Bringing Heaven to Earth: CCDA-Style Worship


One moment your thrusting your fist in the air shouting “They say ‘stay down’ and we stand up!” and the next moment swaying to Enkaya Naisipa. The following day when Paris unexpectedly gets struck by a terrorist attack, you’re lamenting in Hebrew and Arabic for the loss of lives…in France as well as Palestine. This all with an assembly of several thousand others who have gathered from across the United States, lead by a multi-ethnic team of musicians.

This describes one of my favorite aspects at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual conferences: worship. Because I savor the music so much, last year at the conference in Memphis I attended a workshop titled “CCDA-Style Worship” expecting to experience a couple hours of song and prayer. Instead, I got the behind-the-scenes insights into what goes into these worship sessions, beginning with a history lesson on how the worship has evolved through the years:

2005 conference 
The first CCDA conference drew 800 attendees, about half were white and half African American. The worship was historical black gospel, reflecting older, long-term practitioners.
2008 conference 
The group leading worship was more multi-ethnic which brought in an element of racial; however, they were not necessarily practitioners of Christian Community Development.
2010 conference 
CCD practitioners lead worship.
2011 conference
CCD practitioners with reconciliation bent lead worship. This is what I experienced in 2013 at my first CCDA conference in New Orleans and again last year in Memphis.
2016 conference 
Worship leader Sandra Maria Van Opstal described this year’s upcoming conference:
CCDA worship in L.A. is going to look different than in years past. As a team, we have selected songs that represent our communities (Latino, African American, Korean American, and Syrian). Sharing our songs allow us to tell our story. Sharing our stories helps us to honor and acknowledge that we each have a distinct experience of God. Each community has a history that has shaped us deeply. Sharing our songs with one another and inviting one another into worship also helps us to enter into solidarity with one another. I sing songs that tell your story and invite you to sing songs that tell mine. It’s not simply about a drum rhythm or the language being sung, it’s deeper than that.
As usual, the conference’s worship will reflect the communities of the city that is hosting us: Los Angeles. Van Opstal explained this also in her post:

Los Angeles is a city of nations. Aside from the fact that the white community is not the majority and Latinos make up almost half of the population, did you know that global communities of Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Armenians, and Syrians, among others, significantly influence the culture of LA?

Can you imagine a global-local community coming across differences to praise God? What does the church look like in this context? What happens when this diverse group of people gather to glorify God for his person and actions? Multiethnic worship happens!

Sandra described how the three R’s of Christian Community Development integrate into CCDA-style worship in her blog post blog post on the topic. Additionally, I learned at the workshop that four CCD principles most relevant to incorporating into worship include the following:
1. Reconciliation
2. Leadership development and empowerment
3. Church-based
4. Formational and holistic
#1 Reconciliation 
In order for reconciliation to happen through worship, we must ask ourselves what we can do to make people from various backgrounds and communities feel welcome in our churches. Incorporating varied worship styles into our services is really a profound gesture of hospitality. One way we can ensure that we do this is by visiting churches in our neighborhoods where people of different ethnicities gather who are lacking in our congregation and incorporating elements that are missing in our current worship in order to be more welcoming to that group of people. We don’t do this to steal people from our neighborhood churches, but rather to provide a space for newcomers who have not yet connected to a church to settle. For example, my multi-ethnic congregation has attracted few Latino members, yet at the gym where I work one mile down the street, I constantly meet people who have just moved to our neighborhood and speak primarily Spanish. Members from my church could easily visit La Iglesia De Cristo a few blocks away and take notes on how worship is done; we could also ask the Latino to give our worship leaders some pointers.The most segregated hours in the United States are on Sunday morning when Koreans attend Korean-American churches, African Americans attend African-American churches, Caucasians attend predominantly white churches and so on.
However, as the facilitators of this workshop emphasized, in order to truly foster reconciliation, we must move beyond hospitality and dive into lament. We need to recognize that the issues such as #BlackLivesMatter and Syrian refugees and immigrants affects us, even if our congregation is primarily homogeneous. Worship leaders must ask, “How do we help our congregation form solidarity with people who are suffering even if they are NOT in our community?” The principle is one of mutuality: how do we communicate I NEED you to those on the margins.
Reconciliation is never easy though. Even the leaders of this workshop admitted that they had experienced conflict in planning for the CCDA national conference.
#2 Leadership Development and Empowerment 
Practically, this means allowing someone to lead in ways we wouldn’t necessarily do things. Discipleship can be described as modeling our life after someone we admire.Leadership development, however, goes a step further and says, “I have gifts you can model but you have gifts that I do not and can supersede mine!” Practically, this means allowing others to take part in choosing which songs we sing.
#3 Church-based
A core value of Christian Community Development is to be church-based and worship can integrate as well as even amplify this component.
One presenter described being told to choose between becoming a pastor or an artist, not realizing that musicians are pastors. People often remember songs better than sermons too!
In an effort to integrate worship with community needs, leaders often feel conflict between production and process. One workshop presenter expressed feeling a tension between performing on stage and providing music therapy for disabled children. A suggestion for inclusion was to invite people with disabilities to help lead worship.
#4 Formational and Holistic 
The church can be incarnational by responding to what’s happening in their congregation and community through worship. Fully experiencing the place where our church is located guides our worship. For example, during worship we could both celebrate our high school graduation and lament our sister Mary’s death in her family. Doing so, bonds us together as a community, as a family. As one presenter said, “If I just wanted to worship God, I would stay home.”
The presenter gave the analogy of how worship leaders are like tour guides who both take people where they want to go but also where they need to go but didn’t even know existed. This happens well when worship comes out of prepared place. However, in taking into consideration various styles of worship, even with an ethnic community, leaders may blend planning with spontaneity. One of the workshop presenters noted how Latinos tend to be from two camps-Catholic and Pentecostal. So she juggle planned versus spirit-lead, more spontaneous worship. In order to do this at her church, they go through liturgy but re-name it.

