By Chris Meehan, with reporting by Claire Holovaty. Photos by Ellen Putzier, Edna Malone and Sam Mertz.
About 100 neighbors and Action volunteers gathered to celebrate 10 years of People of Praise life in Shreveport’s Allendale neighborhood on August 2. A banner hanging above the empty lot where they met for prayer and food offered a theme taken from the Scriptures—We are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). The celebration included a praise dance by neighborhood girls and a barbecue and potluck.
Christians in Mission team leader Nathan Barrett stood on a chair and offered some reflections on unity. “When we pray together we become more one in Christ,” he said, “and that helps the whole neighborhood and the whole world.” He urged neighbors to commit to praying the Lord's Prayer with someone else that week.
Some Allendale residents at the celebration had seen the community’s presence in the neighborhood grow over 10 years, beginning with a few men living in a rental house and slowly expanding to a team of 20 men, women and children living in six new homes built by volunteers. Neighbors offered their reflections on what the People of Praise has meant to the area.
“The People of Praise has made a big difference,” said Diane Burks, who met community members soon after they arrived in 2002. “I sit on my porch and watch the boys at summer camp. The People of Praise members give kids respect, patience and love. And they get respect back. This is what we’ve needed. I hope the People of Praise stays for a long time.
“People of Praise members listen when you talk to them,” she added. “They don’t just quote Scripture. They explain it.”
“Father, make us one. That’s my favorite prayer,” said long-time Allendale resident Ed Allison, echoing Nathan’s message. “There used to be a cultural division, but that’s been broken down. This is God’s work. The People of Praise are my best friends.”
Neighbor Angie Simmons said, “The People of Praise has brought a lot of people together—for Bible study and prayer nights. There used to be a lot of fighting—now you don’t see that. They taught my son how to build a doghouse and they keep my boys out of trouble. The People of Praise has a friend in me.”
Since 2002, the community has sent 49 volunteer teams to Allendale. Volunteers have donated 60,000 hours of labor, built six new homes on Yale Avenue, completed 65 home-repair projects for neighbors and organized 10 years of summer camps for local children. Shreveport branch members helped house, feed and entertain many of the volunteers. “At times, it’s been a stretch for a small branch like us to do all that,” says branch leader Jack Lynch, “but it gives us life. Action’s presence energizes us.”
Joan Pingel, who moved from South Bend to Shreveport in 2004, says that some neighborhood changes are not easily measured. “Time is the key to some changes,” she says. “Even some folks that haven’t been so friendly respect us because we’ve stuck it out. They know where to turn if they’re in trouble, or where to send a friend in need.”
The barbecue also marked the end of this year’s summer camp. The camp set a record for attendance when 62 campers came on June 29. Most days about 40 children attended.
Campers enjoyed a day of Olympic-themed events to wrap up this year’s camp. The activities included opening ceremonies featuring flags and the lighting of a torch which campers relayed around the neighborhood. Games included relay races and a “soak your counselor” event, along with football, basketball-dribbling, long jump, a bean bag toss and jump rope. At the closing ceremony, the girls resurrected an ancient Greek tradition called "The Path of Victory." The girls on the winning team wore red ribbons around their heads and walked through two rows of girls tossing flowers before them.
Colleen Murray, who led the girls’ activities, noted that the camp ran very smoothly. “I think the girls have been coming long enough that they know what kind of behavior we expect,” she said.
Sam Mertz, who directed the boys’ section of camp, said that this year’s campers were more willing to be reconciled after a disagreement than in his two previous summers as a counselor. “They’ll do it—even if they resist at first. What we’ve been teaching has been sinking in over time.”