Healing Spaces, Brave Spaces

Healing Spaces, Brave Spaces

When I would tell folks that EIRO was going to present at Wild Goose, they would often ask me to describe the festival. The best I could come up with is a cross between a Christian Conference and  Woodstock. Even after visiting, speaking and giving myself some time to process it, it’s a difficult experience to put into words.

Finding Joy in the Planting

One of the challenges of working in ministry is that there are few situations that produce immediate results. Building relationships with people and developing partnerships is the slow work of the kingdom. And honestly, there are times I wonder if the work I’m doing is making any difference at all. But with patience and faith, ministry is also very rewarding. Recently, EIRO facilitated a partnership that wonderfully captured this lengthy and fruitful process.

As a part of their strategic plan, the Tucker Lifelong Community Committee (TLC) determined that community beautification would be one area of focus this year. Specifically, TLC wants to clean and landscape neighborhood entrances in Tucker. Making these welcoming spaces attractive will help neighborhood residents nurture a sense of pride and place.

TLC also wanted this effort to be intergenerational, and they looked for youth volunteers to help out. This point is where EIRO stepped in and facilitated a community connection.

Louis Deas, EIRO’s intern from McAfee this semester, is a youth pastor at Family of God Church Inc. in Tucker. Louis is passionate about the youth in his congregation learning how their faith connects to community development. He wants his kids to know they can make a difference. We connected Louis to TLC, and then he recruited his youth group for the first beautification project day last month.

The collaboration was a success! Volunteers worked all morning to remove weeds and holly bushes before they planted new flowers and shrubs.

You might notice the “after” pictures actually look more sparse than the “before” pictures. Louis’ students noticed this change as well (you can’t sneak anything past kids!). When they asked Louis about it, he offered a profound explanation.

The gardening that the volunteers had done was mostly with plants that would bloom later. It would be a few weeks before anyone would be able to see the full magnitude of the work they’d done. Louis explained to the youth that faith and ministry were like these landscape projects. We often don’t get to see the fruit of our labor, especially right away.

I took comfort in Louis’ words and am trying to be more thankful for the times when I do get to witness the blooming of the seeds I’ve planted. I hope that in whatever way you are ministering, you too can find joy in the planting, knowing God’s faithfulness is yet to come. And I also hope that you are able to carve out space to rejoice in those moments when you do get to see your efforts combine with God’s grace to come fully into bloom!

Hear All Voices

It started out as any-old regular storytime in Mrs. Henson’s second-grade class. The children scurried to the circular colored carpet on the floor at the back of the classroom. Vying for position, they bumped and stumbled into one another as they toppled criss-cross-applesauce into their favorite spots. Once they were settled, Mrs. Henson held up the book for all to see and began reading,

“La llama llama
rojo pijama
lee un quento
aqui en la cama”

“Wait, what?!”
“That’s not how it goes!”
“Mrs. Henson, we can’t understand you!” little voices exclaimed in frustrated unison.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I’m reading the words exactly as they are right here on the page.”

“But we don’t speak Spanish,” some of the children persisted. Others, having understood the story right away, quietly grinned.

“Well then, now you have a taste for how it feels to come to a new school where the students and teachers don’t speak your language. It must be very difficult, no? You must work very hard to help your new friends feel welcome.”

As grown ups we forget sometimes what we learned as children, that we share responsibility for making new neighbors feel welcome. Sometimes, even when we have the best intentions, our attempts to include others are like speaking a different language, and sometimes it may even be literal.

Those of us in community work and ministry often want to hear from a wide variety of voices in the community. We want our neighbors to feel a part of the good work happening and to share their input and ideas. However, it’s not always quite as simple as just asking.

To truly gain insight from all those around us, we may need to think outside the box and think differently about how we solicit participation. At EIRO, we’ve experimented a few different strategies to make an extra effort and to involve different neighbors who may not speak our same language (literal or figurative).

#1 Find a translator or cultural guide

It should probably go without saying that if you want to hear from your neighbors and they speak a different language, make sure your materials/meetings/flyers/website/etc are translated appropriately. However, sometimes this effort feels overwhelming, but it is well worth it to build community and solicit greater participation.

In addition, many communities have their own established traditions, ways of doing things, and communication structures. Working alongside a local community leader who is willing to serve a “cultural translator” can help to avoid significant missteps and may be able to promote collaboration and stronger partnerships.

