100 Things the Church Is Doing Right!


by Amy Sherman

Christianity Today, 17 November 1997

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"Only the masses of simple, humble people and their growing spiritual power will be able to convert the atheists."
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

In the midst of the media marathon devoted to the death of Princess Diana, one magazine editor confessed that his initial reaction was, "What luck!"

Journalism is biased toward the negative because people tend to talk about what goes wrong. They are much more likely to chatter about Frank Gifford's infidelity than the millions of faithful husbands. When something is right, it doesn't seem like news.

But at Christianity Today we have been called to report on what God is doing, and that cannot be summed up as "bad news." For all the church's ailments, its all-too-human shortcomings, it is still the body of Christ animated by the Spirit. That means the church is a source for good news.

While we publish a bimonthly column celebrating the good work of active Christians (Church in Action), in this special issue we want to proclaim the good news about the church more boldly and broadly. To remind our readers that God is alive, well, and involved in the world, we have gathered 100 stories of ordinary Christians and Christian groups doing extraordinary things in the name of Jesus and his gospel. These were not difficult stories to locate; we could have reported thousands. They are not the "100 Best." They are simply accounts of the ordinary, good work of the church, which was "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10). This is the gospel, and it is what is right with the church.

1. Kit Danley, Barrio "Mom"
Kit Danley is walking in the prison yard with Marcus Velasco (not his real name). She is white, 42, and light-haired; he is a 17-year-old Native American with black unruly hair and piercing dark eyes. Weightlifting and abstinence from crack cocaine has Marcus looking fairly healthy in his jail-issued T-shirt and khakis. He is serving his third sentence for selling drugs. Some look at Marcus and see only a steely gangster. Danley sees a sobbing young man whom she remembers as a child.

Danley, the indefatigable director of Neighborhood Ministries (NM), Open Door Fellowship's outreach to low-income Hispanics and Native Americans in center-city Phoenix, is no stranger to the Adobe Mountain Juvenile Detention Center. Marcus is the second gangster today that the prison chaplain has watched cry with Danley. They tell her how they hate their lives and inform the chaplain that when they get out, they've got a place to go to. They've got a church.

They are referring to the outreach programs Danley has been running at Open Door Fellowship for 11 years. The church is a refuge to hundreds of low-income kids from the barrios. Here they get hugs, hear God's Word, and have someone to talk to about their struggles—alcoholic parents, neglect, drug addiction, siblings getting knifed in gang fights. Building relationships with such children is something Danley believes she "was born to do." Moved by the Bible's call to love the poor, she dedicated herself to urban ministry shortly after becoming a Christian in college.

Danley founded Neighborhood Ministries (NM) in 1981. Initially providing food and clothing to impoverished Hispanics, by 1986 Danley expanded the ministry to embrace Open Door Fellowship's philosophy of holistic ministry. So the youth programs were launched that year, and within a few years, over 200 kids were attending (about 400 come now).

Danley juggles the needs of volunteers and parents, puts out fires, sows the vision. The scribbles on crumpled notebook paper serve as her "to do" list. But in the midst of the chaos she remembers the crucial things: the kids' names and stories. Driving around Phoenix in her battered subcompact, Danley will spot a child and say, "That's one of our kids."

Danley starts early with the children, tenaciously tracking them as they move from one dilapidated apartment to another—sometimes 10 to 12 moves in a year. Fifteen volunteers spend over an hour each Monday evening driving NM's fleet of rickety buses and vans around the underside of Phoenix, collecting girls and boys. At church, Danley has organized an array of constructive, if unconventional, activities—like break dancing and fine-arts classes—to woo elementary school children away from "pregang" pursuits like sniffing paint and fighting with knives. "We don't want to just snatch a kid out of a gang," Danley says. "We want to start early enough in the child's life that he makes a decision not to join gangs at all."

Sixty to 70 teenagers also come consistently on Monday nights. They talk about abuse, kids dying, getting jumped, or getting pregnant. And they talk about God. Half of these kids are from gang families; some are gangsters themselves. Danley asked one 16-year-old why he came so regularly. He said, "Every day I feel like I'm looking over my back and wondering if this is the day I'll be shot. Monday night is the only time I ever feel safe."

Danley and her husband have lived a few blocks from the church for 15 years. The street kids see her "as part of their world," Danley says. Sometimes they become part of her family. Victor Lopez, a 15-year-old former gang member who was in and out of juvenile detention, was released into the Danleys' custody a couple of years ago and lived with them for six months. Danley's extraordinary commitment is well known at the Juvenile Justice Department. Once when Victor was in court, the judge looked up from the bench and said "Well, Kit, what do you think we should do?"

NM aggressively intervenes in the lives of severely at-risk kids who already show signs of gangster behavior—kids like Marcus Velasco's 10-year-old brother, Joey. Joey and his three sisters lived with the Danleys all last summer after their alcoholic mother abandoned them.

The summer "was an intense experience," Danley admits. But friends helped out. Debbi Speck ended up taking Joey Velasco for a two-week stay at the Specks' cabin in the Colorado mountains. "Joey had the time of his life," says Danley. Debbi returned sobered by the realities of Joey's life. "I invited Debbi to be part of a team that was rethinking NM's academic programs," Danley relates. "And she told me, 'Kit, I want to save this kid.' "

Danley has trained 17 mentor-tutors and matched them with severely at-risk, destitute kids with abysmal home lives. The tutors visit their students at the school once or twice each week to work on reading skills and talk about how life is going. Speck tutors Joey. "Joey used to get sent home almost every day by the school's police officers and social workers for being uncontrollably disruptive," Danley says. Now, she reports, the teachers can't believe the transformation in his behavior. "Joey was losing his life, and he didn't know what to do about it, so he just acted out in rage. Now there's a peace in his life."

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