I love 3rd WARD!

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"To faithfully join the work of transforming a neighborhood, one must learn to truly love its people, history, and culture."


On Saturday, January 29th, 2018, the Board of Directors of Square Inch Houston visited exhibits of Round 47 at Project Row Houses. Project Row Houses was founded in the early 90s and is celebrating 25 years of existence this year. Every Fall and Spring, Project Row Houses places on view art installations inspired by our local Third Ward community. Each round focuses on a particular justice related theme.

This round's theme was "The Art of Doing: Preserving, Revitalizing, and Protecting Third Ward." Community voices collectively pulled together to express  concerns over the gentrification of Third Ward.  Gentrification hits all of us in different ways. Some people are uncomfortable using the term. Some believe it is a good thing for neighborhoods experiencing areas of blight and decay while others reject it wholeheartedly.

Working closely with the Emancipation Economic Development Council, whose work inspired Round 47 at Project Row Houses, I have appreciated getting a clear definition of gentrification that helps to dispel the mist that so often clouds conversations around it. Our definition of gentrification is simple.Gentrification is the influx of wealthier residents into a neighborhood that leads to the involuntary displacement of existing residents, history, and culture.

This definition is so important because it focuses on an injustice; the involuntary displacement of inherent good that already exists. Non of us want our actions, whether voluntary or involuntary to rip apart the fabric of a community. When gentrification happens, people are displaced, and we lose other things in the process. People are creators of culture, and curators of history. In my neighborhood, which is largely African American, gentrification creates a loss of human resources, but also leads to a loss of a beautiful history and culture that is unique to this place called Third Ward.

As our board interacted with the art houses, we began to ask some pointed questions around the work of transformation that we would be joining in Third Ward. We had conversations around alignment of mission, vision, and values. We all sensed that we were joining a work of transformation in our neighborhood that was bigger than any single person or entity.

We were inspired by the very deliberate, concerted, and community led effort to combat gentrification and pursue more equitable community development in Northern Third Ward. We asked hard questions around design and what kind of structure we should place on our small 5000 sqft piece of property. 

Some of our questions remain unanswered. But we know with all certainty that it is impossible to join God in his work of transforming a neighborhood, city, country, without truly loving its people, history, and culture. That is why, at Square Inch, from our inception, we have committed to investing and immersing ourselves in the narrative of the spaces, places, and faces where we work, because we believe that God is uniquely at work through them.

Third Ward, Houston is a place of remarkable contrasts; it's beauty and brokenness often collide, yet exist in a delicate embrace that calls anyone who passes through the neighborhood to think deeply about the richness of the history, culture, and people here. We love our neighborhood. We believe as Square Inch forms leaders who transform communities, our whole community will thrive and flourish. We are committed to what God is doing in this place. We partner with a diverse community of people to seek the flourishing of this place!

Please consider joining our efforts to work for the flourishing of our community. Click on the "Give" button below to support our efforts as we form leaders who transform  community in sustainable and equitable ways. 

Some poignant questions that members of our Third Ward community are currently asking. 

Some poignant questions that members of our Third Ward community are currently asking. 

"A Thrill of Hope!"

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders; And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace, there will be no end."     - Isaiah 9:6-7a

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders; And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace, there will be no end."

- Isaiah 9:6-7a

There is something mysteriously glorious about Christmas! In this season, we all hope and wait in expectation for something wonderful to be revealed. The common joy and hope we share is palpable. There is desire for old things to pass away, and for all things to be made new; our habits, our bodies, our purpose. We all long for meaning beyond ourselves and share a deep desire for belonging to true community.

But a baby lying in a manger seems an odd candidate to place all our hopes and dreams upon, right? Surely we could have found a safer depository of all this expectation. A more noble birth. A more progressive town than Bethlehem. Better news outlets than shepherds. However, the incarnation inspires our wonder and imagination, because it is the work of God, and he is pretty good at using the most unlikely heroes to work out his salvation. In this baby, and through this family, all humanity’s hopes of a better world will come true!

