A New Vision, A New Voice ~ The North Texas Conference
Message from Vic Casad: December 13, 2016
Notes from the Heartland
Some of you may have received the notice that Melinda Watters sent out last week that she will be resigning as the Director of the Zip Code Connection work in Clarksville and Red River County. She and her husband Ryan are expecting their second child in February and she is now going to devote her full attention to motherhood. While I appreciate and understand her decision, I am saddened that she and Ryan and Ava will be leaving us. Both Melinda and Ryan have done remarkable work in helping the community leadership of Clarksville come together with a new hope for the future.
Melinda has been instrumental in establishing The Hub Community Center which has become truly the hub for much of Clarksville’s social service activity. The Boys and Girls Club is housed at the Hub; GED classes are taught there; health and job-related education takes place there; AA meets there regularly; and it hosts many community gatherings that discuss and plan ways of improving Clarksville and Red River County’s well-being. And while The Hub is not a place that espouses a particular religious doctrine, it is a place that operates out of a deeply Christian and spiritual core.
Melinda’s husband Ryan has been instrumental in acquiring the services of Communities Unlimited, an Arkansas-based nonprofit, whose mission is to “move rural and under-resourced communities in areas of persistent poverty to sustainable prosperity.” The North Texas Conference and the City of Clarksville have partnered together to contract Communities Unlimited to come and provide training and lending resources to those Red River residents who need help turning their ideas, determination, and entrepreneurial spirits into established businesses and other local job creating ventures.
I was intrigued a couple of weeks ago when I saw a 60 Minutes news segment about a very poor region of Mississippi that is undergoing an economic renaissance. About ten years ago the governing body of this region known as The Golden Triangle brought in an economic developer, Joe Max Higgins, to try to do something that might help the dried up economy. Higgins went to work and now a decade later, the region is being highlighted by 60 Minutes as an industrial/manufacturing miracle. Higgins was able to entice a helicopter plant, a truck engine plant, a Japanese tire plant and others to come into this poorest region in the country and stimulate $6 billion in capital investment and create 6,000 jobs.
My curiosity went immediately to ask the question: I wonder how all this new money and economic vitality has affected the local churches in the area? So, I contacted the District Superintendent of the Starkville District of the Mississippi Conference, Dr. Embra Jackson.
Dr. Jackson quickly emailed me back. He said he had just come from a Rotary meeting where the topic of discussion and program was the 60 Minutes telecast. Here is his response to me: “In regard to your specific questions about the impact of the economic growth on the local churches I cannot give you a scientific response. Nonetheless, I do not see a major impact that it is having on our United Methodist Churches. I assume that there is some positive correlation between the two but quite honestly most of the churches in my district are composed of persons who are retired and are thus not employed in the industries that were highlighted in the report.”
A couple of days later, Dr. Jackson sent me a copy of an editorial from the Starkville newspaper, The Dispatch titled, “60 Minutes and the Domino Effect.” This was an enlightening article that reveals that despite the growing economic upturn in recent years, “our schools struggle and crime is a growing concern. Unemployment rates have not fallen in corresponding numbers … There is no discernable boom in housing either.”
The op/ed closes with this challenge: What if we had a Joe Max Higgins for education? Or crime? Or unemployment? Or housing? What if any of those problems fell to someone with the expertise, drive and leadership skills required to make positive gains? What if those problems were championed by someone who could command respect, confidence, and support of our communities? What if? And who? Maybe success in those areas begins with these questions.
I can tell you that in Red River County these challenges have been championed by Melinda and Ryan Watters. But the work is far from complete. I hope and pray what they have accomplished will continue and expand as we find a new Connection Director who will continue this important missional initiative.
In His Service and Yours,