“Golf with a Purpose,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and Other Pithy Phrases

Becoming the Great Us, Columns, Featured — By on December 4, 2010 at 2:08 pm

East Lake Commons

I don’t golf much. I’m pretty bad at it, to be honest. I’m also something of a populist; I don’t like pomposity and I don’t like to be told what’s what by the upper crust. But I like food—a lot. And so when I received an invitation to a members-only golf club for a free breakfast—the most important meal of the day, as enjoyed by the upper crust—I swallowed my populist pride, packed a non-denim change of clothes, and booked a flight to the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

East Lake is one of the premier golf clubs in the country, with a storied tradition: the oldest course in Atlanta, it was home base to Bobby Jones, the Tiger Woods of the 1930s (without, apparently, some of the naughty bits). But white flight and urban decay took over the area, and the club was abandoned, and eventually replaced with public housing complexes that became centers for drug and gang activity. Amazing what a few years can do.

Fast forward a few decades and this community, now overrun with blight and crime, needed help. A developer remembered the glory days of the East Lake Golf Club and had an idea. What if the community could be revitalized by reinventing the golf club, without sending the poor into exile? Fast forward a decade and this once-destitute community had completely new mixed-income housing, a charter school for poor neighborhood kids, increased home values and community chaplaincy programs, intentional communities, and a world-class golf club on the pro tour. Proceeds from the golf club fund development and other social services in the community. Amazing what a few years can do.

Bob Lupton, honorary member of East Lake and founder of FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta, told us the story of this remarkable course (its slogan is “Golf with a Purpose”) as a way of introducing us to Mission Year, the organization sponsoring my free breakfast. Mission Year, I freely admit, had my attention.

Mission Year has been around for about thirteen years. Its missionaries get to know their communities well and let the strengths of their communities inform their ministry. They seek to understand their neighbors, they pursue the interests of the community they relocate to, and they work together with their neighbors to discern what God has in mind for their neighborhoods. Empathy, solidarity and communal discovery—the hallmarks, to my way of thinking, of the Great Us.

I really dig Mission Year. They have a cool slogan—“Love God, Love People, Nothing Else Matters”—and a cool track record. About a thousand recent graduates have given a year of their lives to serving underserved communities around the United States, and Mission Year missionaries have logged over a million hours of service to the poor. College graduates who defer their careers for a year of service, meanwhile, have their worldviews reshaped, so that no matter how hard they work or how successful they get, they retain a sense of community, a connection to their neighbors of any race or economic status. The type of people who go through Mission Year are the type of people who look at a dilapidated community and see a world-class golf course surrounded by a rich diversity of people, the type of people who look at a world and see a neighborhood. Amazing what a year can do.

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  • diane nienhuis says:

    I worked with KingdomWorks in 1995-1996 which eventually became Mission Year. Amazing stuff! It really changed me into who I am today.

  • jeff ell says:

    Good to see all that talent and energy doing redemptive things. Pray more duffers would return from voluntary exile. The American south is full of communities built around golf courses. Communities full of sequestered seniors who could do amazing things for the Kingdom and our culture. Big house on the seventh hole, fairway view, chewing lotus on the island green…sometimes those retirement homes on the cul-de-sac look like five bed room jets circling the graveyard.

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