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The Politics of the Pond

Photo Credit: Jens Koning

I wrote this reflection for Mission Year's march newsletter to highlight the need for a broader view of the challenges in our cities:

The old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.”

While this statement rings true, John Perkins has rightfully noted, we also have to ask, “who owns the pond?”

See, teaching individuals to fish is not enough, we also have to consider the politics of the pond.

When we do this, a whole new set of questions emerges that must be addressed to bring about change in our cities.

What if the pond moves? Many businesses moved to the suburbs during White Flight or overseas to chase cheaper labor leaving cities economically depleted, which is why we work with community development organizations like Project Home and Peoples Emergency Center to provide economic opportunities and development.

What if the pond has been polluted? High poverty communities experience disproportionate amounts of pollution and environmental racism, which is why we do initiatives like Green My Hood and speak up about what’s going on in communities like Flint, MI.

What if society constructs a huge wall around the pond or discriminates based on ethnicity? It doesn’t matter how well someone can fish if we build walls, both literally and figuratively, to lock certain groups out of opportunity, which is why we work with immigrant communities and other marginalized groups who face hardship.

What if gangs are fighting over the pond? Many of our communities deal with gang-related violence and activity, which is why we work with gang prevention ministries and focus on youth development so youth can find alternatives to gang life.

What if the ponds in poor zip codes are not maintained or stocked like they are in others? We know that our neighborhoods are not given the same resources as other parts of the city, which is why we mobilize human, financial, and material resources into our communities and challenge budget cuts to services for our most vulnerable neighbors.

What if the fishing manual is outdated? Many textbooks in our public schools are outdated and there is a growing technology gap in low-income communities, which is why we work with educational organizations focused on academic achievement and closing the gaps.

What about teaching women to fish? Whenever we use this analogy it’s always a man we teach to fish, which is why our team members work with organizations caring for and empowering women and girls too.

What if the person we are teaching to fish has mental health issues and needs counseling services? We have a lot of people in our community who are suffering from anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and other mental illnesses, which is why we believe in providing holistic care and mental health resources to individuals and families.

What if the person gets sick but doesn't have health insurance? If a person is not healthy they will not be able to fish, which is why we link up with affordable health clinics like Lawndale Christian Health Clinic in Chicago.

What if the person is imprisoned for fishing illegally and permanently denied a fishing permit when released? Millions are incarcerated in our country and permanently barred from employment, housing, education, and other resources, which is why we are involved in prison ministry, legal aid, and prison reform.

What if the person is addicted to substances that keep them bound? Alcohol and drug addiction keep people from being who God has created them to be, which is why we are involved in discipleship and recovery programs to help people break through.

The reality is, the challenges in our cities are much more complex than a simple analogy. The politics of the pond require critical thinking and collective action to address the multitude of barriers that exist. Mission Year is deeply involved with local and national partners to address these different factors and raise awareness among the church to understand and respond to the politics of the pond so all our neighborhoods can flourish and all our neighbors can fish.

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