#2 Consider your communication mediums

There are also practical barriers to soliciting community input, including how you’re asking for involvement. Not everyone has a smart phone or home internet access, and older populations especially may not prefer technological communication tools. Many efforts to involve neighbors include online surveys or signing up for email lists, but not all neighbors communicate the same way. One practical way to hear from more voices is to expand communications to include both digital and paper communications, as well as phone calls or text reminders.

#3 Go where the people are

Being present and engaging face-to-face is always a powerful way to connect with others. But consider the places where your program shows up. Do community members have to come to you to participate and share their ideas? Are all meetings held inside a place of worship? Do you tend to talk to people in the same places? Consider locations in the community where others gather and take the first step to engagement. Setting up a table at a local school will connect you with so many parents and families who may never cross your path otherwise. Rotating meeting spaces or hanging flyers in local laundromats. All new ideas in new spaces will help you reach out and invite new voices. 

Community programs are strongest when they are led and shaped by community members. As we seek to engage neighbors in positive collaboration, we need to make sure we’re doing the work necessary to invite all voices to the table.

Building Bridges On Bowls of Fruit

by Holly Duncan

A bridge constructed with oranges as the supports might be a bit wobbly. Before you know it, it might even become a rolling bridge! But isn’t that how it feels sometimes reaching across cultural differences? We want to be bridge-builders, but sometimes it seems too risky, or confusing, or we’ve never seen it done before and we don’t know where to begin.

Recently, I found myself in a situation where fruit was crossing cultures, and a bridge was needed. Thankfully, the circumstance was more metaphorical, but the delicacy remained a priority as I sought to navigate different people, practices, and religions in our community.

A longtime resident had posted a picture on our Facebook group from a small pond near our subdivision. The photo displayed a potted plant, small bowls of fruit, and several fronds in and near the edge of the water. The neighbor asked if anyone knew why a flower pot, large fern leaves, and styrofoam bowls of fruit bits would be sitting in the water. A group of volunteers was set to have a park clean up day the following weekend, and the neighbor was curious if these items were litter or if there was significance behind them.

When this question came up, I remembered attending the closing-ceremonies of a recent Hindu festival, Swasthani Brata Katha, at my neighbors’ house. Some of the guests explained that the holiday includes a month-long fast practiced by the women of the family and ends with an offering, often fruit or flowers, being placed near a body of water.

I then texted a Hindu friend to ask if she’d be willing to help me with some cross-cultural communication. She happily agreed, and I explained the neighbors’ concerns about the offering items (along with other non-religious litter) at the pond.

She was able to talk with worshipers the next week at the Hindu temple about the neighbors’ environmental concerns and encourage them to be mindful of environmentally friendly offerings. Alternatively, I was able to explain the Swasthani Brata Katha observance to neighbors and reinforce their patience and understanding for diverse traditions. Another neighbor who serves on the board for John’s Homestead where the pond is located, was able to relay the information to volunteers tidying the park.

Although this was a relatively simple example, I am proud that our neighborhood was able to work through this cultural misunderstanding. Sometimes it feels as precarious as building a bridge on a bowl of fruit. If any party had reacted with less grace and more distrust, the situation may not have been resolved as easily or as quickly. But I continue to be convinced that when we get to know each other as fellow humans and neighbors, we can work together to address mutual concerns in ways that affirm and nurture community along the way!

Paternalism to Partnership

"Can I just brag on the Lord for a minute?" the preacher began. He went on to describe the good works his church had been involved in during the week and the gratitude he felt towards God and his faithful congregation. Together they packed snacks for local school kids, ministered to one another in fellowship, and gathered supplies for the ongoing missions they supported. This was good and important work, said the preacher. And I wanted to agree, but something in me felt unsettled.

I wish it were that simple -- good works done with good intentions always yield good results. However, sometimes the good we set out to do misses the mark. In fact, we're learning from those who've been recipients of such ministries, that our good efforts have unintended consequences.

How do we tell the difference between enabling activities and healthy engagement? At EIRO, we've found that one useful tool is plotting a program or activity on the spectrum of paternalism to partnership. The more markers of authentic partnership a program or activity exhibits, the healthier it is.

