Eight years ago, Gateway Community CRC in Merced, Calif. was looking for ways to engage with nearby under-resourced neighborhoods in meaningful and lasting ways. The church’s response was to start a community benefit corporation whose goal is to empower local community members to make their neighborhoods safer and healthier places.
Called “Asset Based Community Development” (ABCD), this approach nurtures a shared vision of the community and its people, raising up new leaders to rediscover both the gifts and needs of their neighborhood. The idea is to encourage local people to pull together and work communally, rather than having external agencies impose their programs or solutions on a neighborhood.
Lifeline CDC is run by former Gateway staff member Monika Grasley; several church members serve as both volunteers and board members. While Lifeline CDC is actively involved in various neighborhood and community projects, a large part of its work is equipping other churches, groups, and individuals in the basic principles and practices of ABCD. Church involvement focuses on building long-term relationships with communities rather than implementing short-term programs.
Grasley has been spreading Lifeline’s message of holistic community development among Christian Reformed churches in California as part of her role on the deacon training team of Classis Central California, a regional group of churches. Missional engagement conferences have encouraged local churches, and training on justice issues has been offered to church deacons. The youth of Gateway CRC have also participated in “rural plunge” service and learning exercises. Grasley has also served as a community development consultant on one church’s mission trip to Guatemala.
Grasley recalled a young man who came to Lifeline asking, “What can you do for me?” It turned out he could do a lot for his neighborhood with his talents in the community garden. “Our passion is for people to experience the shalom of God in their lives, individually and communally,” she said.