A Letter from the President
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of [buildings that have laid waste for] many generations; and you shall be called Repairer of the Breach, Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. Isaiah 58:12
2021 was a year of rebuilding. COVID lockdowns were decreasing as the year went along, kids were back to school and many of our programs were back on campus and face-to-face (with masks, of course). So it was fitting that we built our summer programming theme around the stories in the Old Testament, where God’s people Israel began returning to Jerusalem from exile, our stories coming out of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. COVID 19 created a form of exile for us all, didn’t it?
I’m still a Kids Club teacher after all these years. It remains one of my favorite roles at Neighborhood. I love sitting with the Scripture and hearing them with and for our children … children born into poverty, children with only one parent, children of immigrants, and children who have had a trauma-filled year and a half. How do they understand these returnees from deportation, whose challenge (and desire) was to rebuild the city of their forefathers? How do they believe again with hope and expectation that God is on their side? How do they trust in the ultimate promise of the Kingdom of God while we teach that rebuilding Jerusalem was simply an archetype of things to come?
This annual report captures the hope and promises of 2021, many reflecting back upon the lessons we taught the children out of Ezra and Nehemiah:
- It takes confidence in God to come out of exile and take on the challenges of what is in front of us to do.
KIDS CLUB, 2021. You’ve heard it said, “if only I had the faith of a child”. The children in our community were ready to come back to church and to some normalcy. They trust the authority in their lives saying its ok to be among their friends and caring adults. But we could just feel it … the trauma of the previous 18 months was evident. They had experienced a once in a life-time pandemic, lost loved ones, missed too much education, went without (food, rent, parent’s jobs, needed stabilities).
So it was with Israel. After 70+ years, God’s people Israel were invited to leave the place they were carried into captivity. Obeying God, they had “built houses, planted gardens, had children” there. They had forgotten their old world and had accepted their marginal status. Following Nehemiah and taking up the challenge of becoming “rebuilders” would take faith in God they had forgotten how to exercise.
- The sufferings we have encountered needed to be named so we could heal.
HEALING JOURNEYS and CHURCH, 2021. Nehemiah heard about the plight and brokenness of the city and wept. In his imagination, he could see the people who had been left behind for generations, living in squalor. He prayed. He prayed out of his lament, choosing to carry the suffering of his people.
Simply put, we have learned these 40 years how to receive each other in the conditions we show up, sometimes with faith, often with sorrow, and this year … with the particular brokenness of life in a pandemic, we are fragile. We do, however, know all of this leads us to prayer. You can hear this in the report on Church, on Healing Journeys and in the story of Helena and Mo. Our gatherings together, allowed us to touch the places of disorientation, loneliness, grief, heartache, and separation. Because of our collective and shared spiritual life we found God together.
- The brokenness in our community is ours to rebuild. God has equipped us to do this.
LEVEL UP WORKFORCE, PARENTING POR VIDA, SUENOS YOUTH CENTER, OPPORTUNITEES, THE MERCADO THRIFT STORE, THE FOOD BANK, 2021. Nehemiah, though an Israelite in captivity, had become a powerful man, a close and trusted advisor to the king. He was willing to leave the comfortable role he had been given to “move back” into the misery of his people and lead them to believe again that their lives could be filled with a promise of shalom. For Nehemiah, this belief that it was possible had become consuming. He could speak vision to the people who had been left behind. And he did.
Here was our challenge in 2021. To move out, for programs to restart, for new ones to begin, to reimagine and create in the alternate spaces which COVID had disempowered. Open the doors! Go out into the community! Speak and offer hope, vision and opportunity to youth, to parents, to those looking for work … to the ones (so to speak) who have been left behind. Our message in word and deed: YOU are the future of our city. YOU are the future for your families. YOU are the future for the purposes of God.
- Jesus has gone before us, inviting us to join Him, in his kingdom work.
KATY REEL and KATY’S KIDS, 2021. Ezra and Nehemiah are unusual books. They end in an anti-climatic way. The people of God are returned to a functioning city and temple, but they still live as if obedience to God is optional. The rebuilding of the city, though existential, was looking to a future time. To a Jesus time, when God’s people, filled with the Holy Spirit, could participate in the things that God desires to do “on earth as it is in heaven”.
In 2021, we anticipated walking into 2022, our 40th year of ministry, with a few objectives. One would be to tell the stories of those who served here, whose lives have marked us, who have reminded us that obedience to God is NOT optional. Neighborhood Ministries itself, and more importantly our community’s life and spirit, have been transformed by people who have given their lives away for God and His Kingdom. You will come across the story of Katy in this report. Lenny says this about Katy, “My sister, Katy Reel, was a teacher who joined Neighborhood Ministries in pursuit of a dream: to serve God with all her heart by engaging with the children and families in our community. Katy wanted her life to have meaning and make an impact.”
For one more year Neighborhood Ministries has invited a myriad of people, children and grown-ups from the hood, volunteers from the suburbs, staff from all walks of life, people of color and people of privilege to believe that their trust and confidence in Jesus will lead them into the adventure of becoming “rebuilders” …followers of the Son of God, who gave Himself for us … that we might become children of God.
We have always longed for this scripture to be fulfilled here, but so much more in 2021.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called Repairer of the Breach, Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. Isaiah 58:12