Of course, no one sets out to practice paternalism, but it happens. Let me share two representative examples of good intentions gone awry:

A few months ago, Georgia residents received a series of promotional mailers from political groups regarding a state constitutional amendment on the upcoming ballot. The flyers were asking for your vote for an educational amendment they stated would improve poor schools. The issue I took was with the stark contrasts between the images. On the flyer, the poor performing schools were shown with sad black children, but the well-performing schools were portrayed by images of happy white children. Of course the intention was to support lower performing schools, but the imagery used made me wonder if there was any sort of partnership happening in this group or on the amendment.

Another example of paternalism is a photo from a church's weekly email of a young white teenager on a mission trip cradling a small black child in her arms with a caption reading, "Are you concerned for the least of these?"

You might think I'm creating a racial issue where none exists. However, these images and texts convey the prevailing, dangerous, paternalistic idea that low-income individuals and communities (often pictured as people of color) need higher-income individuals and communities (often white non-materially-poor people) to fix their situations.

No matter the race, if one group assumes an exclusive role of the giver and other the recipient, the exchange has become inherently transactional and paternalistic. Though neither party intends harm, this exchange diminishes the dignity of the those accepting help and thwarts the psyche of the benefactor.  

On the other hand, partnership ensures that the dignity of all parties involved by encouraging reciprocal relationships. A legitimate, mutual - not equal - exchange acknowledges the dignity of all by valuing the assets each has to contribute.

Susan Feurzeig, a UMC pastor, is part of a new team partnering with neighbors experiencing homelessness in midtown Atlanta. Here's how she describes their approach:

Our greater vision is to include people who are homeless in creating program goals through simple surveys and to build community from the ground up, making sure that our leadership is multiply diverse (racially, socially, in terms of experience: including people with homelessness in their background).

The inclusion of folks receiving services in the planning, execution, and review of all stages of benevolent activity is essential to valid partnership. This inclusion and exchanges allows everyone to partake in celebration when the shared goals are met.

So next time you’re considering a good deed, ask yourself if passes the partnership test. If so, you can be sure that your efforts, since they utilize the gifts of God’s people, will definitely be give you something about which you can brag on the Lord for a minute.

Making More Pies

by Ben Garrett

In Matthew 6:21 Jesus offers us a frequently quoted truth: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Often this verse is used to help us as individuals reflect upon our own spending habits and challenge us to put them in the context of seeking the kingdom. Though this is its typical use, it seems to me that this truth could be applied to more than just the unique spending habits of individual Christians. What if we took the rubric of “the location of one’s treasure is the location of one’s love” and applied it to the church?

Christianity Today surveyed over 1,000 churches and discovered some interesting facts about where churches have placed their treasure. Among the surveyed churches, 33% of their budget goes to paying staff, 26% goes to paying for their building, and 17% goes to ministries within the church and support for local and international missions. Judging by this breakdown, it would appear that churches mostly love their pastors and their buildings.

Now I know what you are thinking. You're thinking I am just some radical millennial who hates institutions, buildings, and traditionally salaried pastors. I am not that millennial.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with church buildings or salaried pastors. I definitely don’t think there is anything wrong with institutions. After all, EIRO exists as a servant to the church. Plus, I am not a big believer in cutting overhead. I learned from David Meister that you can’t cut your way to a successful organization. I am, however, a big believer in more pie.

When you are at a party with lots of people and only one pie you can do one of two things: 1) You can cut the pie into smaller and smaller pieces. This strategy makes for a crappy party. Or 2) You can all pitch in to make more pies.

The idea that we ought to take the money we already have and just assign more of it to missions is just re-slicing the same pie into smaller bits. The idea that a church might find new and better ways to join in the work God is doing in its community is a way of making new pies.

When churches intentionally seek to partner with their community, they might open a coffee shop, offer affordable exercise classes to elders, hold arts events, or a million other things depending on what the community hopes to see. (To swim in the deep-end of this way of thinking, see Starting a Nonprofit at Your Church.) Each of these offers to a church new revenue streams (aka more pie), and more importantly, allows the church to answer its call to be a blessing to the world.

I personally want to see a world with more pie, and I suspect you do too.  