How I Met My Housemate


Me, Gracie & Annalise

God has continually provided housing, and housemates, for me in astounding ways. This particular story began on the continent of Asia and resulted in my most long-term housemate in Seattle. I dedicate this post to her, a woman of great strength and character, who has survived living with me for five years in three different homes of South Seattle. So grateful for the chapters of life we have shared and looking forward to the ones ahead as she marries and relocates to begin a new chapter in a new place. 

Our story actually started in 2010 when I did fieldwork for my graduate program in Kolkota, India. While there, I stayed with a local host family who were leaders in the social enterprise where I was interning. An American guy, David, had also just moved to Kolkota to do community development. He was staying with this host family at that same time while determining which slum to relocate to long-term. David mentioned he had a sister in Seattle, but didn’t put us in touch.

Fast forward to the following year when I began looking for a church in Seattle involved in community development. One of the churches I visited during my search was located in a gymnasium that served a Boys & Girls Club during the week. The first person I met in the hallway was a woman who asked me a typical get-to-know you question: “Where did you move to Seattle from?”


Me and Annalise after a slime run 5k

“Bangladesh” I replied.

“Oh really? My brother’s there right now. He lives in India.”

I eyed her more closely. Her smile combined with blond hair looked familiar.

“Is your brother David?”

“How did you know?”

“We lived together with a local family in Kolkota last summer.”

“I feel like I’m gonna pass out. You saw my brother last summer?”

We decided to grab coffee and get to know each other more so exchanged numbers and friended each other on Facebook.

But then we got busy with life and work and grad school and never did get coffee. In 2011, I had finished grad school and was asking God “what next?” I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to relocate to the Rainier Valley of South Seattle, so began visiting Rainier Avenue Church. Towards the end of June, Annalise messaged me for the first time since we had met saying her lease would be up the end of July and she was looking for people to live in intentional community with her in the Rainier Valley who wanted to reach out to their neighborhood. I replied:


Annalise in our gutted kitchen after I accidentally flooded it (another story!)

Oh my word, Annalise. I have been praying about moving to the Rainier Valley and praying specifically that God would connect me with people who share a similar passion for living in community among the marginalized/Christian community development. Yes, we definitely need to meet up for coffee. I leave for San Francisco on Friday but will be back to Seattle on Tuesday night, July 5th. Would love to meet up with you soon after that.


My lease was also up August 1st, so we agreed to meet up to discuss this possibility on the Thursday after the 4th of July weekend when I would return from a trip to California. As I was about to board my plane back to Seattle, I found a voice message from Gracie, a woman I had “randomly” sat next to one of those Sundays when I’d visited Rainier Avenue Church.


David and his bride at their Seattle wedding reception in our beautiful backyard

“I don’t know if you remember me, but we had talked about you possibly moving to the Rainier Valley and looking for housemates. Well I’m moving the end of this month and wondered if you’d be interested in living together?”

I called her back as soon as I was in Seattle.

“There’s actually another woman interested in living with us,” I told her.

“Is her name Annalise?”

“How did you know?”

“My boyfriend taught a class she was in and she emailed me about looking for housemates here too.”

Gracie already had houses lined up to look at—on Thursday! So instead of meeting up to talk about possibly living together in the Rainier Valley, we literally went to look at houses. By the end of the month had found a place that met our criteria and the three of us moved into it together.

God in a Gas Station


Whenever I visit my family in southern Washington, I often take a walk around the town’s central park. Last weekend while there I headed outside a little before dinner for my usual jaunt.

