Introduction to BridgeBuilders

BridgeBuilders is an urban missionary organization that mobilizes the Body of Christ to alleviate poverty and promote flourishing communities in Dallas, Texas.

Since most people do not typically associate Dallas with poverty many would be surprised to discover that among cities with a population of one million or more, Dallas ranks number one in childhood poverty, has the second fastest growing rate of poverty and now claims the third highest overall poverty rate in the U.S. behind Memphis, TN and Detroit, MI (Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, 2014).

However, it must be understood that modern poverty in America is not so much the result of scarcity and deprivation as it is the creation of a growing underclass that is sustained by a worldview in which entitlement and dependency have replaced industriousness and personal responsibility as its overarching tenants. These “values” are often validated, reinforced, and perpetuated by means of a persistent grievance industry that advances racism and/or class oppression as the sole cause of social and economic deprivation. The result has been the creation of a distinctive subculture in which people are burdened with onerous obstacles to self-sufficiency and flourishing.

We believe that such a culture diminishes the dignity of human beings made in the image of God. We further believe that this subculture represents an institutionalized form of oppression that sustains poverty and from which it is nearly impossible to break free on one’s own. We further believe that God has sent his church into the world to bear witness to the in-breaking rule and reign of God (i.e., the kingdom) by bringing the liberating power and principles of God’s kingdom to bear upon those ideas, cultures and structures that oppose the proper ordering of God’s world (shalom).

In contrast to “outside” causation, we understand that poverty ultimately derives from a “relational poverty” that originates from within every person. The Christian life and worldview teaches that the root of all suffering and deprivation results from sin and the fall of mankind, which severed four foundational relationships essential to human flourishing: mankind’s relationship with God, himself, others and creation (cf. Genesis 3).

Thus, BridgeBuilders’ approach to poverty alleviation and community restoration focuses on the actual root cause by working to restore these four foundational relationships and the resulting broken societal systems created by humans that magnify and perpetuate this brokenness.

Our strategy focuses on five key aspects:

1.     Establish and maintain a missionary presence within the communities that we seek to serve, becoming a neighbor.

2.     Offer a continuum of redemptive or remedial services that yield spiritual maturity, essential life and social skills, restored families, and economic self-sufficiency.

3.     Partner with South Dallas churches in order to place new disciples (strengthen their churches), expand community impact, and recruit additional program recipients.

4.     Engage the suburban church with volunteer opportunities and projects, thereby mobilizing effective missional engagement with the poor.

5.     Establish and maintain youth programming in the community that militates against the deleterious effects of the prevailing culture.

When applied faithfully, we believe and history confirms that, the aforementioned can produce a new set of attitudes and behaviors, which will result in a transformation of the culture from one that currently hinders human flourishing to one that fosters human flourishing. The result is the alleviation of poverty in which the destructive cycle of dependency and entitlement cease transmission to the next generation.

Mission

BridgeBuilders is an urban missionary organization that mobilizes the Body of Christ to alleviate poverty and promote flourishing communities.

Vision

We believe that the gospel of the kingdom is a redemptive reality that seeks the restoration of the whole person as well as the broken social systems and structures imposed upon them. We further believe that the Body of Christ is God’s chosen   instrument for setting right all that sin has set wrong in the world and that it is by His power and for His glory that we are to go about this work. We envision a community where more people are financially self-sufficient than dependent, more intact families exist than not, hope has replaced hopelessness, legitimate industry has replaced criminal enterprise, people experience flourishing in their fundamental relationships and the result offers a compelling public witness to the in-breaking rule and reign of God.

Values

Seek First the Kingdom

The primary message of Jesus Christ is the present and future reality of the kingdom of God, the reign of Christ that is transforming every square inch of the cosmos.  Because Christians are told to seek first the kingdom, every goal that BridgeBuilders seeks, every decision that it makes, and every method that it employs must be consistent with seeking and proclaiming that kingdom. This includes but is not limited to the following:

Embracing a Relational Approach to Poverty Alleviation

God has ordained four key relationships for each person that are essential to human flourishing: Relationship with God, self, others and creation.  The fall severed each of these relationships, meaning that all people are impoverished in the sense of not experiencing the fullness of life that God intended.  For some, the brokenness in these key relationships expresses itself in economic poverty, i.e., not being able to support themselves through their own work. This perspective has profound implications for the design, implementation and evaluation of all poverty alleviation strategies, including:

Avoiding Dependency

Individuals are called by God to work and to be able to support themselves through that work. BridgeBuilders believes it should not create dependency by undermining the abilities of individuals.  While this approach necessarily limits the size, nature, and pace of BridgeBuilders’ operations, we believe it increases both the scale and depth of BridgeBuilders long-term impact.  Implications of this perspective include:

Being Theologically Learned

While we may suppose that the work that we do is “good,” it is only by means of a theologically grounded understanding of God and man that we can pursue what is ‘true and good and beautiful.’ This perspective means that we will endeavor to acquire and integrate a sophisticated understanding of God’s Word and his will for this mission in this present context, which includes:

The Ally Program

Many of the individuals who come to BridgeBuilders for services are also looking for spiritual guidance and friendship, a place to belong. The communities they come from have very high rates of unemployment, crime, drugs, poverty, single parent homes, and elevated high school dropout rates, among other issues. When they enter our doors they are looking for a second chance; they are looking for a way to cross the bridge. We engage them in our WORK program which includes employment training classes.

