized places. But it also reveals a deeper issue: why are their food deserts in the first place, where did they come from and how did they take shape?
The discipleship path that OneRace invites people on is to Know the Story, Own the Story, and Change the Story. In order to know why we’re in a food crisis situation, particularly for people of color, we have to know the structures that helped create food deserts in the first place.
From a Biblical perspective, it is important to deal with food insecurity, as Matthew 25 commands. But, it is equally as important to deal with the structures that led to food insecurity in the first place. From a theological perspective, it is very important to also have a proper balance of Old Testament theology, which speaks to structural issues.
In an interview for this blog with Donell Woodson, lead trainer for the Lupton Center with FCS, which does community development work in Atlanta, he said, “The church needs go back to the Old Testament for a theological framework on community development.” Matthew 25 is important, but so is Isaiah 65 as God lays out a vision for the new heavens and the new earth and this becomes a place where, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit; no longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people, my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.”
The legend and forefather of the Christian Community Development movement, Dr. John Perkins says in Beyond Charity, “America’s best intentions, most sincere thoughts, noblest efforts—all of these are useless to the urban poor if they do not connect with our personally defined, deepest felt needs. In fact, acts of charity can be dangerous because givers can feel good about actions that actually accomplish very little, or even create dependency. The result is that their sense of satisfaction takes away any motivation to seek more creative long-range development strategies. Overcoming an attitude of charity is a difficult task because it requires givers to demand more of themselves than good will. Christian charity should never be discouraged, and there will always be a place for acts of sharing and kindness, but charity is only a beginning point, not the final strategy or solution.”
Nine years ago, my family and I moved to Historic South Atlanta to live out the ministry of Christ’s reconciliation. We had been schooled in Dr. John Perkins’ Christian Community Development’s three, “Rs” of relocation, reconciliation and redistribution since my years in seminary. We were ready to live out a holistic gospel of Jesus in word and deed. Little did we know that we had just moved into what is called a food desert, just two miles south of the city.
The community non-profit in our neighborhood, FCS Ministries, kept hearing from our neighbors about the need for a grocery store in the middle of this food desert. They soon started what is now Carver Market in our neighborhood.
After being trained in Dignity Serves and being introduced to asset-based community development, we were trained to listen first. I remember listening to neighbors and hearing their struggle of having to ride the bus 1 1/2 hours to the local grocery story and then 1 1/2 hours back to the neighborhood. After all is said and done, that’s a four-hour run to the grocery store, and the majority of the day is gone.
But what kind of a city creates food deserts? Why do they even exist in a developed country like America? We see over and over that what happened in the past is always playing out in the present. A country that was founded upon unjust laws that systemically displaced and segregated people of color, particularly African-Americans, is how we ended up with food deserts. This is why it’s so important to Know the Story of what got us here.
Grocery stores won’t open up a store in low-income neighborhoods because, put simply, the economics are not there. Why are the economics not there? Because distressed communities like a South-Atlanta were shaped by racist structures like red-lining, racial steering and white flight that happened between 1940 to 1980, and it is still happening today.
Ruth Evans, the City Director with Unite, a OneRace partner, said this, “In many communities that are home to people who live in financial poverty – there is a web of systems that are wrecked and broken. We are seeing the fragility of those systems as many families are feeling the staggering impact of the Covid-19 virus. As the immediate crisis starts to dissipate, there is an opportunity for that heartbeat and our engagement to move beyond providing temporary relief – which will have the effect of creating cycles of dependency and further poverty. There are opportunities to engage in ways that bring restoration and resurrection. I would love for churches to have a sense of the powerful difference it could make if we start knowing our history and the underlying roots of our current reality, own the ways that it has created an environment of vulnerability, and participate as agents of change in creation of a new story…a story of restoration and resurrection.”
As we as the body of Christ respond to the immediate needs of our neighbors with food insecurity, I pray we use this time to also educate ourselves about the structures that have created a class system in our country and the Biblical call to restore structures plagued by systemic racism. This is one of the steps of Knowing the Story, in order to Own the Story, and ultimately through the power of Jesus, Change the Story.
How does a white farm boy from Bumpville, PA (yes, a real place), come to live in the black Mecca of the US and give his life to Christ’s work of racial reconciliation with a group called OneRace Movement?
Hello, OneRace family! My name is Dan Crain and I am the new Director of Groups and Mobilization. Josh and I met two years ago and he shared the vision of OneRace, OneRace Stone Mountain and the heart to address racism within the church. From that moment on, I felt a kindred spirit with Josh. This has been a deep passion of mine since I was exposed to the racial underbelly of our country and church back in seminary.
It all started back in 2006 when my wife and I were a part of a white mega-church outside of Grand Rapids, MI. The church was trying to align themselves with the “God of the oppressed” theology, as it is clear from the Scriptures that God holds a special place for those who have been marginalized. I heard a pastor from an inner-city church in Grand Rapids who was black speaking from Isaiah 58 about God’s heart for a certain kind of fasting that, “looses the chains of injustice and unties the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”
He shared about his experience in that decade of being called, “boy” at a restaurant by a white man in Grand Rapids, MI and what it was like as a black man living in a majority white culture in America. “Boy” is a racial slur going back to the Jim Crow era. It was in that moment that I felt a deep sense of conviction from the Holy Spirit that this is what I was to give my life to: God’s heart for racial unity.
I had breakfast with that pastor and he was gracious enough to answer all of the questions I had for him as a white man who was clueless to his reality. I changed my degree in seminary to a Masters of Intercultural Ministries because my wife and I knew God was calling us into this work. Dr. Reggie Smith began to mentor me in this work as he was pastoring a church in inner-city Grand Rapids and was the adjunct professor at the seminary.
