Modern Day Revolutionaries Part I--Christian Community Development

As a crucial part of my journey in reconciling faith with justice, I have had the privilege of getting to know many individuals and organizations—modern day revolutionaries--who live out the biblical call to justice in a radical way.  They shatter all the negative stereotypes of Christianity that we’ve discussed in previous chapters by the way they live their lives for Jesus.  They are “hidden heroes” of the faith because few people know about them outside of their specific spheres of ministry influence.  True to the famous poem by Gil Scott-Heron, this Revolution “has not been televised.”

The main goal of these next two blog posts is to introduce you to some of these heroes of the faith (There are undoubtedly many more out there, and I apologize in advance to my brothers and sisters who have been left out of my brief discussion here.  With your help, one of my hopes is to greatly expand this list in the future).

Another goal is to bring the topic of justice and God’s love for the poor out of the abstract and into the practical.   I hope that one, or many, of these organizations might grab your attention, and that you can get plugged in with them and start serving!  I’ve grouped these “heroes of the faith” below by subject matter and organization.

Christian Community Development and the CCDA

Are you interested in serving the poor on a local level?  Are you interested in community development?  Would you enjoy mentoring inner city youth and helping bring jobs and affordable housing to urban communities?  Could you see yourself practicing law or medicine in a community of need?  Are you interested in gang intervention work?  If you said yes to any of these questions, then Christian Community Development is for you!

The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) is an amazing organization representing thousands of inner city Christian ministries in the United States and abroad.  CCDA ministries are involved in every type of community development work that you can imagine—education, housing, alleviating homelessness, public health, law, advocacy for undocumented immigrants, microfinance, and on and on and on.  The CCDA will blow your mind.  The CCDA was founded by amazing African-American community development and civil rights pioneer John Perkins.  It’s now led by a Chicano and Chicagoan--Noel Castellanos.

Here is a description of the CCDA taken from their website:

The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) is a network of Christians committed to seeing people and communities “wholistically” restored.  We believe that God wants to restore us not only to right relationship with Himself but also with our own true selves, our families and our communities.  Not just spiritually, but emotionally, physically, economically, and socially. Not by offering mercy alone, but by undergirding mercy with justice.

To this end, we follow Jesus's example of reconciliation. We go where the brokenness is. We live among the people in some of America's neediest neighborhoods. We become one with our neighbors until there is no longer an "us" and "them" but only a "we." And, in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, "we work and pray for the well-being of our city [or neighborhood]," trusting that if the entire community does well and prospers, then we will prosper also.

Stated succinctly, the vision of the CCDA is:

“Wholistically” restored communities with Christians fully engaged in the process of transformation.

Their mission is: 

 “To inspire, train, and connect Christians who seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities.”

         Christian community development is an entire culture and community of Jesus followers who live in inner cities throughout the world and love the poor.  They become part of the communities in which they live and resist the “ride in on a white horse” mentality of many organizations.  Instead, they choose to learn from their neighbors, come along side the good work that God is already doing in urban communities, and foster “indigenous leadership” from the community itself.

         An entire CCDA literature has developed over the years, and CCDA pioneers like John Perkins, Bob Lupton, and Ray Bakke have authored numerous books about inner city ministry and the philosophy behind Christian community development.  There are literally hundreds of wonderful books about Christian Community Development to read and learn from.   We’ve assembled a list of good CCDA reads for you in Appendix II.

         My favorite part of the CCDA is their annual conference.  Every year the CCDA descends upon a major U.S. city and has a huge gathering involving thousands of participants from throughout the country (and world) and top-notch speakers.  In addition to the amazing plenary sessions, they have dozens of smaller break-out sessions where you can learn about all the cutting-edge ministry that is going on related to law, housing, education, medicine, immigration…you name it.   I encourage every reader of this book to go to at least one CCDA conference.  It will blow you away! 

Did I make you interested? Check out the CCDA!

Urban Youth Workers:   The S.A.Y. Yes! Centers for Youth Development and the UYWI

Urban youth ministry is a central component of Christian community development.  All throughout the country, thousands of followers of Christ live in inner city communities and mentor youth as part of church youth groups and after-school programs.  From first-hand experience, I know that the lives of thousands of kids are transformed every year because of the dedication and service of thousands of urban youth workers.  My wife was one of them.  For more than 15 years she lived and served in South L.A. as part of the “S.A.Y. Yes! Centers for Youth Development (now, Cru YouthDev). (  I’m proud to say that she was also one of the founding team members for this organization which now has hundreds of affiliates throughout the U.S. and even in India and Latin America (She’ll never tell you this but its my God-given responsibility as her husband to do so!).  

         S.A.Y. Yes is a program of an urban ministry called Here’s Life Inner City (HLIC, now known as the Inner City Ministry of Cru) which has branches throughout the country.  As part of S.A.Y. Yes, HLIC partners with inner city churches to start after school programs.   Here’s a description of S.A.Y. Yes taken from their website: In many inner-city neighborhoods, Christians are feeling a need to open the doors of their churches during the after school hours, and to minister to children and teens during this time of day when many are unsupervised and vulnerable to getting into trouble. The S.A.Y. Yes! program of HLIC is designed to minister to the wholistic needs of young people: physical, spiritual, emotional, social and intellectual. Here's Life Inner City offers specialized training, curriculum, and other forms of assistance.