Christmas is a time to let your imagination for the flourishing of our world run wild, because if God chose to be born of a virgin, entering our world shrouded by scandal, to bring wholeness to our brokenness, then anything is possible! The personification of God ushers in a new kingdom, where heaven meets earth, human flourishing truly extends from all people to all people and all the walls of injustice come crashing down, with bridges of justice, mercy, and love built in their stead.

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
  For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."


This is the ultimate Christmas gift! God with Us! Because he is with us, and he is for us, all oppression shall cease. Because he is with us, and is for us, all injustice will be made right! The light of The Son of God is piercing our darkness. Jesus truly is the gift that keeps on giving!

At Square Inch, we believe God has called us to participate in his ongoing work of restoration in our neighborhood by forming local leaders who transform their communities.

This holiday season, I am thankful for YOU and the way you have championed everything we are and everything we do. Thank you so much for your partnership! We can not dream the way we do and work to make those dreams reality without your generous support. Please click the "Give" button below to join us in bringing God's peace and flourishing to Third Ward; our little corner of the world. Watch the video below to learn more!

Square Inch Houston
Forming Leaders. Transforming Communities.

Development without Displacement

"We do not want to be passive recipients of our neighborhood's destiny. We want to be active creators and participants of its future."  - Dr. Assata Richards

"We do not want to be passive recipients of our neighborhood's destiny. We want to be active creators and participants of its future."

- Dr. Assata Richards


A few years ago, the city of Houston decided to embark on a huge project; renovating Emancipation Park. This is a 10 acre park in the northern part of the Third Ward. But this is not any regular 10 acre plot of land. This land was purchased around 1872 by former African American slaves to celebrate their freedom. African Americans have occupied the neighborhood around this park ever since.

This renovation is much needed. I remember days when I would pick up my soccer ball and go shoot around on the wide open green spaces in the park. The pool looked like it hadn't been used or cleaned in years. The structures were falling apart. But with these renovations, I see the park returning and preserving its historic status as public place for all to celebrate freedom. 

Or will a different story emerge? Will the descendants of freed slaves and descendants of slave owners celebrate together on this hallowed ground, or will there be a complete erosion of the neighborhood's character, history, and culture?

Unfortunately, like most historic African American neighborhoods, the northern Third Ward is beginning to see an erosion of its character, history, and culture. With the influx of middle to upper class citizens into the neighborhood, many local Third Ward residents who want to remain in the neighborhood are being squeezed out by economic forces; rising property values, taxes, and rent prices threaten what was once a vibrant haven for African American people, history and culture in Houston.

Is this the only way to develop a neighborhood; in with the "new," and out with the "old?" Are there alternatives to this kind of market-driven development of neighborhoods where we focus on the weaknesses of a community and not it's strengths? 


Over the past year, I have been learning a lot about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Unlike the needs based approach to development of market economy, ABCD seeks to build on the strengths and resources that a community already has.

A blessing of serving my neighborhood as a Community Chaplain is that it affords me the freedom to participate in a wide variety of neighborhood initiatives. It gives me freedom to find the places and people in my neighborhood through whom God is working, and come alongside that work.

Over the past year, one of the most powerful associations I partner with is the Emancipation Economic Development Council (EEDC). The EEDC is a collective of businesses, non-profits, and residents of the northern Third Ward. This is the neighborhood that surrounds Emancipation Park, a 10 acre plot of land purchased in the 1872 by former African American slaves to celebrate their freedom. African Americans have occupied this area of town ever since.

Our collective shares a common purpose. We see beauty in our neighborhood and its residents, where others see lack. We want development without displacement. We desire the eradication of urban blight, and the creation of flourishing communities with economic opportunity for all! Development that does not take into account a neighborhood's people, history, and culture can never be equitable and should never be pursued.

To read more about the EEDC, please click HERE.

Metamorphosis

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Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis: change or transformation. The best example of this in nature is the process by which caterpillars change into butterflies. This has always fascinated me. A seemingly unattractive egg, laid on a leaf, hatches into a caterpillar, which eventually becomes a beautiful butterfly.

