When we think of Christian urban leaders, the first image that comes to mind for most of us in the Christian context is the image of a well-trained, program director or CEO of a faith based non-profit organization/program. We tend to see this type of person as the one who leads groups of people in the direction of changing their inner-city neighborhood.
But that is not necessarily the case in Fresno.
For the past decade or so, Beth (my spouse) and I have been deeply invested in the relational fabric of downtown Fresno, engaging development work with ministry and civic leaders, contributing to projects that aim at creating change and hope. But the more intentional Beth and I made ourselves with our neighbors, the more we began to discover a different image of a Christian, urban leader: one that looked more like a Spanish speaking mother between 20 and 50 years of age, whose husband works in the fields or construction, who helps navigate traffic before and after school hours, who pushes a stroller to council meetings to advocate for her neighborhood, and who never misses a Sunday Mass service. This is the real image of a Christian urban leader in most of our downtown neighborhoods. Unfortunately, not many see this, but it’s okay because these women are not seeking praise or glory. They are only doing what they believe is the right thing to do.
Beth and I have offered our property as a meeting place for our neighbors. There they meet regularly to brainstorm ways they can change the neighborhood. Having finished a few projects—getting their council member to fix a couple of alleys and compelling a slumlord to rehab a house that was being squatted in—Raquel, one of the group’s leaders, decided it was time to honor the women on Mother’s Day with a fiesta where all the families can come and celebrate the hard working women in the neighborhood. As they began to plan, a type of Acts 6 (Conflict over neglected widows) moment occurred: the group was divided over the dates—the Mexican mother’s day and the U.S. version of mother’s day—not to mention that some women did not have their husbands either because of deportations, marital conflict, and other circumstances. So some women felt that a family oriented celebration would leave many women feeling neglected. On top of that, having the money was a challenge. But we were reminded that we should not plan around money but around God because God is bigger than money. Plus, God validates the mothers in our area. The result: the women organized two celebrations—one on the Mexican day for women only and one on the U.S. day for families.
The celebrations were amazing. There was lots of food, mariachis, dancing, but most of all … the celebration, smiles, and laughter reminded us that we owe a lot to the mothers (biological or covenantal)—esp. those doing all of the work behind the scenes in our neighborhoods and our churches. They do so much without a demand to be seen. But God sees them, and we walk with God, we can begin to see them as well.
(Jefferson Neighborhood Leaders: Alejandra, Raquel, Adriana, Andrea)