Reflections on the CCDA National Conference by Perkins Fellow Kevin Cao '16

One quicker-than-expected plane ride later and it was goodbye humid Charlottesville and hello balmy southern California.

In August, I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) National Conference in Los Angeles. As the name suggests, CCDA is centered on issues of community development, as well as social justice and civil rights, through the lens of the Christian faith. John Perkins, a civil rights activist himself and founder of the CCDA, participated in the conference as an unforgettable keynote speaker who delivered powerful Bible studies each morning. The three-day conference featured a number of diverse faith leaders from across the country, a multi-lingual worship set, and a variety of partner organizations across the world.

As a Global Development Studies major deeply interested in community development, I've found CCDA to be a hopeful vehicle through which the Church is coming together to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. As a follower of Christ, I found great joy and encouragement in catching a glimpse of eternity in the people from all walks of life worshipping the same God – a true reflection of the diversity and oneness of the body of Christ. As one speaker put it, “heaven is fully integrated.”

Los Angeles itself proved to be a fitting backdrop for the CCDA National Conference. The proximity to Skid Row in Downtown LA, one of the largest areas of homelessness and drug abuse in the United States, is a reminder of the brokenness of this world and the utter necessity of Christ. A number of speakers native to the city also discussed the LA Riots of 1992 which tore the city apart – literally, in terms of physical destruction, and figuratively, as the direct consequence of an escalating racial divide. However, hearing the testimonies of men and women working to combat poverty and addiction, as well as those serving in multiethnic churches that sprang up as a desire for racial reconciliation, gives hope that God is not dead and that His Church is still at work.

Perhaps the most powerful story shared during the conference was not an encouragement, but rather a call to action. Reverend Doctor Brenda Salter McNeil of Seattle Pacific University recounted her time in Ferguson, Missouri shortly after the death of Michael Brown. She met with activists and leaders of the protests – young people who had lost confidence in the church due to what they cited as misogyny, hypocrisy, and churches “working harder to keep people out than to let them in”. Where did we go astray? Was not the church of Christ where adulterers and tax collectors felt embraced as opposed to rejected? We must ground our work not in judgment and condemnation, but rather in service and love.

It is with this in mind that I return to Grounds and look ahead to this year as a Perkins Fellow with Theological Horizons. There is still much to be done, but it is my hope that I might join in and do my part.