No one’s asking me. I’m just an independent contractor, a part time guy – and a very new one. But I’m not a fan of the word “project” – as in ”Compassion project.”
Words conjure up images for me and those images have everything to do with how I’ve heard words used in the past. In college I spent a week or so in Oakland, serving the people in a neighborhood that contained a government housing project. Bland run-down buildings. Government owned. I spent one afternoon just picking up trash in the project: used condoms, bullet casings, empty dime bags, all kinds of garbage. I spent another day mowing yards. I got hit in the head with a rock that day.
When I hear “project” I think of that place – not a place I’d want to live, not the kind of place I’d walk through alone.
I hung out at Compassion projects all last week in the Dominican Republic, and they’re nothing like Oakland’s. They’re more like my house was on Saturday.
On Saturday, neighborhood kids trickled over to our yard as they do almost every day, pulled toys out of our garage and started playing. They don’t ask anymore. They know we don’t mind. Their parents don’t mind either – they know by now that they’re kids are safe at our place.
Becky brought out a tray of food around noon and they all ate. The chain came off of a kid’s bike and I fixed it while he asked questions about every move I made. Kids drew at an art table in the garage. Boys rode skateboards and scooters down the driveway. Girls played hand games. A couple of them got in a fight and we intervened, made them talk it out. Redneck Neighbor caught me up on his life since I left town. Naturally, God came up in some of the day’s conversations but even when He didn’t, He was there.
If my house was a brick-and-mortar church building, that would be as close to a Compassion project as anything I’ve experience in the U.S. Compassion doesn’t build buildings. So, a project is a local church where local people play with kids, and teach them and make them feel safe and welcomed. The kids are fed and tickled and parents trust that they’re in good hands. And everyone hears about God. But even when they don’t, they know He’s there.
We need a better word for this kind of place at Compassion. Some folks have started calling projects “child development centers.” That works, but it’s so much colder than what I experienced last week. What do you call a place that meets the social, economic, physical and spiritual needs of children? More of us in America should probably call it “home.”