Street Saints; Renewing America’s Cities by Barbara J. Elliott is one of my all time favorite books. Elliott has captured stories from across the country that demonstrate the power of the ordinary person who seek to be a blessing to their community. My favorite chapter is the chapter titled the “Nehemiah Strategy” through which Elliott shows us the power of organizing the efforts of grassroots initiatives using the analogy of the story of Nehemiah. Below are some of my favorite quotes.
“The walls that once kept destruction away have crumbled, and the ruins of broken families, crippling loneliness, and the ravages of drugs and violence are evident everywhere. There is human wreckage throughout the city, rich and poor, white, black and brown. Nehemiah asked the king for permission to go to the city and rebuild the walls. Instead of hiring construction workers, Nehemiah called on the locals to do the work, who took responsibilities for themselves. Renewal strategy was a voluntary public-private partnership, mobilizing diverse participants. He assessed the needs; then they worked together to fill the gaps. Most of the necessary resources were already in the city, but the people had not pooled what they had because they were demoralized and in disunity.”
Elliott then profiles a number of organizations who have taken a Nehemiah approach to the city. Robert Woodson “created the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise to identify and empower leaders of grassroots organizations. He systematically sought out promising people who are already doing grassroots renewal, are rooted in the community, know its problems, and are working toward their solutions.” Community leaders according to Woodson “were doing the work before there was money for it, make a lifetime commitment to the people they serve, live in the same zip code as the people they serve, believe in the total restoration of people, require something in return for giving.”
I firmly agree with Elliot that the success of the Nehemiah strategy will require that “all these players lay down their logos and their egos and embrace the city together. If we continue to work in isolation from each other, we will continue to be impotent. What emerges out of unity is clarity of purpose. What unites very different kinds of leaders is a passion to unite the church across denominational lines, serve the poor, reconcile the races, and take the whole Gospel to the whole city.”
As I read these words, I pray for the Nehemiah’s who are emerging in Richmond uniting God’s very broken family to live out our original call “to be a blessing to the nations” starting in our own city.