My favorite S.A.Y. Yes centers are the ones sponsored by the Nehemiah House in the Pico Union District of Los Angeles (, Central City Church in the heart of L.A.’s Skid Row (, Westside Vineyard in Los Angeles (,

and the Agape Center in Chicago (

The S.A.Y. Yes Centers for Youth Development, or Cru YouthDev, are only one of many types of similar Christian urban youth programs throughout the country.  Examples of others include, the Harambee Center and School in Pasadena (,“La Villita” in Chicago (, and Kidworks in Santa Ana (

Urban youth workers are connected not only by the CCDA, but also by a fantastic organization called the Urban Youth Workers Institute.  The UYWI was founded by Latino community development pioneer Larry Acosta, and it’s a sister organization to the CCDA.  It is kind of like CCDA’s “cool younger brother.”  The UYWI provides workshops, trainings, and resources for urban youth workers throughout the United States.  Here is their mission, vision, and statement of values:

MISSION: For urban youth to have the leaders and role models they need to live transformed live by the Gospel of Jesus Christ

VISION: To train urban leaders with a priority in 250 of America’s at-risk zip codes by 2015.

VALUES: Christ-centered, Holistic, Relational, Multi-ethnic, Collaborative, Relevant

As their name implies, the UYWI is on the frontlines of urban youth work in American.  Check them out!

Soccer for Social Change and Compton United

One innovative approach to youth development involves the use of soccer.   A close friend of mine, Mike Herman, has been on the forefront of soccer youth development through his organizations, Compton United and Soccer for Social Change.  These orgs use the sport of soccer to holistically mentor youth—spiritually, educationally, physically, and emotionally--and they have many amazing success stories!  For more info, see:

Hip Hop Youth Development: CryOut!

Another exciting niche among urban youth workers involves the use of Hip Hop as a tool for mentorship.  There are a number of great organizations which do this, but I’d like to spotlight one called “CryOut!”  CryOut! was begun by one of our former CSC students, Celestine Ezinkwo, together with his wife Tara.  “CryOut! exists to develop youth leaders who live freely and pursue justice for those who are oppressed in their communities, their cities and the world. We use creative platforms such as music, dance, arts and workshops focused on life and creative skills to empower the youth.” For more info, see:

For a great read on the relationship between Christianity and hip hop, check out: Jesus & the Hip-Hop Prophets: Spiritual Insights from Lauryn Hill and 2Pac by John Teter and Alex Gee. InterVarsity Press. 2003.

For some good hip hop, give a listen to one of some our former CSC students:

Jon Serrins:



Here’s Life Inner City (HLIC), Servant Partners, Mission Waco, and Metro Community Development Corporation, Lighthouse Community Outreach

HLIC (now known as Inner City Ministry of Cru) and Servant Partners are two fantastic organizations which promote Christian community development in the United States and throughout the globe.  HLIC is a nation-wide Christian community development organization which partners with urban churches to bring holistic change to inner city communities.  They have branches in NYC, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities.  My wife lived in South L.A. and worked with HLIC for 15 years.   HLIC is the urban ministry of Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ).

Servant Partners is another wonderful Christian organization which focuses upon community development and church planting.  I love their name.  I think their name captures what true Christian urban ministry is all about.  As followers of Jesus, we don’t “parachute” into communities of need as outside saviors.  No, we humbly “partner” with the indigenous leaders of urban communities and are there to “serve.”   Servant Partners has branches in Los Angeles and San Antonio, but also in a variety of global locations such as Bangkok, Thailand, Johannesburg, South Africa, Mexico City, Mexico, North Africa, and the Middle East.  Servant Partners shares close ties to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Mission Waco is a fabulous organization in Waco, Texas led by Jimmy and Janet Dorrell.  Mission Waco does all manner of community development work in Texas and abroad.  They are known especially for creating “the Poverty Simulation,” where participants learn about God’s love for the poor by simulating being homeless for several days.  I’ve done the poverty simulation  a couple of times in Los Angeles and it’s life-changing!

Metro Community Development Corp. is an amazing Christian community development organization dedicated to loving and serving the City of Compton.  It’s led by our close friends Bob and Susan Combs, and Mike and Tonya Herman.  Here’s their mission:

“We believe God is in the midst of rebirthing Compton into a new city. Our mission is to be a part of His work, employing whole-life discipleship, asset-based community development, and “business as mission” (to empower individuals, build families, and strengthen neighborhoods).

A unique aspect of the Metro CDC is its use of business as a strategic tool to help transform the city.  As examples of their innovative approach to ministry, Metro CDC sells used cars, mentors youth through the construction trade (they are remodeling my kitchen as we speak!), and is currently creating the only urban community garden in South L.A.  For more info, see:

I also wanted to give a shout-out to Pastor Greg Bynum and the Lighthouse Community Outreach in Watts.  Pastor Greg and staff have been doing amazing community development for 15 years—with much effect but not much recognition.  He left a comfortable job as an engineer to become part of Watts and to love the community. That’s what it’s all about.

Is your interest piqued in Christian Community Development? Get involved with one of these amazing orgs!

Thankful for God's hidden heroes,



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