I sat down in my seat waiting with excitement for the Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) opening plenary session. We had driven six hours to Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend the annual conference. Former NFL player and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Leroy Barber, and CCDA CEO Noel Castellanos, were speaking opening night. As I waited with anticipation to hear from some of my favorite CCDA leaders, a man sat down next to me. He introduced himself and we began talking. I asked him what his story was and why he came to the conference this year. He told me he was a private business owner in Illinois who had a heart for his employees; he desired to see them thrive beyond a minimum wage job and get out of poverty. He shared with me that he experienced poverty and a pretty rough life as a child. He shared that he valued the investment others made in mentoring him and he wanted to give back to his employees. He said CCDA was such a refreshing time for him to come and learn from others and share his experience. He conveyed that one of his greatest desires was to walk alongside his employees with grace recognizing most of them just need an opportunity to flourish.
We listened intently as Leroy Barber passionately shared the beginning of Jeremiah 29. Often times, we think of Jeremiah 29 and immediately jump to verse eleven—of the inspiring verse where God tells us he has a plan for us, plans for us to prosper and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. It’s a really nice verse and nice to just think about and focus on the positive, but it is not the entirety of Jeremiah 29. The passage Leroy preached about— prospering and flourishing — did not include verse 11. He shared the narrative of Jerusalem in the context of having just lost a war to Babylon and becoming an enslaved, exiled people. They were tired, poor, hurting, they were forced to walk over a thousand miles into Babylon, while experiencing the trauma of losing possessions and loved ones along the way. They were stripped of dignity; they were stripped of their home and land. Some would say that they deserved it because of their disobedience; they deserved to suffer, that what goes around comes around. Mr. Barber preached that their story of living in these tired, broken places is where flourishing begins.
At The Restoration House, our story is rooted in these tired places. We have learned that flourishing doesn’t always happen the way we expect it, in our lives and in the lives of those we walk alongside. Leroy preached that Jeremiah 29 tells us to build our homes, to create gardens, essentially to dig in and live in this exile, in this tired place. He said, “You’re gonna’ be here a while, but the narrative will last—-you gotta’ work through this thing, but you will get to flourishing.” It is through the struggle: the abuse we experienced as a child, the rape we experienced as an adult, the looks and stares we have gotten as we wake up in our car with our kids because it is the only place we can go. It is in the continual loss of others’ support we experience because we did not do something according to the way they thought we should do it. It is in the walking alongside others and recognizing we are both in the same place; we are both suffering and we are both struggling. In this honest and vulnerable place of struggle and pain, The Restoration House sees flourishing begin to happen. Together with single moms, we choose to dig in and take courage to plant ourselves in the midst of struggle. We realize that we can find and share the power to get through this together.
Mark, the man who sat next to me, looked over and smiled at the end of Leroy’s preaching. His look told me that that was his story: struggling, flourishing, and walking alongside with others in struggle again. It is the same as our story at TRH: whether it is through one single mom reaching out to another, a staff member sharing their story of struggle, or walking alongside families through mentoring. Mr. Barber said that flourishing does not always happen the way we expect; it is not easy but it is possible.
CCDA is a national organization whose vision is to see, “holistically restored communities with Christians fully engaged in the process of transformation.” You can download and listen to Leroy Barber’s full sermon here.