Beginning in early 2019, the Flourishing Communities Initiative (FCI) is a new area of programmatic focus and community engagement for Sunshine Gospel Ministries.

We’ve been asking the obvious question. . .

“What is more important to human flourishing than the right to keep the life God gave you?” “Is there anything more fundamental to a good community than being confident no one will simply take your or your neighbor’s life?”  

We were recently with Gary Haugen from the International Justice Mission (IJM) as he spoke about their work “at the intersection of poverty and violence.” His point was that the poor around the world are always at significantly elevated risks of violence being perpetrated against them, in part, because law enforcement is non-existent, ineffective, or openly corrupt.  It made us think about our situation in Chicago.  

(Between Jan. 1, 2001 and Sept 1, 2019, a total of 48 homicides occurred in Woodlawn police beat 331 (shown enclosed by the rectangle). Of these, 29 out of 48 (60%) occurred outside on streets; 17 out of 48 (35%) led to arrests; and 2 of 48 (4%) were domestically related. . (Data source: https://data.cityofchicago.org/browse?category=-Public Safety).

According to research done by Dr. Paul Isihara of Wheaton College, in the small number of blocks that make up the Chicago Police Department “beat 331” (that’s only a 6 block radius) in which SGM is located, 48 people have been murdered in the past 20 years.  

Research done by the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab suggests that less than 10% of the time when someone is shot in our city, and less than 20% of the time when someone is murdered, the perpetrator faces substantial consequences (e.g. arrest and/or prosecution). 

Our friends at the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras call this “an impunity rate” of 80%-90%.  No community can flourish with that kind of disregard for human life.  

So what does this mean for Sunshine Gospel Ministries?  What does it mean that our community, at the lowest possible common denominator, reflects the absence of shalom, the lack of flourishing, the opposite of renewal?  Our written mission is to seek the renewal of our community in answer to what we believe is God’s call on our lives. During the past 15 years in Woodlawn, we have done this primarily through working with individuals.  Youth, parents and local entrepreneurs have been. . . and remain. . .the focus of the majority of our Gospel-centered ministry.  

But now we are entering a season in which we are taking a deeper look at the causes and best available responses to the larger epidemic of societal violence in a low-income community.  In order to do this well, we have prayerfully identified three thought-partners, each of whom has led us to a facet of the Flourishing Communities Initiative.  

 

Facet one:  Embrace. 

Problem:  Few people care for the families of the victims of violence. There are virtually no ministerial or counseling resources for the hundreds of family members, school classmates, neighbors and loved ones affected by violence in our community. 

Partner with a common problem:  The Association for a More Just Society (AJS), Honduras.  AJS began an outreach work to minister to families of victims of violence leading to a critical provision of love and healing among these families.  While this is one element of a larger strategy, it is at the heart of their work that has reduced violence throughout the nation.  

Response:  SGM is working to develop paid staff and volunteers to do direct ministerial outreach to families of victims of violence and to identify professional and volunteer trauma counselors providing proven therapies.  

 

Facet two:  Life Together. 

Problem:  Too many people are shot in our community.  Too few arrests are made when someone is shot.  When there is no consequence, the shooting escalates. This vicious cycle of violence, police ineffectiveness and cyclical retaliatory violence is rooted in the absence of relationship and trust between law enforcement, neighbors and young people, especially those close to the heart of the violence. 

Partner with a common problem:  Author and researcher David Kennedy, in his book “Don’t Shoot” provides an important solution rooted in real-world experience:  Truth-telling and reconciliation must be done among these three groups of community members for the police to do their most important work and for the community to be restored to a place of safety.  When trust and communication is developed, experience suggests transformation is possible. 

Response:  SGM is taking a leading community role to deepen relationships and conversations with our local law enforcement, our neighbors and young people.  We have learned a great deal about the dreams, difficulties, traumas and perspectives present within each of these three groups and are actively working to foster conversations across the community that become based on built trust. 

 

Facet three:  Gather. 

Problem:  Communities deeply affected by violence are fractured.  Often, the fabric of the community has been torn, leaving a distortion in what seems to be “acceptable.”  While no one wants the violence, no one likes the blight, no one deems the disinvestment desirable, the message can sometimes appear to be, “this is normal” or “this is just how it is.”

Partner with a common problem:  Empower Omaha is a group of pastors in the black community in Omaha that found a way to bring hundreds of people from across the community together, often gathering around a meal, considering together the most important identifiable trends including violence, health, education, housing and employment.  They tracked these trends in a way that began to tell a story. The community then established the clearest set of priorities to work on based on data gathered and together began to make progress steadily.  

Response:  Along with our partners at the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Wheaton College, SGM is gathering data with the purpose of clearly articulating the story of our community.  The end goal is to bring community members and law enforcement together to collaborate around solutions based on the data.   The trends in violence and response are where we are starting. This new initiative is being led by Arnold Sojourner, Sunshine’s Managing Director of Community Outreach. Mr. Sojourner will continue to work over the next year to establish the relationships needed with experts, researchers, law enforcement, neighbors and youth to move toward solutions that bring dignity and foster healthy relationships with all involved.