Where Our Greatest Joys Meet the World’s Needs: SHAPE Assessment

by Ben Garrett

Frederick Buechner once said, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world's greatest need.” While that sentiment is relatable, many of us go through life wondering how we can actually put it into practice. Figuring out our joys, passions, and skills and where those fit in the world can feel like an overwhelming task.

EIRO uses a tool called SHAPE to help individuals and congregations identify their skills and interests. SHAPE then helps people recognize how their specific skills can be used for the good of others. SHAPE stands for Spiritual Gifts, Heart Passions, Abilities, Personality Profile, and Experiences. You can see why we use an acronym!

SHAPE helps a church leader learn how to best mobilize their congregation by identifying the skills and interests of their congregation. Using SHAPE with a full congregation reveals strengths of the group as a whole, creating a unique asset map of one specific church.

With this asset map, leaders are able to more easily identify common interests among their team to help guide vision and collaboration. Rather than relying on anecdotal evidence or the preferences of their most vocal members, pastors and leaders have a concrete, full picture of the unique capabilities, gifts, and interests that the congregation brings to the table. This can lead to quicker, easier mobilization of the congregation into action.

With SHAPE as a guide, individuals are also able to learn about their strengths and gifts, then become aware of opportunities to serve in the areas they care about.

As EIRO uses this tool in Tucker, we are able to match people from different organizations and congregations with similar interests and passions, who can work together for bigger impact.

Here's an example question from SHAPE:

SHAPE offers benefits, growth and knowledge to all who take it. Our hope is that it will be utilized by individuals, congregations, and organizations throughout our community so we may become more aware of our gifts and the best ways to share them. If you are interested in using SHAPE, please contact us at ben@joineiro.com.

Neighboring 101: 7 Books To Get You Started

by Holly Duncan

I was visiting a good friend in another city who asked me, “How did you get started in the community work you’re doing? I want to love my neighbors, but I don’t even know them! What did you do in the beginning to meet people?”

I get it. Meeting new folks can be awkward. (As an introvert, I think “mingling” could be one of levels of Hell in Dante’s Inferno!) But believe me, it’s not as hard as you think! If you look around your neighborhood but don’t exactly know where to start, this is a reading list for you.

It's a collection of stories, practices, ideas, and teachings about what it means to be a good neighbor from the inner city to suburbia and across the economic spectrum. Some of these books will flip everything you’ve learned on its head. Other books will share practical applications of teachings you already know. I have read some of them and they were meaningful to me as I began tiptoeing in the waters of neighboring. Others have been recommended to me and may be a valuable resource to you as well.

Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests

by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

A family moves to Durham, NC, and opens a house of hospitality where anyone who knocks is welcome. Join the family through trials, tribulations, joys, and laughter as they learn what it takes to be a “good neighbor” to all who show up.

Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (Resources for Reconciliation)

by Christopher L. Heuertz  and Christine D. Pohl

Friendship at the Margins explores the transformation that happens when Christians are motivated by friendship instead of conversion. Through storytelling and teaching, Heuertz and Pohl share the reconciliation and righteousness that comes from mutual, reciprocal friendships.

Theirs Is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America

by Robert D. Lupton

Lupton tells the story of his move into a high crime area in the urban core of Atlanta. Instead of bringing the gospel to “poor people” as planned, Lupton’s expectations get turned upside down. He must reexamine his heart, biases, intentions, and attitudes around the very people he came to serve and shares the new meaning he finds in the phrase “love thy neighbor.”

Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness in a Broken World

by Craig Warren Greenfield

Subversive Jesus follows the Greenfield family through the poorest neighborhoods of North America all the way to Cambodian slums. Greenfield points the reader to the subversive love and acts of Jesus while showing what this may look like in the modern day. He invites the reader to love one another in ways that might seem unsafe, weird, or unconventional.

Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World

by Kent Annan

Annan understands the patience and perseverance it takes to be part of God’s kingdom. He shares sustainable practices he’s learned over the years to love God’s kingdom, even as the progress seems painstakingly slow.

The Jesus of Suburbia: Have We Tamed the Son of God to Fit Our Lifestyle?

by Mike Erre

In Jesus of Suburbia, Erre argues that we have reduced Christianity to a set of rules and transformed Jesus into a predictable, safe steward of the American Dream. Erre shares how Jesus calls us to live, act, and be a neighbor in ways that overturn the status quo we so comfortably live in today.