We desire to pair each client with an ally who is committed to the client’s success and to helping the client restore the four relationships that may be broken and to begin the process of poverty alleviation in the individual’s life.  In the ally program, we hope to create a platform for the Holy Spirit to work through the relationships that develop between our clients and the ally. The program is designed to give you, the ally, the freedom and ability to develop an authentic relationship with the client. We have purposefully removed any curriculum or unnecessary requirements so that the relationship between you and your ally can grow unhindered.

In the book "Bridges Out of Poverty," the authors use the following to describe allies: 

“A mentor (ally) is someone who helps another learn the ways of the world – or specific tasks, someone willing to give some time and energy in helping someone else succeed.  Mentors are those who can use the process to help others avoid sabotaging themselves by repeating learned, but ineffective or destructive, behaviors.  Successful mentors are willing to share their own mistakes and how they were resolved.  Mentoring is a gift from the heart.”

Being an ally - not an event but a process. Bible study, seminars, evangelistic outreach are event-type ministries.  Being an ally is a process that has the greatest potential to change lives. But, it requires the heaviest investment of time and commitment on the part of the ally.

Ally Expectations

The following are the expectations of an ally:

  • Support the mission, vision and values of the ministry
  • Attend orientation and training
  • Weekly lunch during the 5 week employment training course.  
  • Continue walking with the client through the next 5 weeks of transition.
  • Attend the graduation ceremony.
  • Complete follow-up sheet and survey 
  • Regularly pray for the client.
  • Do not give any financial assistance to the client. Bring any need to our staff for consideration by our benevolence group. (this is strictly forbidden)
  • If the client does request financial assistance, please notify the staff.
  • Agree to notify BridgeBuilders staff of any concerns you may be having regarding the relationship with the studentor the physical safety or emotional state of the student.

Meetings

Week 1 – Your first meeting will be at BridgeBuilders' offices (2075 W. Commerce St., Dallas, TX 75208) for lunch on Thursday or Friday.  Lunch is provided both of those days.  Subsequent weeks, lunch will be provided on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Having lunch together in a group setting the first time will be more comfortable.

Weeks 2-5 – You can come schedule lunch any day except Wednesday.  Tuesday and Thursday we provide lunch.  Otherwise, you can bring lunch for both of you or go to a nearby restaurant.

Post Training – This is the most important time. Call, text, or email at least once per week during the transition period after training during pre-employment and the first weeks of employment .  Perhaps you can meet them at their place of employment during lunch or a break time.  If on a non-working day, you might need to pick them up from their residence.

Session Guidelines

The following is a guideline for each session with your student. The goal of the program is to be intentional about covering specific topics, but also for an authentic relationship to develop between you and the student. 

Session 1—Get Acquainted

Get to know the student.  Ask questions! (Log key answers to help you refer back to)  Here are some examples:

  • Have the student tell you about themselves and their history (Where are they from, married, single, children, previous jobs, interests, etc.)
  • How did you hear about the training classes?
  • Discuss short-term/long-term goals?
  • Find out where he/she is spiritually.

Let the student get to know you as well.  Attempt to be transparent with the student by sharing the following:

  • Your history: where you are from, married, single, children, occupation, interests, etc.
  • Consider sharing some of your spiritual testimony if the student seems open. We want you to share your relationship with Jesus to encourage the student to have a relationship with Jesus or to strengthen their relationship.

Share your objectives for your relationship:

  • State that your role is to encourage them because there will be ups & downs on this journey
  • End with a word of encouragement, prayer , exchange phone numbers and e-mail where you both can be reached.  The number at the EDC is 469-621-5900.

Session 2—Discovering Your Strengths & Weaknesses

  • List some of his/her strengths and weaknesses (time management issues, anger, etc.)
  • Discuss strengths and weaknesses
  • Encourage the student to rise above their weaknesses (give personal examples, share scripture verses, etc.)
  • Have the student list 10 descriptive statements that define who he/she is (i.e., I am nice, I am reliable) Then have them narrow the list to 5.  Discuss their list.

