Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Monday, July 31, 2006

St. Samuel

Great service yesterday at St. Samuel. Here's some pics. Look at the lovely lady on the front row!

Yankees Trade!

Yankees trade for Bobby Abreu! Read it about it here. Outfield help and a great hitter!

Where is the blockbuster SF Giants trade? That's why I have primary allegiance to my childhood team.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Collard Greens in EPA

Yesterday we had a booth for NCUD at the annual collard greens festival in EPA. It was a great time - reminded me of why I love our community. Pastor Bains showed up in a whirlwind and promptly walked on stage, giving me the mic and had me announce about NCUD and the credit union project. I appreciate his continuing support and endorsement.

We really have great community support for this project. Many people came up to our booth, filled out a survey and expressed the need for a local credit union. Please keep praying for us! The photo is of Emily who came out to volunteer and Larry Moody who stopped by for a visit. Larry is a outstanding community leader. He's been a great supporter of this project. I thought I took more pictures, but technology won this battle;)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Guy Kawasaki on Great Public Speaking / Majora Carter Speech at the TED conference

Guy Kawasaki speaking about a great public speaker he recently heard. Read about it here. On his blog he breaks down what he thinks is great about the speech. When Guy says something is exceptional - I take notice. He's the 'guru' for venture capitalists in the silicon valley. You can also hear the speech at this website. The presenter is Majora Carter. She is speaking about redevelopment in with justice in the south Bronx. It's very worth the time to listen.

So - following the link on Guy's website he led me to something called the TED Conference (Tech, Entertainment, Design). This year folks as varied as Majora, Al Gore and Rick Warren (yes, the one from the Purpose Driven Life). Interesting mix - interesting people. Each year 1000 people are invited to attend. It's intended to foster a free flow of ideas and discussion. I filled out an app for next year - maybe they'll invite me.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Current NCUD Newsletter

Below is a copy of the recent NCUD newsletter I just sent out. Some of you might have gotten it via snail mail...

Dear Friends...

“You've all heard it said that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. That if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime. But I say that if we are to be truly successful in making this a viable community...we must own the pond the fish live in." “He who owns the pond decides who gets to fish.”
- Dr. John Perkins
NCUD Advisory Board Member

I pray that this letter finds you well and blessed in our Savior. For us, it's been an exciting season of change and growth as we continue to pursue the vision that God has given us for the communities of East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park. To get current updates on my life and ministry - please check out my blog at http://norcalurban.blogspot.com.

When I read the classic Biblical texts on poverty and justice I continue to be deeply challenged. Can the cycle of poverty be broken in peoples' lives? What is the church's role in bringing the 'whole gospel' to the world? What effect does the power of the Kingdom that Jesus initiated over 2000 years ago have in the world's forgotten communities? What is my responsibility as a rich Christian in a hungry world? These are the questions that motivate me to action, both as a pastor and a 'simple' human being. A few years ago I read the above quote from Dr. John Perkins. He challenged me and illuminated a part of the Gospel of Jesus that I had previously overlooked. His prophetic and inspiring words created a Spirit-led passion and began me on a journey. This journey led to the start of Northern California Urban Development (NCUD).

In time, this same passion was shared by NCUD's founding Board. Guided by a common conviction, we started the process towards becoming a "faith-based" response to the pressing economic and social needs of our community. This work is very much an extension of the pastoral work I do at St. Samuel COGIC. There I serve with fellow men and women of God, caring for the spiritual needs of our flock. However, this is the call of the Gospel - to share the love of Christ in both word and deed, meeting spiritual needs with the Word of God and physical needs with the works of God.

As we've looked at the needs in East Palo Alto, the questions about the Church's role and responsibility resonates clearly. East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park continue to have high crime rates, high unemployment rates, housing prices that are out-of-reach for many, and a continuing sense of despair that is exacerbated by the conditions of need and poverty. The fact that there is only one financial institution in the community creates a gap that predatory lenders are all too happy to fill. Our large immigrant population is especially vulnerable. With the lack of financial services and many predatory lenders, there is a desperate need for an institution to serve our poor and working class residents with financial services. This need drove NCUD to lead us to the process of chartering a community development credit union in East Palo Alto with services targeted to the "forgotten" in our city.

You may ask, "Is a credit union the work of the Gospel?" We wholeheartedly say, "Yes!" Providing these services protects members from "loan sharking" practices and provides them with the choices and opportunities that will allow them to work their way out of poverty. It clearly reminds me of Jesus' call to serve "the least of these" in Matthew 25:40.

As the catalyst for this work, NCUD is looking to allow the community to take primary ownership of this project. While there is a risk to our organization (not gaining credit for the work), we believe this will be a success if the community views this as “their” project, not ours. We have solid local community support for the project and an outstanding business plan. In addition, we have the support of local, world-class credit unions which are providing key assistance to ensure our success. These include Community Trust Credit Union, and both Stanford and Patelco Credit Unions. All factors indicate that we will be a phenomenal success.

Currently we're in the government's arduous charter approval process. While there is no way to predict how quickly the process will go, we're faithfully expecting the the credit union opening in early to mid- 2007. As we wait for federal approval, NCUD will be driving forward our vision of relieving the conditions of poverty. While the credit union project takes much of our effort, our goals go far beyond a financial institution alone. They include providing financial literacy training for community members and supporting the development of local businesses. Both are ways we will relieve systemic and generational poverty. Incidentally, Dr. Perkins' impact on NCUD continues today. He has graciously agreed to serve as one of our advisors. What a blessing it has been to get to know one of my heroes and to have him working with us.