The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon

Through a retelling of their church’s story, Pathak and Runyon share what it looks like when people choose to actively love their neighbors. The authors give real-life examples of how to build authentic, loving relationships with neighbors. Learn about the struggles, trials, and ultimately the joys that come out of neighboring relationships.

I hope at least of couple of these books piqued your interest. I’d love to discuss any or all of them with you if you decide to pick one up. Also, I should mention that we’ve included affiliate links in this post. So if you click through and choose to purchase any of these books through Amazon, a small portion of the proceeds will go to EIRO. There is no additional cost to you, and we thank you for your support!

Have you read any of these? What books would you add?

Partnerships Instead of Paternalism

by Ben Garrett

If I were to ask you to visualize an entrepreneur, what image springs to mind? Perhaps a slick suit, some new, exciting product, or a Silicon Valley start-up company? For me, the image that comes to mind is a man in a Chicago Bulls t-shirt and red basketball shorts who gently placed a white card and black woven bracelet on my table at Starbucks.

The white card - no bigger than a standard business card - read, “Hello, I’m deaf. Forgive me for bothering you, but I am selling this bracelet to earn a living and support my family. Will you kindly buy one for a $5 donation? Thank you. God bless you.” I immediately began rummaging through my wallet, and even though I could only locate four bucks, he smiled, pointed to the cash, and gave me a thumbs up.

This man demonstrated an array of savvy business skills. He made a product with mass appeal. He went to a location where he would have a receptive audience with disposable income. In fact, his marketing instincts were so good that every person around me purchased one of his bracelets. I suspect he knows exactly how much it costs to produce each bracelet and how many he needs to sell in order to meet his financial goals. This man is an entrepreneur.

Let’s zoom out from this exchange for a second. In many social circles and traditional non-profit settings, this man might be viewed as “poor,” or at least someone in need of help. But what if we thought about “the poor” from a different perspective? Rather than seeing those who are experiencing material poverty as people with needs, what if we saw them as entrepreneurs who simply lacked startup resources? What if what “the poor” need is not a donation, but rather an investment?

This way of thinking has already produced amazing results in other countries through the micro-lending movement. Hope International is one organization that is helping to create entrepreneurs by offering micro-finance loans.

At EIRO, we strive to see and work with all people based not on what they need, but rather on their strengths. This is one way we move from paternalism to partnership. Are there places where you have seen this way of thinking at work? Do you know a church or non-profit that could benefit from this paradigm shift? Let us know. We’d love to begin a conversation with your local church or nonprofit about how to see people as entrepreneurs and move from a mindset of paternalism to partnerships.

The Power of Teamwork

by Holly Duncan

If you’ve ever watched Remember the Titans (or most any “sportsing”* movie, for that matter), you witness the power of teamwork. How a group of guys from vastly different backgrounds and unique motivations come together to accomplish a collective goal. In Remember the Titans, the barrier of race threatens to keep the team separated, but it becomes evident no one will succeed if everyone is pursuing their own individual goals.

At EIRO, we do absolutely zero football drills, but we do believe wholeheartedly in the exponential power of teamwork and collaboration. In fact, the very name EIRO itself means “to join.” We connect church leaders in Tucker to one another and to partners in local business, civics, and education. We are committed to fostering these valuable connections to build a stronger community for all.

We saw our city rally and respond to local sex trafficking and homelessness in 2016, and it was incredible to witness. Outreach pastor Cliff Gates has a passion to eradicate sex trafficking and a desire to see the Church come alongside victims of this difficult social issue. EIRO was glad “to join” God’s work through Cliff by recruiting more church leaders and adding capacity to the collective efforts through vision and strategy consulting, communications assistance, meeting coordination, and resource identification.

The church community of Tucker responded in beautiful and meaningful ways. First, pastors stepped up to the pulpit and made their congregations aware of the often-hidden realities in their midst. EIRO helped to identify useful educational resources for pastors. In addition, congregations working together collected over 800 bags of personal hygiene and snack items for local sex-trafficking victims, Tucker High School students, and other neighbors experiencing homelessness. These supplies were delivered to motel managers trained to identify sex trafficking victims, school counselors, and the Tucker police precinct.

We can do more together.

And in 2017, we plan to do even more together! EIRO is working to launch the Tucker Collective, a pilot cohort of local churches who will benefit from a mix of standard and customized services EIRO has to offer. They will essentially share an outreach team:

  • utilizing EIRO’s ability to identify and connect local resources across business, civics, and education networks

  • accessing a robust national network of Christian community development practitioners and theological academics

  • receiving a wide variety of spiritual formation and volunteer opportunities for church members to engage in long-term, transformational ministry.

EIRO’s mission is to invite and assist the Church to join the flourishing of its community. We know we all come from unique and personal backgrounds, but we believe we can accomplish more for city and the Kingdom of God when we work together as a team. Left side! Strong side!

P.S. If you’d like to support our team in 2017, we invite you to give here. Thank you!

And if you'd like a fun look at "sportsing," this is for you!

What Does A Gift To EIRO Provide?

by Holly Duncan

At EIRO, we believe the best way to see a community flourish is by partnering together and listening to one another. One of the ways EIRO has helped churches partner with our community over the past three years is through RISE, a peer-mentoring program at Tucker High School.

Adult volunteers, including members from local churches, meet regularly with upperclass students to provide training and support. In turn, these juniors and seniors walk alongside their underclass peers, students identified by the school as needing extra support. For an hour and a half each week, adult volunteers build relationships with these “Leaders” and “Achievers,” helping them reach self-determined academic and personal goals and developing key assets to bolster their success.

EIRO has always believed in the value of this program and its impact on the students, but we were encouraged when the Georgia Department of Education recently released data showing the graduation rate in the DeKalb County School District (where Tucker High School is located) has improved over 10 percent since 2013 when RISE began. Tucker High’s graduation rate is currently at 90.4%, a 3.5 percentage point gain, and one of only nine schools with rates above the state average. This is a huge boost for our community!

We know RISE is not solely responsible, but THS Principal James Jackson appreciates the support, “EIRO has played an important part in our success. We’re grateful for RISE and its support from the community.” EIRO is grateful for all the administrators, teachers, staff, and volunteers who have invested in our local students and their education. As we conducted our extensive community listen project earlier this year, one of the re-emerging themes and opportunities for improvement has been education.

Parents, community leaders, administrators, and neighbors all agreed that supporting our schools is an immediate and long term need. R. Stephen Green, the DeKalb County School District Superintendent recently told local news sources, There is much more that needs to be done, but we have the right formula of motivating the students, involving parents, supporting teachers and reaching out to the community.”

And EIRO is grateful to participate in the positive changes in our schools and city. We are hopeful the RISE program can continue to be part of ongoing improvement at Tucker High School.

As we look toward 2017, we’re excited about the programs and projects we have planned to keep connecting churches and our community. And we will continue to listen and partner with our neighbors. We are glad to be a bridge between listening to community needs and bringing together partners to respond.

But we need your help. What does a gift to EIRO provide? When you give toward EIRO, you are helping to bring people together to join community flourishing. Would you consider a year end gift to EIRO to help us continue this transforming work? Thank you so much!

The Christmas Escape

by Holly Duncan

The young family lives in a sparsely furnished apartment. A few pieces of well-loved, hand-me-down furniture inhabit the room, and some snapshots on the wall from last year’s carnival photo booth complete the decor.

Arriving home from work in a mad rush of energy, the father hurriedly tells his wife to grab anything she wants to keep and stuff it in a bag. “They know,” he says ominously, “and they’re coming.”

His wife turns to the nursery where her baby son sleeps. Not too long ago, they were hosting guests who’d come to visit the baby. She grabs the diapers in the drawer, a few outfits, and a warm blanket. She picks him up, and on her way out the door, she grabs fruit and half a loaf of bread from the counter in the kitchen.

The family pushes out into the cold night on a desperate journey to cross the border and escape their dangerous situation. Still, they know the risks of the roads they must take, which are home to robbers hiding in the shadows. In the morning they will be on safer roads, but even those are patrolled by soldiers.

There is no money for meals or hotels along the way. Mary, Joseph, and the baby must rely on the hospitality of strangers and the strength of their faith. They have become homeless refugees.

“Mary has been driven out of her home, forced to leave behind her dream of returning to her home in Nazareth, her parents, family, lifelong friends, the community of women she talks with daily at the well. Her entire life style and support system are gone. What would you like to say to her?”

