Today, Annie Allen and I commissioned 25 new Shalom Team members–from Camden, Montclair, Newark and Drew Theological School’s Working Group on Race–who together had completed their 30 hours of training in Asset-Based Community Development. The Commissioning Service took place at Thornely Chapel of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, Ocean Grove, NJ. Below is part one of my notes for the Shalom Inspiration I shared:
How long does it take to transform a community in the spirit of shalom?
There’s an old Sufi teaching story of the Watermelon Hunter which may shed some light on this question:
“Once upon a time there was a man who strayed from his own country into the Land of Fools. He saw a number of people running in fear from a field where they had been trying to harvest wheat. They reported to this man that there was a monster in the field. Upon closer observation, the traveler saw that it was only a watermelon. The traveler offered to kill this monster for them, and he cut the melon from the stalk and ate it. The people then became more afraid of him than of the monster and drove him away from their village.
It happened later that another man wandered into the Land of Fools, and the same thing began to take place. This man agreed, however, that it was a monster and led them tiptoeing away from it. He spent a long time with them and lived with them in their houses until he could slowly teach them the facts that would help them to lose their terror of melons. Eventually, they even grew melons for their own pleasure.” (Shah, 1970)
Seek the Shalom of the City where you have been sent, and remain there for 40 years (Jeremiah 29:7 ff)
We seek the shalom of the city by settling down and staying long enough to make a difference. In the words of our Credo of a Community Developer: “We go to the people and live among them. We listen to them, and learn from them. Plan with them and work with them. We start with what they know, and build on what they have…”
Systemic Change takes a long time. Incarnational ministry is required. Patience and listening to others are needed. Not the know-itll and I’ll- tell-you-what-you-should-do approach. Not acting unilaterally or arrogantly, but in community with humility.
Ask Wilbert Mitchel, Executive Director of Respond, Inc. in Camden, what is required and how long it takes to see real change in North Camden. He’s been at it now for 43 years! It takes a generation for transformation to take place. When I visited the North Camden site, Wilbert walked me around the neighborhood and showed me all the programs, the houses, the streets. But one particular street in the neighborhood stood out among the others. One particular street was lined with tall trees on both sides along the sidewalks. “Why is it,” I asked, “that this street block has nice tall trees, and the other blocks don’t have trees?”
Wilbert replied, “Because I planted those trees.”
“How long ago,” I asked.
“About 40 years ago.” He said.
I was amazed at how thick and tall the trees had grown in 40 years. “Can you remember when these big trees were just seedlings?” I asked him.
He said he could. “You mean, you can close your eyes in front of this tree and remember when this tree was just a seedling in your hands?” He shook his head.
“I got to take a picture of you and one of your trees,” I said. I want to remind myself of how long it takes to grow a tree and to see a change in community development.
“Seek the Shalom of the city, where I have sent you,” says the Lord. Stay there long enough to make a difference. It may take 40 years for the city to prosper. But if the city prospers, you too will prosper. In its shalom you will find you shalom.’