Book Review by Shelby Gonzales
I have been involved in two long term ministries, one 20 years and the other 10 years, that failed in my eyes. I have been in despair to begin again. I didn’t feel like I had it in me. I felt like a failure and though I felt God telling me to get up and begin again, I didn’t feel equipped to try. Out of Nazareth: Christ-Centered Civic Transformation in Unlikely Places (Urban Loft, 2017), edited by Randy White and H Spees, gathers the experience of eight practitioners who write on community development through the lens of their disciplines, and it is giving me the motivation to keep going. The eight perspectives include how to see a city, movement dynamics, the use of data in transformation, multi-sector alliances, youth, asset-based approaches and a case study of a parish church. God is using it to encourage and equip me to continue on the path. Monika Grasley’s description of changing labels from negative to positive was a powerful reminder of the power of assets. (p. 284) Whether or not my earlier experiences were failures is for God to determine, but because of these authors, I have turned from my despair and have experienced a transformation to a more hopeful perspective. Seeing where Fresno has been, and getting a vision of where it is going, energizes me to reach out to those who are in the process. I realize that I have been viewing change as a negative thing, but I am starting to realize that nothing is static, situations evolve and I must be attuned to God’s working and be flexible to move along with Him. It means “we stick around, we don’t give up when things get tough, we don’t walk away when we are not the heroes of the story. [It] means we stay as long as God says ‘stay.’” (p. 289) I might add, it also means that when He says it’s time to go, that’s ok even if it doesn’t look like the mission is accomplished.
I am currently serving in Malaga, a concentrated poverty community designated place just South of Fresno. The problems of Southeast Fresno spill over into this community and are exacerbated by a governing water district that does not have a heart for the people. Like Fresno, it has been a neglected place where poverty is high and resources are scarce. The example of what these authors have been involved with has transformed my thinking. It has catalogued the human resources available locally as well as given me hope which energizes me to be able to begin again.