This post includes quotes and paraphrasing from the book Praying with Mary by Mary Ford-Grabowsky (pgs 44-45).

Pop-up Lab: Learning to Be A Good Neighbor

This month, we hosted our first ever Pop-up Lab. It was an opportunity for pastors, church leaders, as well as non-profit and business leaders to gather together. Our theme for the evening was learning how to show hospitality to our neighbors, specifically new neighbors from around the world and those experiencing homelessness. Through some improv activities, a shared meal with conversation, and a group prayer exercise our group explored what being a good neighbor looks like.

During our dinner conversation we shared stories of our attempts to help our neighbors who experience homelessness, and we expressed over and over again our dissatisfaction with those attempts. Our individual efforts seemed so small when held up against the complexities of our neighbors’ lives and the enormity of the systematic problems which provide the context for our attempts to help.

When we meet our neighbor we must confront our own limits, stereotypes, and ultimately our own brokenness. As we sat around the table, I was surprised by how many community leaders and pastors expressed a similar emotion when working with neighbors: guilt. It is too easy to let guilt shape our response and reaction. We can get paralyzed by our guilt or we can learn to acknowledge it and accept our own feelings of brokenness.

It is in these moments when we feel inadequate that we encounter the Enemy at his finest. The Accuser speaks to us and says, “How selfish of you to feel bad. How selfish of you to let your own brokenness get in the way of helping.” We hear this lie, and we keep it to ourselves. Instead of sharing the burden with our brothers and sisters, we try to ignore it and pretend we don’t hurt. We are afraid others will join in with our accuser.

During our evening together, many of our participants shared their own feelings of guilt and brokenness with me. They were allowing me to see a part of themselves that does not have very many places to appear. It was a holy moment.

Holly, EIRO’s executive director, shared a quote with me from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Strangers At My Door“You are not here to fix a problem called homelessness. You are here to open yourself to a mystery you do not understand.” This was a timely reminder for me.

Our guilt often comes from the mistaken belief that we are to fix or save our neighbors. This simply is not our job. We cannot be responsible for our neighbor, but we can be responsible to them. We often cannot fix our neighbors’ difficulties or remove them from hard situations, but we can listen to their stories and get to know them. Perhaps the greatest thing we have to offer is opening ourselves up to the mystery of getting to know another human being. When we begin building this relationship with our neighbor we also begin learning the shared gifts we bring each other.

Unconventional Thanksgiving

by Holly Duncan

scary movie.jpeg

It was the middle of the night when I woke up to an unfamiliar scratching sound. Gallantly, I got up to investigate the situation. (I’m not sure what I was thinking. Have I never seen a horror movie?!?) I quickly discovered something trapped inside my kitchen cabinet, clawing to get out. Having reached the end of my bravery, I yelled for my hibernating husband, startling both the mouse and the man. The mouse scurried away as the man scooted sleepily down the hall into the kitchen.

In retrospect, I should have known then it was going to be a rough day. Any experience that includes mice is planted squarely in my mental registry of “Days I would Rather Not Repeat.” But crisis averted, we both returned to sleep.

A few short hours later, phase two of my adventure began. After dragging myself out of bed and sharing a few fleeting moments with hubby before he left for work, I rallied the kids into the car for school. However, once we were all in and ready to go, the car wouldn't start. The battery was completely dead, the neighbors weren’t home, the roadside service was an hour away, and an anxious ten year old was developing an ulcer about being late for safety patrol. 


So I did what any middle class, overly ambitious, feminist wannabe mom of two boys would do: I decided we could walk to school.

As it turned out, I did not consider this plan thoroughly. In order to “save time,” I routed my two elementary age boys through a field of wet grass and a “shortcut” through the woods. We traversed the brambles and ditches, and I only fell into a hole once. In my defense, it was covered with leaves. (Thankfully no mice or other creatures got me!)

Eventually, we found our way through the woods and back to the main road, where we were greeted by whizzing cars. Having dropped my sense of adventure back in the hole in the woods, my optimistic playfulness with my kids was replaced with nervous scolding, “Stay close to me…get away from the curb…pay attention!”

As we trudged along the unpaved side of the road, my thoughts snaked between keeping my own unsuspecting children away from the traffic and the untold numbers of mothers who have attempted to safeguard their own precious babies from danger. I thought of the many people who might be setting out that morning on similar journeys following slight trails, attempting to make their way to school or work or somewhere unknown. My thoughts of, “I hope I never have to do this again,” bumped up next to the simultaneous thought, “This is the daily reality for millions of people around the world.” 

