The sound of local voices is carrying well beyond Fresno, thanks to a new book.
Out of Nazareth: Christ-Centered Transformation in Unlikely Places is the collaborative effort of men and women working in the field of community transformation—many with connections to Fresno Pacific University. Randy White, D.Min., associate professor of community transformation and the executive director of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT), part of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, spearheaded the project after Urban Loft Publishers approached him in 2015 about writing a book on Christ-centered civic engagement.
At the time, White was too busy with CCT to devote additional time to a new book project. He did, however, propose a way it could still happen.
“H Spees and I decided we would conceive the book and offer ourselves as editors,” White says. Spees, D.Min., is a longtime pastor and community activist who is director of strategic initiatives for Fresno Mayor Lee Brand. He is also an FPU instructor.
Spees and White called on local practitioners with expertise in particular areas to write the chapters. “It didn’t take long before we had a unique book where we had eight pretty diverse voices,” White says.
All contributors have ties to FPU or local churches or organizations, and are actively engaged in the work they wrote about. “None of the other writers had been published,” White says, “and that’s as it should be. We wanted to hear the voice of practitioners.”
Those voices include Monika Grasley, Jacob Huang and Cathleen Lawler (MA ’09).
Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at FPU, discusses how community organizations can access and utilize data to create, manage and evaluate their projects. “By building an updated community data set,” he says, “community organizations can find common ground so their visions and resources can be shared and used more effectively.”
Grasley, executive director of LifeLine Community Development Corporation, outlines the process of asset-based community development (ABCD) using the example of Winton, an unincorporated town in Merced County. Winton is “known for violence, gangs and drugs, and yet a small group of community members came together to ‘put Winton on the map for something good,’” says Grasley, a former CCT Fellow.
Lawler highlights stories of increased collaborative efforts in Clovis. “Mainly among churches, but also with organizations, businesses and the city sectors—for the good of our city. This cross-sector collaboration takes a lot of work, limitless conversations and vision casting, but such efforts are leading change in communities,” she says. Lawler teaches at a university in Indonesia, is a ministry coach in the FPBS ministry, leadership and culture program and a community consultant for the CCT. She chose to continue the work of her dissertation, Church Collaboration for City Transformation in a Context of Affluence. “To have a project I have been so entrenched in for almost six years be included among those of great Valley leaders was an incredible privilege,” she says.
The remaining chapters were contributed by Phil (SEM ’06) and Rici (Bell, MA ’05, BA ’02) Skei and Yammilette (Gutierrez MA ’06) Rodriguez and Bryson White. The Skeis co-pastor On Ramps Covenant Church, Fresno. Rodriguez was an FPU staff member and is now senior director and national trainer at Youth Leadership in the Central Valley. Formerly a community organizer in his native Fresno, White is a doctoral student.
While these local voices give the book a distinct Valley perspective, it’s designed to speak to anybody working in community development. “This is a Fresno case study,” Randy White says, “but it’s not just a Fresno book. Any person from any city in the country could read this and take some sort of encouragement or have some sort of example they can pull. If you can read this story and imagine similar systems, similar assets and resources, you can employ similar approaches that are specifically tailored to your own context.”
The book has already caught one important ear, attracting the endorsement of John Perkins, a Christian minister, civil rights activist and founder of the Christian Community Development Center. “Dr. Perkins is really the father of Christian leadership development here in the United States,” Randy White says.
Profits from Out of Nazareth will send local leaders to the Christian Community Development Association.