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Texas Baptists Hear Solution for Transforming a Neighborhood

By Janlyn Thaxton



Hardin-Simmons UniversityNEWS RELEASENOVEMBER 20, 2009Houston, Texas Baptist Convention – Five years ago, the neighborhood north of Hardin-Simmons University was a neighborhood in blight. Windows were broken, cars and tires littered yards, lawns had turned into jungles of Johnson grass, and paint peeled from houses. But a simple solution and a style of living as Christ might live has turned the neighborhood around. It has to do with a philosophy called “living missionally.” {{more}}Looking for just the right personality, Hardin-Simmons University placed Danyel Rogers and her family in the university-owed house at 2601 Hickory. What Danyel and her husband, Brandon, have done to so greatly affect the neighborhood was cause enough to be asked to conduct a session at the annual convention of Texas Baptists meeting in Houston.Only a few years ago, the Northpark neighborhood was rampant with crime, and neighbors felt helpless to do anything about the problem. Retired Abilene Police Chief Melvin Martin says, “The syndrome is called ‘The Broken Window Effect.’” Martin says the term is used in law enforcement to describe a neighborhood in decay.Today, the former police chief has a different view of the Northpark neighborhood. Lawns are mowed, houses are painted, children play on front lawns, and neighbors have a sense of belonging. A sign in front of the modest frame house identifies it as the “Friendship House.” It has a play area and the front door is generally open. The Friendship House idea was imported by then Hardin-Simmons dean of students Linda Carleton from a model she saw at work in Shreveport, LA.During the Texas Baptist workshop for those 35 years old and under, the director of the Friendship House set the stage for understanding “living missionally.” In a room packed with an array of people with backpacks, jeans, sandals, Starbuck’s cups, and communication devices, Rogers says, “I ask myself every day, ‘what am I doing to invest in other peoples’ lives?’”“Think about whom you encounter each day and think, ‘What can I do to reach out to them,’” says Rogers. “In my neighborhood, we eat meals together, take care of each other’s children, and work on recycling as a community.”“It is part of our job as believers in Christ to reconcile ourselves back to God,” says Rogers. “What we do to practice reconciliation is to provide a place of support where neighbors get to know each other.” In the afternoons, children go to the Friendship House to play games with college students from Hardin-Simmons. There is playground equipment, drumming classes to enjoy, and lots of sounds of happy, contented children. Chief Martin says, “The sole responsibility of this changed neighborhood is credited to the efforts of the Rogers, Hardin-Simmons students, and other faculty and staff members who continue to help establish the house as a friendly neighborhood point-of-contact.” Martin says, “Danyel has done an exemplary job in giving the neighborhood a place it can revolve around. Neighbors have a sense of belonging. The people, who felt victimized, take pride in living in Northpark.”He says, “Attitudes have changed because people have been brought together. It’s really a positive spin now, instead of a negative one. ‘The Broken Window Effect’ has disappeared,” says Martin. Rogers tells the burgeoning Baptist leaders, “It is all about transformation; take what you already know about Christianity and put it into practice. Don’t just have good intentions, live what you know. The way you start, is to ask God to open your eyes to see the needs of the people around you.”Abilene now has several Friendship Houses. To oversee the facilities as a whole, Connecting Caring Communities, a non-profit group, has taken over the management of the Friendship Houses. A new Friendship House is being constructed in the Northpark neighborhood which will be, in part, supported by continued funding from HSU.

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