Session 3—Family & Friends

Discuss the following:

  • You may want to give the student a little background of your family history.
  • Have the student tell you a little about their family
  • Ask, “How did you learn what was right and what was wrong from your family?”
  • Ask, “Did you have a good relationship with your parents & siblings?”
  • As, “If you had a magic wand to change anything about your family, what would it be?”
  • Ask, “What changes need to occur in your life so that you can have a positive relationship with your family?”
  • What do you look for in a friend?
  • Is it hard for you to take constructive criticism from your friends?
  • Can you say “No” to a friend who asks you to do something that is wrong?
  • Is it easy to forgive a friend who has wronged you?
  • Are there friendships that you need to discontinue?

Post-Graduation/Work Environment topics:

  • Relationship with boss
  • Have you had any uncomfortable or disagreeable situations with your boss?
  • Encourage the student to call you if they are having any difficulty at work – sexual harassment, not getting along with a co-worker, dissatisfied with boss…
  • Are you good with money?
  • What is your view of credit cards?
  • Do you have any debts?
  • Have you ever been on a budget?
  • Do you pay your bills by checks? Have you had insufficient fund checks?
  • Discuss the importance of budgeting your money.
  • Discuss strategies you use to budget your money (i.e., organizational strategies, envelope system, etc.)
  • Complete the monthly budget worksheet based on their current financial situation
  • Encourage them to track their day-to-day spending.
  • Talk about their interactions with banks.  Have they had any experiences that might hinder them to open a checking and a savings account after they start working? Discuss any personal experiences or insights you have had in regard to the wise or unwise use of money.
  •  Encourage them to use direct deposit.
  • Discuss the importance of planning ahead before making large purchases.  Many new employees are tempted to buy a new car, move to a better apartment, etc.  Offer to assist them in making big financial decisions.

Being an Effective Ally

  • nderstand that the Sanctification Process takes time (as evidenced in our own lives). Look at the potential in the student’s life.  Empathize with the student’s failures and shortcomings (we all have them) but encourage the student to persevere. This is a difficult transition, probably one you have never experienced.
  • You are an ally, not a parent or superior. Guard against any expectations of behavioral change.
  • Be open about your life. The student will be encouraged to know that you have life situations that are difficult as well.  Share how God gets you through those times. 
  • Ask questions. An important role of the ally is to listen.  As you ask questions, the student might have to pause and consider the response. Be okay with silence even though it might seem awkward.
  • Help find solutions (don’t provide the solution)– Allow the student to find a solution with your guidance. 
  • Network and act as resource guide. Find other resources that can help. The BridgeBuilders staff is available to assist and has a great understanding of the process.
  • Admit when you do not know the answer.  Pray with the student that God will reveal the answer.
  • Respect confidentiality . Keep information confidential. However, there may be information and situations that would be important for HISBB staff to know. 
  • Introduce the student to other Christians. Go to an event or program with other Christians to demonstrate the body of Christ.
  • Be available. If you are involved in too many other activities, you will not be available to the relationship physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
  • Do Not assist them financially.

Understanding Poverty

In order to build a relationship with those coming from poverty there are several context rules you need to understand in order to prepare. Just as if you were preparing to travel to a foreign city, you would familiarize yourself with the local culture.

Facts to know:

  • The key to achievement for individuals in poverty is in creating relationships with them.
  • 9 out of 10 students who went from poverty to middle class made the journey due to a relationship with an ally, teacher, counselor, or coach who took interest in them as individuals.
  • Find ways to establish natural connections that will enable building relationships which will take root & grow.
  • The barriers of language and “hidden rules” of ethnic and socioeconomic culture are learned more quickly through the use of allies.
  • Moving from poverty often one has to discard several key relationships.

Things to Remember:

  • Role of the ally is not to “save” the individual but offer a support system, role models, & opportunities to learn. 
  • Having an ally has been proven to increase the likelihood of a person’s success but ultimately the choice belongs to the individual.
  • Even if individuals living in poverty were given the financial resources to live differently, many choose not to change. 
  • Leaving poverty is a process, not an event.

Our desire is for you to develop a long-term relationship.  Continue to meet as long as the two of you are comfortable together.  I have listed some suggested activities.

  • Attend Bible Studytogether – we have bible study each Wednesday at noon. If they live in South Dallas, there is a family group on Wednesday night in Bonton.
  • Keep daily journals describing how you have seen God work in your life that day. Share some highlights with each other.
  • Share an activity –  a walk, sporting event, spending an afternoon running errands together, a project.    If the student has children, attend one of the children’s events.
  • Attend weekend worship service together both at your home church and at the student’s church.

Recommended Reading

         Bridges Out of Poverty by Philip E. DeVol , Ruby K. Payne, Terie Dreussi Smith

         Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton

         When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert