Our guest blogger, Nathan Snow, attended a breakfast for area faith leaders and wrote this post as a reflection on the conversation that took place. It appeared on the Centreville Presbyterian Church website (www.CentrevillePres.com) on February 26, 2014.
Visit to the Centreville Labor Resource Center
“God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself… gave us the ministry of reconciliation (katallasso).” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
How often do we make friends of the invisible people that we pass daily at work or in the market? Do you know your hairdresser? Do you know the person who serves you coffee? Perhaps yes; many times no.
But even with perfect strangers we cannot, as Christians, treat people with fear or indifference. In Christ, we exchange not only money and goods, but also ourselves, our joys, and our dreams. Christ inspires us to take risks and to be open to everyone we meet.
Market places, when they operate without too many restrictions, draw us closer together and reconcile perfect strangers.
The Greek word for reconciliation “katallasso,” means to make friends by being decisively changed. The word also meant making “exact change.” Of persons, it means changing from enmity to friendship.
Richard Whately, a 19th century economist and Archbishop of Dublin, recommended the word “catallactics”, rather than economics, to refer to the study of exchange. Some economists have recently followed Whately’s lead and used this term. After all, to exchange and make friends is the whole point of a knowledge society.
Earlier this month I visited a new market place called the Centreville Labor Resource Center (www.CentrevilleLRC.org). People were friendly, smiling and talking about work and new job opportunities they had heard about. They shared information with one another over coffee and small talk. People from multiple different cultures, languages, and walks of life were joined to one another to learn new skills and ways to care for their families. This is a true market place.
But this new market was also unique, even peculiar. Like Monster, or LinkedIn, it was like the websites many of us visit when looking for a new job. However, these were people “off the grid”. None of the people at the market I visited could look for a job online–they were all day-laborers. This was like a temp service for individuals who do not have access to a temp service. Undocumented workers and other day laborers are matched with contractors or individuals needing odd jobs taken care of around the house. The service protected the worker and reduced the risks to the employer of hiring a complete stranger. It is always easier to do business with friends that you know and trust.
The Centreville Labor Resource Center is a reconciling ministry: a market and a place to make friends. It creates community. In doing so, it provides a safe, organized place where residents and contractors can negotiate work arrangements with day laborers. And, it receives no government funds.
Nathanael Snow is an economist and amateur theologian. He and his wife spent 8 years in full time ministry to inner-city Durham, NC. His research looks at the intersection of Theology and Economics, in particular the structure of religious institutions. Twitter @NathanaelDSnow.