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Experiencing Conversion From a Community

December 20, 2009

Mark Gornik (center) with LaVerne Stokes and my colleage Emmanuel Katongole in Sandtown

I love how Eugene Peterson puts John 1:14 in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

If God embraces the significance of the small, of a neighborhood, don’t tell me that “little” communities like Voice of Calvary Ministries in a Jackson, Mississippi zip code or New Song Ministries in inner-city Baltimore are too insignificant for a broken world.  They alter people at their very core and cast seeds like Mark Gornik outward to plant new visions.

Mark is co-founder of New Song, and a great read is two articles at Faith & Leadership about his Baltimore journey and current work with the remarkable City Seminary in New York:

Interview with Mark –Mark speaks of “seeking God’s peace in 12 square blocks,” a place where he “experienced a conversion from the community, from the people in Sandtown who gave me the opportunity to be their neighbor”

The Wonder of It All—story about Mark’s current work with City Seminary

In the early 1980’s Mark and I overlapped a summer in the ‘hood at Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi as young, 20-something volunteers.  Easily underestimated by his humble appearance, Mark is a unique social entrepreneur who bridges seminary, sanctuary, and street.  His book To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City is one of the best on ministry I know of (two chapters are worth the read–“Excluded Neighborhoods” and “Singing a New Song”).  Of course Mark wouldn’t be very interesting apart from his conversion in Sandtown and what neighborhood residents like LaVerne Stokes taught him, as well as his friend Allan Tibbels (Allan’s own story is remarkable—an accident shortly before moving into Sandtown put him a wheelchair for life; neighborhood kids hitch rides on the back as Allan negotiates the streets).  Mark is a reminder of how many of the best visions are birthed through holy and unlikely friendships across divides.  Now, it seems, he’s experienced deep conversion from two communities–first in Sandtown, and now the face of global Christianity in New York.

P.S.  It continues to be a great joy to send Duke divinity students to New Song in Baltimore through our Teaching Communities apprenticeship.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

Last 5 posts on the Reconcilers Blog:

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