For two decades, CCDA has inspired, trained and connected Christians who are restoring under-resourced communities throughout the world. The annual National Conference, which began with 200 attendees, now attracts a faithful, multi-racial contingent of 2000-plus. In the words of Dr. John Perkins and friends, here’s how it all began …
1989 AIRPORT MEETINGS
CCDA started as a longing in the hearts of just a few people. Most of us were already working in urban areas and were the only ministry in town, or at least it felt that way. Through the years, taking the good news to the poor, oppressed and needy had been a rather lonely mission. What faith-based efforts existed tended to look inward, because there were so few. One common longing we had was to take Christian Community Development public, so to speak—to make it more visible. When a leader or group of leaders has a longing, they have to ask themselves the hard questions. We had to ask ourselves, “Is there a people out there who are thinking like we think?” and “Who are those people?”
We took a risk, and we sent out about 100 letters to people we knew who might be interested. We invited those folks to come to the airport in Chicago and spend a day together. Representatives from 37 groups showed up! It was quite a diverse gathering.
February 23, 1989: The CCDA meeting was excellent; 53 people attended and enthusiastically shared their ideas in a room with a capacity for 25. It was cozy but productive. Most people had never met each other before, but all shared a love for God, a burden for the poor, and a commitment to the vision. They all expressed a strong desire for the formation of CCDA. (—from the personal journal of Cynder Sinclair, DM, CCDA’s first administrator)
I was surprised and excited. We exchanged stories and ideas. Quickly, we saw that our longings and dreams were similar. A few months later, we got together again and pretty soon we had something going.
Forming a group from scratch is an interesting process, especially when members of that group are already leaders with followers. Nonetheless, CCDA needed a leader. I was set to be the chairman of the board, and Lemuel (“Lem”) Tucker was going to be the president. We penciled in a date for our next meeting and were eager to see how this group would take shape.
There are always surprises along the way, and leaders have to adjust. For us, the surprise was a sad one. Lem Tucker got sick and he died between the first airport meeting in the early winter and second meeting that summer. Now who was going to lead CCDA? I said, “I’m not going to be the leader. I want to be the organizer.” Wayne Gordon had stepped out of the meeting room for a minute, and while he was gone I said, “Wayne’s going to be the president.” When he came back into the room, he was up for it. I think he was surprised. It was affirming for him. He did not have the notoriety then that he has now (laugh).
THE FIRST CCDA CONFERENCE
Right away, we felt that we had hit upon something whose time had come. I know a lot of that was hopefulness; we were hoping for an outreach and to a certain degree it has lived up to our expectations—CCDA rallies people together.
We decided we’d have a conference in Lawndale the year after we first met at the airport to form CCDA. The first conference had about 200 attendees. About 50 were local people but the rest were from all over the nation. And that’s how it was…
Our ministry has been an expression of justice. As a black man back then I decided to create this movement within evangelical circles—which a lot of blacks wouldn’t do. I remember Ron Sider came out with Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger at around the same time as my book, Let Justice Roll Down. His was giving a call to respond to injustice. He raised the question. Evangelicals had been very comfortable, and were not involved in social justice or civil rights issues. Liberals were the ones involved in those areas. But Ron’s book started them thinking by addressing their wealth. Up until the 1980’s evangelical Christians felt pretty wealthy. My book had impact because it wasn’t coming from a theological perspective; I was an ordinary person.
MULTI -RACIAL ROOTS
Since its start, CCDA has been a group mostly made up of African-Americans and Caucasians. More recently, we have seen a growing number of Hispanics join us and some Asians and Native Americans. I see these multiracial ministry groups coming to the First-Timer Reception at our conference now, and I’m encouraged. As CCDA has become more diverse, one might think the Caucasians (still the majority in the United States) would shrink away, fearing they would lose power. Yet we have seen just the opposite. More whites than ever come. In fact, more and more people who are in the majority reach out to minorities. Honestly, I never thought I would see this day, but now I’m seeing it in reality. We represent the most multi-racial organization in the Christian evangelical community in America. And we did this without a structure that forced it to happen.
For those who are longing for it, CCDA gives people a place to come, and it gives the older evangelical person a place to find support. As a member of the urban community and a member of the Christian Community Development Association, I beg you—suburbanites and all Christians—to join with me as we tackle some of the severe problems of [under-resourced communities]. If we can keep examining ourselves I think we have the possibility of a movement here.
Included in the above are excerpts from Follow Me To Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins, (Regal, 2009) and from an interview with Dr Perkins conducted by Pamela
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