Churches Can Help With Job Training, Local Commerce, and Micro-Enterprise
A community will not survive if its people cannot work. Neighborhood job training, commerce and micro-enterprising are vital to stimulate economic growth. For many an automobile is not an option. Besides the initial cost of buying a car, one has to have insurance, pay for repairs and gas and in the cities there are exorbitant parking expenses. At the same time, many neighborhoods are not convenient to mass transit. By creating jobs near people’s homes or work that can be done from their home, the hindrance of transportation can be overcome. An advantage to providing jobs in the neighborhood is that it keeps money circulating in the neighborhood. Bob Lupton, in his book Return Flight, gives an illustration of this concept.
A young man enters our Family Store. He heads straight for the rack where men’s used shirts are merchandised. In a few minutes he brings a warm wool shirt to the cash register and presents a dollar to the cashier. A transaction occurs. He slips on the shirt and walks out into the crisp morning air, quite unaware of the chain reaction he has just set off.
Keep your eye on the dollar that has just been exchanged. It will soon be removed from the cash register, deposited in the bank as reissued as part of a paycheck to Betty, a management trainee in the store. Follow it as it is carried to the Home Resource Center, where Betty exchanges it for a used crib for her new grandson. Into another cash register and out again – this time in a paycheck to Lonnie, who is learning retail operations at the center. On to Park Pointe Community Grocery (our nonprofit food store), where Lonnie purchases a supply of groceries. It turns over again. Another paycheck. Untrell takes it home to assist his mother to make her house payment on an interest-free loan for the home a suburban church has built for them. Their payment will help purchase a piece of land to build another home for another family in the community.
A dollar–a simple medium of exchange. Passing through the hands of four, five, six or more people in the same inner-city community. And with every transaction comes a flicker of new economic life A dollar has turned, and in one community the powerless have made choices, the jobless have worked, the ill-housed have become homeowners. The creative force of exchange rightly done causes a cumulative economic rise that enhances the entire community.
Consider another scenario. The same young man on a cold January morning is given a warm wool shirt. The donor is compassionate, but there is no exchange. It is a single, one-way gift. No creative economic spark to benefit others in the community. End of scenario.
Neighborhood businesses provide income to those living in the neighborhood. These people, via their purchases, support the local shops. The process is cyclical, and can work to the entire neighborhood’s betterment. Many of the suburbs work in this fashion. How many of us, when we were old enough, worked at stores in our community? How many of us have encouraged our children to do the same? Many teenagers and single, working mothers need only travel to the nearest shopping center or local business for employment.
Pastor Jim Holley of Little Rock Baptist Church in Detroit had nothing but blight surrounding his church property. Highland Park has been very depressed with abandoned buildings, boarded up store fronts and distraught neighborhoods. Instead of becoming discouraged he saw an opportunity to make a difference. Pastor Holley had a dream to rebuild the area and help the people of his church at the same time. He wanted to improve the financial health of the people in his church and at the same time make the neighborhood more appealing to middle income families.
The first thing Little Rock Baptist Church did was to start a for-profit business to raise money for a foundation. The second was to start an investment club for people in the church. The profit-making company, Country Preacher Foods, distributes food and paper products. In 2002 it grossed $5,000,000. The profit goes toward college scholarships. The investment club receives $100 a month from each member, and since 1998 has invested in the stock market. In 2001 they thought they could outperform the market by starting their own business opportunities. They invested in a strip mall and are in negotiation for a second one. They partnered with a development company and now the strip mall has China One Chinese Food, Domino Pizza, Dollars Days and Subway owned by the members. This helps create jobs for people in the church and neighborhood, gives people places to shop and eat in their own neighborhood, and makes the whole area more appealing to other potential businesses. They are also building homes valued at $120,000 – $150,000. This will produce mixed-income housing and hopefully ignite more market-value homes and commerce into the community. The Detroit News quoted Rev. Holley on his philosophy of building this shopping center. He said in the September 19, 2001 issue, “Churches will build a $20,000,000 facility to worship in one day a week, when you can take that money and create an industry six days a week.”
Clearly, many neighborhoods are without community shopping and business districts. In these situations, micro enterprising will give people a chance to work near home and keep money in the neighborhood.
Some people consider job training and microeconomics as a non-spiritual issue. Viv Grigg, in his classic book Companion to the Poor, challenges this kind of thinking.
I skipped over a mud puddle and saw Aling Cynthia was just ahead of me. I shouted out to her, ‘Where are you going?’
To work! And You?’ she replied.
‘The Doctor’, I said showing her my rash on my hands and feet that developed from bacteria in the polluted pump water. We walked and talked.
‘You know, Viv, you have no real problems,’ she said. ‘You have enough to live on,’ she continued. Since Mang Mario, her second husband, had a heart attack, everything has gone wrong.
‘You know how happy I used to be. Now I do not smile. For one year now, life has been so hard.’
I remembered Aling Cynthia as the enthusiastic member of a Bible study group a year before.
‘If only there was work,’ I said sadly.
We walked in the silence of sympathy. She knew that I knew she would be forced to go to prostitution to feed her three children.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘For one year now I have searched, but there are no jobs.’
As I listened, I felt as if my heart was falling apart. I thought back to a conversation with a young man in a church back home, who had asked, ‘Is it true you can just pray and God will provide jobs for people?’ I had answered, ‘Yes, I can pray and God will answer. His answer is you. You are to sell all your excess things, work hard and make enough money to give to developing work for these poor!’
‘Oh Cynthia,’ I said, ‘I will do all I can. You pray for me, too, that I can find some men who will set up industries here in the squatter areas. It is so hard.’
After this introduction Viv Grigg gives a stirring appeal for help.
There is a drum-beat beating in my head day after day, a beat that impels me forward into long hours of discipline and constant work. It is the cry of those saved from their sins, only to be entangled again by that same sin – by the tentacles of their poverty, drawing them down, down, down till they are totally lost to this earth.
We must work and direct our undivided energy and unflagging zeal to provide economic stability for these, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must avoid being so busy working among the slum people that we forget to deal with the problems of the slums themselves.
The biblical response to poverty caused by sin is to preach the gospel to the sinner, but the Biblical response to sin caused by poverty is to destroy the curse of poverty.
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