This is the question that I asked anyone and everyone coming in through the doors of the local grocery stores several years ago as I began my position as Director of Missions.
Earlier that summer, in a seminary class on multicultural ministry with Hugo Magallanes at Asbury's Orlando campus, he had impressed upon us that we cannot meet the needs of the community if we do not know what that is.... and how can we know if we don't ask?!?!
So, I decided to ask. I picked four grocery stores that were in close proximity to our church and could be considered community. Then, I asked permission from the managers at the grocery stores. Two granted it; one I could never connect with the right person (but they ended up closing their doors); and then, somehow I gave up and never went to the last location. It wasn't that I didn't think what I was doing was important. Other aspects of the position demanded my time and attention, however and I figured two out of four was a good start, or "good enough". I don't know if it was truly "good enough", but I do believe that I did get insight into a cross section of what the community considered to be their greatest need.
In asking this question, I got a variety of responses. Most folks answered. Some wondered why I was asking, so I told them. Some thought the question was too hard and declined to answer. Most gave answers that showed a light into the community. Some engaged me in further conversation and I truly felt that I was touching the heartbeat of the community.
I'm going to list the answers that I received. Where there was more than one answer that was the same, I kept a running count. I will include that here.
On July 5, 2011 I was at the Sav-A-Lot on Middle Valley Road for one hour. I attempted to go into my time of questioning without any preconceived answers and simply planned to write down all their answers. I have kept my notebook pages of notes. Here are the answers to the question "What is the greatest need in the community?" from that location:
- better paying jobs
- entertainment for youth
- something done about drugs
- something done for the little guys
- I don't know (4+)
- live unto the Lord
- people going hungry and needing food, shelter, and water
- shelters, food, water
- enforcement of traffic laws
- employment, jobs
- family relationships and God and biblical truth
- more cops because of people speeding
- money-- get rid of lottery. Need real form of revenue.
- I don't think we have a need; they're all fulfilled.
- Keep all stray dogs in own homes.
- Keep Sav-A-Lot in business
- jobs--good paying jobs
- getting help to elderly
- people coming together in community (though because of recent storms this person has seen this in action personally)
- cheaper milk
- more jobs
- lowest price on everything
- closer bus stop for kids and salvation
- sanity in our justice system
- providing food for homeless and needy
- safety and consideration on marginal roads and passageways
- for Casey Anthony to be found guilty [though I'm not sure how that was part of our community]
- good school teachers
- help for the tornado victims
- help the needy
- helping the elderly
- weed, marijuana--it keeps crime rate down [2 youth answered this one and the next one]
- weed, marijuana
- fixing potholes and stuff in roads
The next store I visited was Super BI-LO on Hixson Pike on August 8, 2011. Again, I asked the same question as folks came into the store to shop. I was at that location for about 1 hour and 35 minutes. Here are the answers from that day:
- cut down on DUIs
- getting people jobs (8)
- more police protection (2)
- enriched library
- help in schools because some are old with portables
- No idea. / I don't know. (7)
- just moved here/just moved back (2)
- cheaper prices, especially for retired (for overall living; not necessarily groceries)
- education/better education (2)
- peace (2)
- utility work-- digging up the roads; having one lane of traffic
- that we all just get along
- for the homeless (2)
- funding for education
- leaving the arts in the school (2)
- lower taxes
- Jesus Christ
- better school system
- better daycares
- more jobs
- more people in church
- closer store to where I live
- more church participation
- for people to listen-- to shut their mouths and listen
- vote people in who change things-- rid debt, etc.
- more outreach with unfortunate kids-- toys, clothes, school supplies
- help those without jobs
- cheaper gas
- communication and love for one another/talk to neighbors
- community recreation center/after school facility-- games, help with homework, etc.
As you look over the list, what pattern(s) do you see? If you live in the Hixson/Middle Valley community, how would you answer the question: "What is the greatest need in the community?"
Beyond answering the question and seeing the needs, are we (the community) meeting the needs of our neighbors? Might we work together to join our resources to better meet those needs and identify them? What more could we do in the community to address some of the needs listed above and whatever else is expressed by others?
What about the needs of the other that might be unseen? I was glad to see that some who might be considered "unseen" were mentioned in the lists. There are people thinking about the homeless, the needy, the children, the elderly. I think we can also add to that group the people for whom English is a second language. Our community is growing, not only with Spanish-speakers, but with folks of other languages, as our school systems can verify. How do we meet the needs of those people in our community?
It is up to us, the community, to meet the needs of one another. For me, it comes back to that short, but difficult statement: love God; love others.
The greatest need in the community may not cross your journey path where you are at this time. I would encourage you to think about it, however. As you walk around your particular neighborhood and community, think about the people and the needs therein.... Ask yourself what you think is the greatest need in your community. Ask others. Engage in conversation. You might be surprised where it leads.
Blessings on your journey,