“Which direction should I go?” I half-asked myself, half God in a semi-prayer fashion. I got an image of a gas station which reminded me of what a few of my friends have described as “prophetic treasure hunts” where they ask God for an image then go find it, then ask what God wants them to do or say there.

The nearest gas station I knew of was about a mile away.

“I’ll show you what to do when you get there,” I sensed God say. So I headed in that direction.

I had thought the nearest gas station was on the same side of the street as me, but the first one I spotted was opposite, just beyond Lowe’s and Fred Meyer.

“Is that it?”

“That’s the one.”

I headed towards it, praying God would speak through me and not let the person remember me but merely the words God wanted them to hear.

When I arrived, I instantly knew God had a word for the woman behind the counter. I had no money or credit card with me so couldn’t buy anything even if I wanted. I pretended to browse the energy drinks and candy while praying God would reveal to me what to say. Although I’m new at practicing receiving a word for others-even in a church setting- I’ve been amazed when God gives a message that’s totally on-point, particularly when it’s a for a stranger or someone I barely know.

As I prayed, customers streamed in as if this was the only shop in town! I continued to pray and God showed me that this woman was going through some changes. However, God wanted to take care of her and heal her son. At last the place cleared and I approached her at the counter.

“So God told me to come to this gas station and give you a word of encouragement,” I said. “I don’t know if you’ve been going through a rough time…”

“Nope. Things are actually pretty great in my life right now,” she replied with smug enthusiasm.

“Or maybe your son…”

“No, things are better than they’ve been in a long time.”

“Well I’m just down here visiting from Seattle,” I said, my face flushing. “I came for a walk and thought God wanted me to come here and affirm that you are noticed and cared for.”

“I just moved here from Seattle,” she replied curtly. Then she described how the rising house prices had forced her to leave. I commiserated with her for a few minutes about Seattle housing then wished her God’s blessings and left.

As I headed towards my aunt and uncle’s house, I acknowledged to myself that I’m still a baby in practicing the gift of hearing God speak on account of others. The woman had been so distant and probably didn’t even have a son. However, I had sensed the presence of God’s Spirit while browsing Gatorade and Red Bull in the same way that I do when worshiping at church.That was cool. Why had I been surprised? Jesus was born in a barn, so God can show up anywhere! I was encouraged that even though my message had seemed a bit off, I had felt the presence of God in a gas station. Now, I was done for the day.

“Go back,” I heard God whisper.

“What? God, she already thinks I’m crazy.”

“Go back.”

“I need to get home for dinner. My family will be waiting for me.”

“Go back and let Me show you what I will do. Watch Me work!”

“OK, God. I’ll go back. But You’ve gotta give me a word for her first.”

I sat down on the curb outside of Lowe’s and placed my head in the palm of my hands. I got a vision that indicated she felt swallowed by life–perhaps she was struggling financially. After all, she worked at a a gas station and had just relocated due to unaffordable rent. I determined to go back and ask her if I could pray a financial blessing on her. Who doesn’t want that? I anticipated that even if she said “I don’t believe in God” I would tell her that she doesn’t have to for me to pray a blessing-I believe in God and that this God wants to bless her!

When I arrived the place was quiet. As soon as she saw me her face slightly lit up.

“Can I pray a financial blessing over you?” I asked.

“Yes!” she replied. Then continued, “After you left, I thought I should have told her how I came to move down here. I’d lived my entire life in Seattle and never even heard of the town of Longview. But then our landlord decided to sell our house and we couldn’t find anything that would accommodate my disabled parents and my two sons unless we earned $15k a month. My mom never prays, but she prayed for housing. That was the first time she had prayed in YEARS. And right after she did, we looked up and saw three doves flying. A the same time, her phone buzzed with a zillow posting for Longview. We started looking at houses in this town and discovered they were much more affordable. We came down to look in-person and the first one we saw had only been posted 15 minutes earlier-they weren’t even ready to show it yet when we arrived. But it had four bedrooms and was perfect for us. We got that house and then I got this job right away. The owner actually knew me from when I worked at a station of his in Renton 11 years ago.”

“Wow, thank you for sharing that story with me,” I said in awe.

“I think you’re prayer for financial blessing has to do with some funds we’ve been waiting on for hospital bills,” she continued. “You see, my dad had a stroke recently.” She also told me that one of her sons had a chronic illness.

“Yes, God was trying to show me something about your son and his health.”

So I prayed, right there in the gas station. I prayed a financial blessing over this woman, her sons and her parents.

When I stepped out the door a second time, my phone was buzzing with texts from my family asking where I was. But my faith had grown from this simple experience in trusting God and seeing how this woman and her family were in fact cared for deeply.



