October 15 - 21, 2007
Here is an archive column from 2004.
Ever live by faith and trust in God alone -- really live it? Last week in Chicago I met an organization full of people Chicago who spend every moment that way. And it helps explain how, in a world where nonprofits come and go, Bethel New Life Inc. not only continues to be a strong presence in Chicago’s impoverished West Side, but a national model of church-based charity. The implications for stewards are staggering -- and inspiring.
Bethel helped me understand a puzzling paradox I’ve wrestled with for several years: Why is it many of the people who have the least among us in worldly goods often also have the strongest faith in God and the most visible trust in divine providence?
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t those of us who have the most in worldly goods also have the most strident trust in divine providence? But often we don’t.
In our personal lives, those of us who are middle class or better shore up our 401(k)s and IRAs, yet still fret whether we have will have “enough.” The same worry drives our church lives, where some of our most financially secure congregations “sit” on endowments worth a fortune rather than risk in mission for the future.
Accumulation of wealth – congregationally or personally – actually can make fearful of taking risks, rather than emboldening us to risk what we have. It’s certainly fear and desire for security that drives our secular financial culture, but as people of God, we trust in the sovereign of the universe who owns and creates everything. Is there any safer bet?
Perhaps people who have nothing, have nothing to protect. So they live by trust in God alone. Maybe this is why Jesus told his disciples to own nothing and why Jesus taught more about economics and the dangers of wealth than he did about salvation.
"Exhibit A" is Bethel New Life, which began in 1979 as an outgrowth of Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago’s devastated Garfield Park neighborhood. Rather than leave (as did most of the other whites) for the safe suburbs, Pastor David Nelson, and his sister, Mary Nelson, decided to make it their lives work to be a positive force for God in the neighborhood.
They began with a little cash and a unwavering belief that people of God can make a difference against ignorance, crime, poverty and privation. Now celebrating 25 years, today Bethel New Life has an annual budget of $11 million and works to build a better neighborhood through safe and affordable housing, day care, day activities for seniors, job training, employment placement, substance abuse counseling, ex-offender transition services and other programs that build hope and neighborhood cohesion.
Yet success does not breed complacency for the managers of Bethel New Life, who are themselves faithful Christians. In interview after interview I conducted for a magazine article I’m writing, they showed a lean, entrepreneurial spirit marked by working hard, taking risks and trusting God to provide resources and make it all fly. One manager, commenting that her unit did heroic things with a tiny budget, said simply, "We live miracle-to-miracle."
Bethel’s mission statement says it all:
If you put an end to oppression, to every gesture of contempt, and to every evil word; if you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon. And I will always guide you and satisfy you with good things. I will keep you strong and well. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water, like a spring of water that never goes dry. Your people will rebuild what has been in ruins, building again on the old foundations. You will be known as the people who rebuilt the walls, who restored ruined houses. --Isaiah 58:9-12
Rob Blezard, Webmaster and editor, email@example.com
(Reprint rights gladly granted to congregations for nonprofit use. Please just include this notice: "Copyright (c) 2004, The Rev. Robert Blezard, archive.stewardshipoflife.org. Used by permission.)