The caterpillar eats and sheds its skin as it continues to grow. This process repeats many times, until the caterpillar finally creates a pupa, and outer casing that will nurture the caterpillar as it transforms into an adult butterfly.

What is most noteworthy to me about this process is how much change comes from within the pupa itself. It is a slow process of transformation through a complete cycle of life. 10-14 days inside this encasing, that changes a seemingly ordinary caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. 

Immediately after the butterfly emerges, it still needs some time to grow. To strengthen its wings. But eventually, that butterfly grows strong and gracefully takes flight.
 
Third Ward, Houston
 
Over the past few months, God continues to remind me that to the untrained eye and despairing heart, my neighborhood may look like a caterpillar. But caterpillars are beautiful, because they carry promise to term. Caterpillars are butterflies in the making! The Third Ward, I believe, is undergoing a metamorphosis. It is a neighborhood that brims with so much history, culture, character and hope. 

Our ministry is also going through a metamorphosis. Over the past few years, we have eaten the leaves of learning, as we explored and discerned where God was leading us. We have also shed some skin, as God constantly surprised us by giving us new models for doing ministry every time we thought we had figured it all out.

Now, we are encased and transforming. Through his Spirit, God is breathing new life into what we are doing in the Third Ward. It is hard to do the work of resting, but we trust that God is transforming us into a beautiful ministry that will bring him glory in Houston's historic Third Ward.
 
We believe that God is calling us to nurture our own corner of this neighborhood. The seeds of a new creation are here. Where others see a "worthless" caterpillar, I choose to see a butterfly in the making. God is in the Third Ward. I'm excited to be on this journey, finding the places he is already working, and humbly joining him in his daily work of renewing and restoring all things!

We're Starting a Nonprofit!

A renewed mental model for Square Inch as a ministry in Houston's historic Third Ward.

A renewed mental model for Square Inch as a ministry in Houston's historic Third Ward.

"Confused?"

Many times, when I tell people I am an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, one of the first questions they ask is, "Where is your church?" To which I reply, "I am actually a Community Chaplain, and I worship on Sundays at an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I am not the pastor there. But I lead a small missional community/ house church that gathers in my house on Saturday evenings."

Then I proceed to let people know that I connect a diverse community of people and organizations for the social and spiritual renewal of the Third Ward. I also connect with and serve with already existing networks that are working for renewal in our neighborhood. Oh, and yeah; I am also in the process of starting a non-profit organization that focuses on educational justice, leadership formation, and community transformation.

As you may have guessed, at this point things can seem a little confusing. How does it all work together? Is there congruence and cohesion to all these different affiliations? What picture can we use to describe my work, responsibilities and relationships as a community chaplain in Houston's historic Third Ward?

"Mental Model"

The best picture that we have reached for the posture of our ministry is a Venn diagram ( see picture above) with three different sets. 

1. Missional Community: 3 years ago, we started a faith community, gathering weekly in our living room, seeking to grow our faith in Jesus Christ through three rhythms; study of scripture, service to our city, and celebration of the world around us. As a missional community, we describe ourselves as an extended family that joins Christ in his redemptive and restorative work in this world in the places where we already are.

2. Transformational Network: transformational networks are diverse communities of service and learning, training people in an integral worldview, and connecting them for the social and spiritual renewal of their communities. I serve as a chaplain to a network of pastors and non-profit leaders who God has called to actively seek the peace of the Third Ward. 

3. Transformation Initiative: I believe the Third Ward is a neighborhood that overflows with the abundance of God. It is a neighborhood that is full of leaders. With two of the biggest universities in Houston in the Third Ward, (University of Houston & Texas Southern University), this neighborhood holds some of the greatest assets for transformation in a grassroots way.

While great higher educational institutions exist in the Third Ward, we know that not all college-aged and college-ready residents have equal access to these schools. We want to level the playing field by providing full-time scholarships to a few emerging urban leaders who view their education as an opportunity to become gospel-shaped leaders with purpose who transform their communities.

I hope this at least begins to help you understand how God is placing our ministry Houston's historic Third Ward. I am more than happy to answer any questions. Over the next few months, I'll periodically give updates about the various facets of our ministry.