Sacrifice for My Freedom

IMG_5248Several years ago I had a disturbing dream that left me shaken after I awoke. Yet it’s a dream that has stayed with me.

I had gone for a walk through some wooded hills where others were hiking. I hadn’t strolled far when I spotted three animals running up the trail towards us. I climbed onto a fallen tree, but the tree was rotted and my weight caused the trunk to cave in and I crashed against the largest of the approaching animals—a giant horse. The horse kicked at me, but I was near its neck so began to stroke its mane and succeeded in calming it. The other two animals—a baby bear and a beaver—rambled past. All the hikers ran up the trail, afraid of the approaching beasts.

I moved past the animals and continued down the trail until I discovered an “Alice In Wonderland” playground nestled along the edge of the path. I thought of how I would inform my friends on Facebook about my discovery as I began to explore its premises. I climbed through the playhouse and slid down the slides, thinking that someday I would bring the children I cared for as a nanny to visit. Then I heard a young girl in the basement sandbox of the playhouse singing. Perplexed that she was there alone, I found her and asked about parents. She seemed unaware that they weren’t present and continued singing and playing, immersed in her own world. I had encountered a suspicious-looking man watching me when I was on the slide and was afraid to leave her playing alone. Before I could remove her, however, the man approached us, intent on the girl. I tried to stop him, but he said he would rape me and then her if I didn’t move. So I ran for help.

“So you are going to sacrifice this girl for your own freedom!” the man yelled after me, as I jogged up the hill.

The man was ugly and obese and I knew I could not succeed against him. I also thought that even if he raped me, it would likely not allow enough time for other adults to arrive to rescue the girl and then she would have witnessed the man harming me as well. I ran up the trail, yelling for parents to come to their daughter’s rescue. Three dads and a couple of moms came sprinting and we returned to the playhouse, flung open the door and found the man on top of the girl, just finishing.

The other adults exchanged angry words with the man, but he was smug and unapologetic.

“Look, I also work at Microsoft,” he said, attempting to form allegiance with another dad. The parents let the man go.

“This is not right!” I yelled. “We must report this to the justice system. We cannot allow this man to continue to prey on children like this!”

As the man sulked away, I pulled out my camera and began taking his photo, hoping that I could document his face to show authorities. The playground had noe become an amusement park where many families had come for recreation.


When I awoke and pondered the dream, I recognized that the man’s words to me express an attitude towards my life purpose. If I choose to simply enjoy my life and do nothing to prevent and expose exploitation of vulnerable girls, I am in fact sacrificing them for my freedom.

Why is the city of Flint allowed to waste away? 

This week’s guest blog post comes to us from writer, poet, educator, artist and social activist Katelyn Durst. Katelyn is a close friend of mine, writing companion and former colleague at Urban Impact. Her piece opens with the current lead-crisis in Flint, Michigan and spins out to larger unresolved historical crisis this situation represents. Finally, her words ricochet back to our modern crisis of unnecessary deaths  that could also have been avoided. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this piece is that within a month Katelyn will be relocating to Flint, Michigan. Thanks, Katelyn, for sharing your poetry with us and may you continue to use your art to challenge injustices in your new hometown! 

It’s February in Flint, Michigan

And children will make paper heart Valentines

Red, pink and purple paper

With “Be Mine” written in marker

They will hold in their lead-filled tears for now

Save them for a squeaky swing set on a Sunday

For a hospital bed in fifty years

When brain damage has made them a raisin

“This all could have been avoided,”

Said Dan Wyant, former quality of department of environmental quality

This like all forms of hate could have been completely avoidable

Just like the 3,346 lynchings of Blacks in Mississippi

Just like the 10,000 Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Meskie, Chickasaw, Chakta

Who were forced from their ancestral homeland

Just like the man in blue

With a gun who is gray with lightning

And the yellow thunder that follows

Only seconds behind.

13920662_10154147708395020_1796666940873281490_nKatelyn Durst is a poet and community artist who has been working with visionary youth all over the country for the past 6 years.She has just began a master’s program in urban studies and community arts which employs arts-based community development to transform at-risk communities. Most recently, Katelyn worked with the Children’s Defense Freedom Schools program at Rainier Beach High School, a program that implements a reading curriculum that celebrates diverse cultures and civil rights activism and is written by authors of color, where she worked alongside 9th and 10th graders in community activism and positive identity building. She currently teaches therapeutic poetry with Pongo Teen Writing. Her poetry has appeared in The LightKeeper, The Offbeat, Teen Inc,New Poetry Magazine and is upcoming in Tayo Literary Magazine and The Primal School. In Katelyn’s spare time, she can be found dreaming about starting her own urban farm, baking gluten free cakes and biking her neighborhood.