Community Development

An Injustice in Camden

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Camden, N.J., is now the most impoverished city in the U.S. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

I recently heard that the state of New Jersey plans to evict the Camden Children's Garden from its 14-year-old home. 

I don't know if you know much about Camden, N.J., but it's one of the cities in our country that wrestles with a myriad of social issues. There are a number of incredible people there that work tirelessly to improve the living and social conditions. Mission Year has spent a number of years living and working beside neighbors and friends in this city. The people there are very committed to things like improving housing, education, and tackling food desert issues, and they have very little resources with which to work.

Community Builder and Footballer: Amani Matabaro

Amani Matabaro

Amani Matabaro

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” –  Etty Hillesum, Dutch diarist who died at Auschwitz

The social fabric that wove together Amani’s moral values and passion for peace is the target of rebel groups that destabilize and destroy communities. Amani grew up playing football and attending school and church in an area that has been chronically unstable for the past 16 years.

Despite the threat, Amani learned within his local structures the power of community in overcoming insecurity—the hub for gaining moral and intellectual values “to make every effort to come together and live as a community.”

Congo is still suffering from the overspill of the Rwandan genocide, the aftermath of which took the lives of both of Amani’s parents. Rebel groups roam the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo and seek to unravel the very social fabric of Amani’s community.

Taking heart from the moral lessons he gained from playing football with his school and through his education, Amani decided to overcome the insecurity caused but he rebels by bringing people together by providing a peace market—a community nucleus for women, children, and men to gather in a safe, empowered, and peaceful environment to care for one another.

Helping Churches Die Right

Collapsed church, Pattie Steib / Shutterstock.com

Collapsed church, Pattie Steib / Shutterstock.com

I was having lunch with another couple in ministry that shared a disturbing story with us. The problem isn’t so much in the uniqueness of the story they told, but rather in how incredibly common it is.

The couple had connections to a congregations several hours away that is located in the heart of a thriving urban center. The aging congregation was down to only 40 regular attendees and had released all of their paid staff, opting instead for volunteers to lead worship for them when they could secure them.

Meanwhile, they gathered in a building, valued at roughly $9 million, which they could not afford to maintain.

This church, like so many others, seeks answers to questions about how to survive in an increasingly secular, disparate, and religiously wary culture. Their hope, like plenty of other churches, is that something or someone will come along to save them, keep the institution going and propel them into the future for another century.

Oh, as long as they don’t have to change.

Subscribe