Actually, this is a daily reality for 21.3 million people

Later that afternoon, I attended a presentation where church leaders and advocates shared about the work being done in our city to welcome refugees. World Relief Director of Church Mobilization and author of Seeking Refuge, Matthew Soerens discussed the important, biblical work of welcoming those who come to our door as Christ does (Matthew 25).

My own neighbors are Nepali refugees, and our family has had the blessing of coming to know and love and be loved by them. While I am indebted to God for their friendship and survival, I know nothing of their lived suffering. One day of inconvenience is enough to bring me to my knees.

I wouldn’t normally thank God for a mouse in my kitchen or a dead car battery. I certainly wouldn’t offer gratitude for traipsing my kids through wet fields, thorny forests, and dangerous roads. However, on this day, I’m giving thanks. Thankful yes, that this is not my normal experience, and for the increased capacity for understanding - even just a tiny bit - of what might compel a parent to begin the arduous journey of leaving home. I hope that if I ever had to leave, someone would welcome me.

  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.     For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,     I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’" - Matthew 25: 34-36

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’" - Matthew 25: 34-36

Lord God, our celestial parent, grow our compassion - the willingness to suffer alongside - mothers and fathers and children fleeing home. Give us a holy hospitality to welcome them as your own body and blood. For the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

To learn more about how your church can join God in welcoming refugees check out:





Listening Well During Seasons of Transition

by Holly Duncan

How to differentiate between change and transition? Change is often immediate, easily measurable, and quantifiable. Transition, however, is fluid and reflects an ongoing process of learning and listening. EIRO, along with the city of Tucker, has been in a season of transition, and we have been making space to learn and listen along the way.

Earlier this year, Tucker became an official, incorporated city. Prior to that, and unbeknownst to many residents, we were technically a Census Designated Place within unincorporated DeKalb County. But as of July 1st, Tucker is an official city, and its transition of city leadership and community members has been quite a ride!

Similarly, EIRO has been in a season of transition. In July 2015, Shawn began contracting with FCS to consult and teach, and in March of this year he was named their new Director of Training and Consulting. This unexpected opportunity is allowing Shawn to excel at his strongest gifts and spread the message of healthy community engagement to a national audience. It is also allowing EIRO to double down on its mission of catalyzing healthy church-community partnerships through deep listening and deliberate response.

In early 2016, EIRO began a Community Listening Project in Tucker. Our hope was to listen broadly to our neighbors and a variety of local stakeholders. Through 1:1 meetings, online surveys, and community forums we asked questions, paid attention to the answers, and took notice of themes. We learned that God is actively working in Tucker. There are many opportunities for churches to join God at work here, and people are eager to see EIRO continue helping churches connect with their neighbors!

One area of interest that emerged time and time again was a desire for strong schools. As we heard this concern, we began to identify ways to respond. We’re excited to help local churches join with educators to address students’ challenges and celebrate successes. One immediate way we’ve been able to support a local school is the development a leveled library to meet kids’ diverse needs and reading levels. This new tool will help teachers boost literacy for all students, and we’re glad to get volunteers involved to make a difference.

EIRO is exploring additional ways local churches can support strong local schools by relaunching Young Scholars and multiplying a student banking program. Young Scholars utilizes local volunteers to close literacy gaps for early elementary students, and student banking teaches kids in age-appropriate ways about banking and finances. We’re excited about these opportunities to help churches join schools in our city.  

We have also added to our own team! Ben Garrett joined EIRO in September with a Masters of Divinity from University of Chicago and a passion for community development. Before joining EIRO, Ben consulted for the University of Chicago's Community Programs Accelerator and at Pilgrim Development Corporation on Chicago's West Side. Ben is originally from Marietta, where he and his wife, Candra, now live.

Though change can happen quickly, transition is often a slower process by nature. We are encouraged by all we have learned through our Community Listening Project. And we are excited about the ways it will transform and impact our work going forward. Thank you to all who continually support us in this work of being good neighbors in Tucker. To new friends, we invite you to consider joining EIRO today. We are grateful for your prayers and donations. Thank you!