How do you take a big idea for community outreach and make it work? The Revs. Clint Twedt-Ball and Courtney Ball left traditional United Methodist churches to start a grassroots neighborhood ministry, Matthew 25 Ministry Hub.
The ministry had just begun its work in the neediest neighborhoods of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when record flooding damaged thousands of homes in the area. Where others saw devastation, the brothers saw an opportunity -- through an initiative of Matthew 25 called Block by Block -- to strengthen the areas they had gotten to know so well.
Twedt-Ball offered advice for others interested in community outreach projects:
Be open to partners from different spheres. Block by Block wouldn’t work without relationships with the United Methodist Church and the nonprofit Iowa Affordable Housing Network, plus support from private donors and public funds, Twedt-Ball said. “We went outside the church community for support because the business community, for example, understands timelines and making things move forward quickly. We wanted a certain amount of pressure to make progress,” he said.
Focus on building relationships. Get to know the needs of the community by getting to know its people, Twedt-Ball said. “It sounds trite, but we always look at the fact that every person and every organization has gifts that they bring to the table,” he said. “Everybody gets told a lot about what they can’t do, that the needs are overwhelming, that there are these shortcomings. But if you can stay focused from the start in building positive relationships, in recognizing people’s strengths, you’ll be able to carry through difficulty.”
Be patient. “Matthew 25 didn’t have any funding for the first couple of years. We had a few people that believed in us,” Twedt-Ball said. “That meant all the difference in the world. Everything takes longer than you think it will in the beginning. You can’t see immediate progress. You have to realize that the power of those relationships will eventually take hold and it will snowball from there.”
Ask for criticism. Twedt-Ball said Block by Block asks neighbors to hold them accountable. “We tell them, ‘We’re going to be working on your block. We want you to tell us if we’re not doing our jobs well,’” he said. “People in the neighborhood weren’t people who had asked for a lot of help before. They felt like they’ve been helped, so they shouldn’t criticize. We’ve said, ‘It’s OK to criticize us if we’re not doing well.’ And when they’re in a group, they feel much more empowered to do that.”
Accept failure. “On a very practical level, it’s OK if we fail. If this all goes away in three years, I’ll feel like I made a difference in people’s lives,” Twedt-Ball said. “I remind myself that Jesus was only around for three years doing his ministry. Day by day, doing as much positive work as possible is what it’s all about.”