November 19th, 2009 at 1:32 pm
DALLAS – Local churches are taking notice of the 5,800 homeless people and the 89 percent of Dallas high school seniors who are not college or career ready when they graduate. Believers and churches across denominations and backgrounds are refusing to turn a blind eye anymore to these issues and are setting aside differences to follow God’s command to help the least of these. And they are doing it through the Justice Revival.
The Justice Revival is a faith-based event attempting to unite Christians across denominational lines to mobilize churches to improve public schools and end chronic homelessness through creating permanent supportive housing. The three-day conference Nov. 10-12 held at the Dallas Market Hall aimed to energize and mobilize churches to make a lasting change in the city.
“Justice revivals are meant to give a boost to a local city – not for us to bring in our national agenda but to encourage local churches in issues in their area,” said Aaron Graham, national field organizer and Justice Revival coordinator with Sojourners, the national organization articulating the biblical call to social justice and the driving force for Justice Revivals. “We want to mobilize and equip the church to do the job of justice and social service in society. We pray that people will go beyond a charity mindset and that we would work towards social justice and get to the root causes of why people are homeless and are failing at school.”
The local issues identified by a team of more than 200 Dallas churches and city leaders was a need for church support in public education and for 700 units of permanent supportive housing for the men and women labeled chronically homeless. One church that has already put this into action is Holy Communion Baptist Church in South Dallas. In the two and a half years of its existence, the church has become heavily involved in the local elementary school in tutoring and has opened Diamonds of Dallas, a permanent supportive housing facility to help homeless men in Dallas.
“Permanent living is not that you support them the rest of their life,” said Micah Phillips, pastor of Holy Communion Baptist Church. “It is permanent for a time. These people need permanent support until they can become independent.” This type of housing will offer services to bring up people in society by giving them dignity, job and life skills and any other training and support needed to help them become self sufficient over a period of time, Phillips said.
Through Diamonds of Dallas, homeless men are offered a place to stay within the church facility and then sent through a six-month job training and life skills program, preparing them step-by-step to gain vision, dignity and self sufficiency.
“Through this, I want people to see the love of Christ that creates energy and hope,” Phillips said. “That helps them do better, and they begin to pull themselves up by their own boot straps and get back on their feet.” Phillips said the first step to making a difference in the community and to offering permanent supportive housing is to be in the community, be with the people and learn to love them.
“We need to get congregations to see that it is ok to move outside the walls of the church,” Phillips said. “We need to teach disciples about loving outside the walls of the church, to be receptive to people who don’t smell like them, dress like them, talk with them, act like them. This is what Jesus has called us to do.”
Phillips and his church have also impacted their community by taking on education needs in the local schools through tutoring and mentoring programs. The church also hosts an after school program two days a week where children can come to the church for help with homework and to find a safe, encouraging environment.
For other churches to begin relationships with schools, Phillips said pastors need to take time out of their busy schedules to be present in the schools, to be available to help the principals, teachers and students there.
“If pastors will go into the schools, meet the principal, walk the hallways and meet the kids, they will build relationships and open doors,” Phillips said. “Principals can’t request us to come in, but they can’t stop us from coming in. They will appreciate the help we can give.”
For Gus Reyes, director of Texas Baptists Affinity Ministries and Hispanic Education Initiative, church partnerships with schools are a must.
“It is plain and simple, especially in the Hispanic environment,” Reyes said. “In many countries, the government isn’t seen as a safe place and schools are run by the government.
“So when these families come here from Spanish-speaking countries, they may not trust the schools. But when the church connects to the local school, they are opening the door because churches are seen as a safe place. They build a bridge to schools and that builds a bridge to the community.”
To help churches get an idea of how they can partner with schools and communities, the Justice Revival sponsored a Day of Action on Nov. 14. More than 1,000 people signed-up to volunteer and help with 10 ministry projects in local schools and five low income neighborhoods on that day.
“Historians say that spiritual activity can’t be called a revival until it has changed something in society,” said Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourners. “This just isn’t about tonight. It is about coming together to create 25 school partnerships and 700 permanent units of housing. It’s a revival to make a difference in Dallas.”
The event was sponsored Sojourners, the Foundation for Community Empowerment, World Vision, Dallas Baptist University, Twenty Ten Mission, Faith and Philanthropy and Texas Baptists as well as many churches from various denominations in the area.