Dr. Reggie pointed me to Divided by Faith, the work of Dr. John Perkins, Christianity Development Association, and many other resources. I did a research paper on how Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles from Ephesians 2, and as I did, I fell deeply in love with a God that longs to reconcile all things in his son, Jesus Christ.
In 2008, we spent a month living in an African-American community in historic South Atlanta, interning with a non-profit that was doing community development. My wife and I fell in love with being the minorities in this context. After the month was over, we were invited to move back into that community, but at the time we weren’t ready to raise funds and fully move into a community experiencing distress, plus we felt like we had more to learn. So we moved back to Orlando.
In Orlando, we were exposed to Polis Institute’s “Dignity Serves” and the need to live out a dignified interdependent relationship with those different from us. It was through this training that Christ made it very clear as a white man coming from majority culture that I was to be a learner more than a teacher, particular in the world of racial reconciliation. The words of author Donald Miller resonated with what God was doing in my heart, “Be careful of a white guy with a masters degree, because he thinks he knows it all.”
I was so deeply impacted by the Dignity Serves training that I began to raise funds under Polis and we moved to Atlanta in May 2011, to live in historic South Atlanta, work at a small church in the neighborhood under leaders of color, and begin to connect with and share with churches the message of Dignity Serves. It was the Dignity Serves training that opened up a lot of doors for me to talk about race within majority white churches, as one of the organization’s lessons presses deeply into racial and cultural differences and how the Gospel breaks down these barriers. It was also the experience of sharing life with young black men in the neighborhood that deeply shaped the way I saw how little culture cared for their lives and how they were constantly harassed, profiled and accused simply for the color of their skin. There are too many painful stories to share now.
In 2015, I burned out from ministry and realized that was as a result of a lot of unhealed wounds in my soul, which Christ was inviting me to look into. The reality was that I was living a divided life and wasn’t facing the deep wounds of my past. The reality was that Christ was inviting me to reconcile the divided life inside of me. The result of this healing is the discipleship training, Loving Freely, which I have put together. I firmly believe that in order for us to be honest about reconciliation, we must allow this to happen in ourselves first and be honest about the ways in which culture has shaped us.
In 2018, a group of men journeyed deeply into the racial history of our country and its impact upon ourselves through Latasha Morrison’s curriculum at Be the Bridge. This training took the reality of the problem of race in our country and church from an intellectual level into my heart and soul. The journey with these men climaxed when we visited Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative at the Memorial for Peace and Justice to honor the over 4,400 men and women lynched in our country because of white supremacy in Montgomery, AL.
Throughout all of this, I have always shared a deep passion that the church may be one in Christ and so when I had the privilege of meeting Josh in November of 2017, and he shared the vision of what OneRace was trying to call churches to, I was in. Since then, Pastor Arthur Breland of United Church and I have the honor of being the co-leaders of the OneRace network in the Southeast part of Atlanta. Last year, Arthur put together a march to commemorate the street name change from Confederate Ave. to United Ave. and we walked together with over three hundred fellow believers in a spirt of unity that was amazing. The Holy Spirit’s presence among us was palpable.
I am deeply honored to join the OneRace Movement and to work under Josh as the Director of Groups and Mobilization, as my heart and passion has always been to do this work on the street level. Conferences and marches are beautiful and good, but if we’re not pursing the new humanity in the norm of life, the structures will still be there.
It’s my heart to equip people to read the Scriptures through the lens of racial reconciliation, pray deeply about the demonic forces of racism in our city, read books written by leaders of color that dive deep into the history of our country and church, and make small, spirit-led, intentionally organic steps towards being the church God intends it to be.
Finally, people often ask me the why of this. Why do we do this? For me the answer is layered.
First, it’s God heart. It’s his heart that his body here on earth be one and we are not, as Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise documents well. This is modeled in Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and manifested in the book of Acts, where we see what happened as a result of the Gospel changing people’s hearts.
Second, God has hard wired me for diversity. I have loved seeing things from a different perspective. I have close friends of color who I have given them permission to point out my cultural blindspots of whiteness. I really value what other people teach me from the way they’ve walked with Jesus and read the Scriptures. God’s redeeming all of creation to what’s revealed in Revelation 7 as, “and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before eat throne and in from of the Lamb.” Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God wants us to live his future reality here and now.
Third, I firmly believe I am the one laying half-dead in the middle of the ditch in Luke 10, in need of Jesus. This was the point of Jesus sharing the story of the good Samaritan, pointing out the rich young ruler’s need for a savior. Being shaped by the majority culture to have all of the answers has made me aware that the more I learn, the more I don’t know, particularly around race. It’s not that I don’t have certain knowledge of the Scriptures and theology, it’s just that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface on the deep knowledge of God when it comes to race and culture. This is why I love to consult the majority white church on these issues and help them to see their blindspots when it comes to race, culture and class.
Fourth, I am a more complete and better follow of Jesus because I’ve been mentored and impacted by people who look nothing like me. I am a firm believer that in order to live out the fullness of God’s kingdom and live the vision of Revelation 7 here and now, we must be willing to be influenced by people of other races, cultures and classes. Reading Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” in Seminary shaped me in deeply profound ways.
Fifth, after being exposed to the racial history of our country and church back in 2006, as documented in the seminal book, Divided by Faith, I felt the Spirit lead me to move against the stream of racism that the church and culture swims in. This has been something we’ve committed our lives to by the grace of God.
It’s an honor to join what God is doing through OneRace Movement in order to be the fullness of all that God intends the church to be here. We hope God allows us to journey together as we seek to Own the Story, Know the Story and through the power of the gospel, Change the Story!