I first heard of Noel Castellanos when I attended the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference in Atlanta over a decade ago. Castellanos shared the stage with John Perkins and Wayne Gordon and showed how the CCDA song may be sung in a Latin key. Today Castellanos is now the CEO of CCDA. I have a deep appreciation for the work CCDA does in transforming whole communities. Decades before other evangelicals were talking about holistic mission and incarnational ministry, the CCDA folks were doing it, seeking to live out God’s justice in neighborhoods.
So when I saw that Castellanos published Where the Cross Meets the Street I knew this was a book I had to read. But as much as I love CCDA, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. CCDA publications often focus on introducing readers to the philosophy behind their approach. Which is good but that gets repetitive. Certainly Castellanos also cares about delineating his approach to ministry but this isn’t a book outlining “the eight components of Christian community development” or the “three r’s.” This isn’t so much a book about components or principles, though Castellanos is thoughtful about the dynamics of incarnational ministry and he imparts some principles for urban mission from Nehemiah. This is much more Castellanos’s own story of his coming to faith and eventually his life work in Christian community development.
Castellanos narrates his early life in Texas and California. He was born to Tejano parents. In California, Castellanos worked at losing his Spanish speaking. Though raised Catholic, he invited Jesus into his life at a Young Life camp. After attending Whitworth College, Castellanos found himself increasingly drawn to those on the margins. This culminates in his relocating to Chicago’s La Vilitta neighborhood (after attending the first CCDA conference). Ministry in a Latino context helped Castellanos reconnect with his own cultural heritage and put him in a place of humility as he had to rely on his neighbors to help him to relearn Spanish. He learned things as he sought to minister in his context. For example, his ministry among neighbors who were undocumented immigrants sensitized him to the need to advocate on their behalf:
I am shocked and appalled by the insults l against undocumented men, women and children in our nation. Yes, they have broken laws to be in this country but they also have been hired, used and of abused by employers and our economic system in need of cheap labor. Because of their vulnerable status, it has become common to scapegoat and hurl insults at them without regard to the fact that they are human beings created in the image of God. Most shocking is that they types of insults are sometimes made by those claiming to be followers of Christ. (141)
Castellanos doesn’t stop at immigration reform but advocates on behalf of the poor and flawed in all sorts of ways. When he voices his concern about injustice in our country, it is not some arm-chair liberal diatribe or paternalistic platitude. These are issues Castellanos has come to care about through walking alongside people in pain and making his home with them.
Castellanos is passionate about effecting systemic change–not just raising individuals but whole communities. This puts him on the same page as his mentors John Perkin and Wayne Gordon. And Castellanos shares other traits with these two men. Like them, Castellanos has invested his life in neighborhoods and people that others had written off. Like them he has stared down difficulties, struggle and false starts but he remains hopeful and confident that Jesus confronts injustice, demonstrates compassion and restores communities.
I recommend this book for anyone seeking to do neighborhood ministry and who cares about justice. I love that Castellanos is so attentive to his neighbors and what Jesus is up to in the neighborhood. In a world where issues of systemic injustice, racial tension and poverty can seem overwhelming it is inspiring to read such a hopeful account. CCDA is in good hands and I am excite what God will do. I give this book five stars!
Notice of material connection, I received this book from Intervarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.