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'

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

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