To complete our goals we need your help. As is common with start-up organizations, we are in need of capital that allows us to focus our efforts on community organizing, networking and strategic planning. A gift right now will go a long way in establishing us as a viable organization that fulfills Jesus mission to extend the Kingdom. More specifically, your gift will help us kick off two 'pilot' projects this Fall in the areas of financial literacy and emerging small business support. All gifts are fully tax deductible.

We also need your prayers! There is so much work to do and so much need. Without the blessing of God we cannot complete the "race". Your prayers are fuel for our tank.

Thank you so much for all your support and friendship. Many of you have already gone above and beyond to help our efforts, and for that we are grateful. Your love and care mean a lot to us as we work to extend His Kingdom into the world, while waiting for His return.

In His service,

- John Liotti

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Redemptive Community

We had an incident in church this week where one of our young couples ended up pregnant out of wedlock. The young man has been involved in leadership over the years. As we talked as a leadership team about how to deal with the situation - we decided that two things were necessary - to acknowledge the sin and to offer grace. I've found that there are two normal reactions to issues like this in churches. Either the couple is completely rejected and are ostracized from the church or it is swept under the rug and never really addressed. I believe both extremes are damaging. This couple had very high integrity and hearts that want to please God. So they started the process by coming to us long before the issue became apparent.

How we ended up handling the situation was that the couple was brought before the congregation, with Pastor Paul and I standing with them. They publicly acknowledged their sin. We admonished them as a leadership team to 'Go and sin no more." using the John 8 passage where Jesus deals with the woman who was caught in adultery. We then as a leadership team laid hands on the couple, anointed them with oil and prayed a blessing over them. After the service they had a line of people wanting to hug them with tears flowing. There was a palatable sense of love and grace in the room.

They still have a hard road ahead of them. They are young, relatively uneducated and not married (we're talking to them about the best decision in that area. Right now it's not clear.) However, by the way they acted and the way the church responded we can now embrace them, in both rebuke and restoration. They now have a whole group of people, leaders and laity, who are pulling for them.

In light of all of this I thought a lot this week about the 'redemptive community'. I thought about how the Body of Christ, when we do our job well can walk the fine line between speaking truth and offering grace, without an inkle of compromise. I thought about how the Body has 'power' to forgive sins and offer grace in a way that the world truly needs. We can redeem lives, just by offering love, acceptance and forgiveness. Too often we are more concerned with appearance then with redemption. I love the church - when we act like Jesus.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tragedy in EPA

Late last week the Prince and Princess of Tonga were killed in a highway accident near our house in eastern Menlo Park. Many folks don't realize that EPA has a large and active Pacific Islander population. This is a HUGE loss since the Prince was leading a push for governmental reform in the island nation of Tonga. Read about the accident here.

I was truly amazed at the graciousness of the Tongan people. Last Friday night there was a six month memorial service for Richard May, the officer who was murdered in our city earlier this year. A Tongan dance group was previously scheduled to participate. In spite of the phenomenal tragedy (imagine a national figure dying here - along the lines of JFK of MLK) the Tongan group and community Elders showed up and participated in the officer's memorial service. What a show of humility and concern for EPA.

After the memorial service for Officer May Pastor Bains, Andy W. and I went to the memorial for the Tongan Prince and Princess. I was blessed and humbled to sit in the room with the slain Prince's sister, another Princess of Tonga. She is an awesome woman of faith. I was moved to tears to hear the Tongans worship and cry out to God for peace and healing of their community.

East Palo Alto, in spite of it's issues - is a community full of beautiful and loving people. Please pray for our Tongan brothers and sisters.

Book - "God in the Flesh"

I picked up this book at the UYWI conference last May. "God in the Flesh" is by an IV guy, Don Everts. I've been impacted by it's call to focus on Jesus again in our Christian life. Sometimes the 'work' of religion so eclipses Jesus... Here's a great quote,

" We should grab a copy of the Gospel, sit under a tree and read. Spend and afternoon breathing in the foreign air of Jesus. We should let ourselves roam through Jesus' little parables and let them shock us. We should allow ourselves to so study the life of Jesus that we become captivated and entrenched in the subtle details and intense themes we find there.

We should hold church services and relentlessly pull our eyes back to Him, the center of our faith. We should lift up his name often and speak to each other about how his life and manner have been affecting us lately." pp 47-48

I remember growing up how focused on Jesus I was. It was simple - an almost 'fundamental' faith. But as I've grown older things like sin, ministry, church, fund raising, politics (church and state), networking, bills... (the list goes on) have taken that simple Christ centered faith and focused it on me. I want to get back to, as the author of Hebrews says, "Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and protector of our faith."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Time to Jump on the World Cup Bandwagon

So - i was rather (yawn) nonchalant about the World Cup. I confess that I don't know a whole heck of a lot about soccer - other than having the feeling that everyone's at a party and I didn't even know why I wasn't invited. But - because I have friends who are crazy about soccer and Sportscenter relentlessly plays World Cup clips. I know that the US was shamefully booted early and that Brazil imploded. So imagine my surprise today when I woke up and realized that Italy was alive and doing well! My Italian blood surged and I felt a tinge of pride in my pasta filled 'spare tire'! Go Italy! Viva la World Cup!