Article Written By Warren Bird
Lisa Johanon is demonstrating the true meaning of “pay it forward” as her community development organization is helping Ward Presbyterian Church, in greater Detroit, transform one of the hardest-hit areas of the city.
Lisa’s Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Ward Presbyterian are partnering to buy condemned homes in a blighted area, rehab them and help low-income residents settle into the houses.
“I meet at least monthly with leaders at Ward, and they are very involved,” says Lisa, CDC’s executive director and co-founder, who came to Christ at Ward’s Vacation Bible School as a child and led the rest of her family there. “It’s been fun to develop the process together.”
It’s been so impactful for Ward Presbyterian that the church is making an ongoing habit out of it. Ward is rehabbing its seventh house in the area, and the congregation has raised $1 million and found 36 homes it wants to purchase and renovate. Ward has a goal of buying 15 houses each year, and employing local workers and volunteers to get the job done.
“For the last several years, we would buy one home in the area, renovate it, and put in a family who would be a great neighbor,” says Ward Senior Pastor Scott McKee. “Then we started thinking, ‘What if we could raise $1 million and buy a bunch? What would happen to an area if they could say there were no more homes for sale? “It’s made good progress. You can see this community changing slowly.”
Bringing Life and Light to the Community
Ward got into its extreme makeovers when Lisa’s organization defined a 24-block impoverished area of Detroit as its principal target. The condition of the community because of vacant and abandoned housing is stark. Ward saw the opportunity to have an impact in housing and has been beating that drum faithfully ever since. Church leaders dream of building a greenhouse, nursery school and even planting a church in the area.
“This is something tangible that everyone in our church knows about,” Scott says, “and they can say, ‘We are helping Detroit come back to life.’
“The cultural difference between here and there is significant—racial, socio-economic, education,” Dan says. “Practically, we’re 17 miles away and there’s no public transportation and the majority of residents don’t have their own car.
“There’s a need for another new, healthy, thriving church in that area.”
Lisa looks forward to that day, so that she can see the ministry of Ward come full circle—from leading her and her family to Christ, to ministering to people such as the single mom who came to Christ at a CDC Bible study.
The woman was selected to receive a renovated house, and for the first time she was able to provide a home for her three daughters—who had been living in the basement of her ex-husband’s parents home for several years.
“On the celebration day of moving to their new home, the girls were each in their bedrooms, laying in their beds, each lavishing in the pleasure of having her own room,” Lisa recalls. “That experience was the party for them.”
The mom went back to school, got remarried and the oldest daughter attends attended college.
“Someone believed in them enough to help them get a home,” Lisa says. “The impetus for their life change was a home with support from the church community.”
Andy Williams contributed to the writing of this report.