Working with the Poor: Dead End Ahead

“They won’t respond to us.  We’ve reached out but they are not interested in reconciliation. They want the relationship to end.”

Melissa, Jonathan and Noella were shocked.  This is not what they expected.  After all, they had poured into the lives of the two students who had attended their Jobs for Life class. 

They had begun the class last September with two students, refugees who had dropped out of school at the age of 13, living isolated in public housing on $270/month, and struggling with anger, bitterness, confidence and a lack of self-worth.

But the class gave them hope.  One dreamed of becoming a makeup artist, the other wanted to get further training in computers.  During the class, they literally could not read Psalm139 out loud without laughing because it was so foreign for them to grasp anyone would care for and value them.   

They not only read about it, they experienced it firsthand.  Melissa, Jonathan and Noella gave their lives to the students, opened doors for them in the community to pursue work opportunities, and were present when critical needs came up.

Graduation was a celebration with an elaborate feast.  Friends came and celebrated with the students the awarding of their diplomas.  Everyone was filled with joy and satisfaction.

Then…silence.

After graduation, the team’s efforts to connect with the students were met with rejection. 

“We’d go to their home and knock on the door but they wouldn’t answer.  We later found out they were angry with us.”

“What did we do wrong? Why in the world would they be angry?”

ImageOn the front cover of the Jobs for Life class materials, it reads, “The Journey is the Reward.”  But what if the journey leads to a Dead End? 

In 2 Corinthians 5:14-16, the apostle Paul writes,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-16

Having given themselves for years to those in need, Melissa, Jonathan and Noella’s trust in Christ compelled them to see the students no longer from a worldly point of view.

Melissa recounts,

“The problems students come with go so much deeper than economic need, and all told, the amount of time we spend with them is hardly sufficient to help them heal those wounds. We hope to begin to help them down that road, but we ought not be surprised if we catch less than friendly fire in the process.  We realize their reaction comes out of their brokenness, that is to say, it comes ultimately out of a poverty we have in common with them. So, we are moving forward.”

They are now in Week 5 of their second Jobs for Life class with three new students.  Thankfully, the journey didn’t lead to a Dead End after all.  

David Spickard, President & CEO

I Struggled to Believe that God Loved Me…

With Valentine’s Day approaching, everyone is looking to how they can share their love for one another.  On this day, love will be shared in every form.  Flowers will be delivered, chocolates will be indulged, and candlelight dinner conversations will be had.   However, at the end of the day, none of these things will last.

Today, men and women around the world crave this tangible love – something they can see, feel, and touch.  Women and men alike want to be loved and appreciated, but what they don’t know is that they are already loved by someone who died to know them.

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I have struggled over the years with different forms of love.  I have put my whole heart into believing that the love from a man was the only form of love I needed.  I’ve struggled with trying to love others who have hurt me in the past.  I’ve struggled with loving others who were different from me.  I even struggled to believe that God loved me…

I believed I was a Christian for a year before actually giving my life to Christ. I thought that being a part of my college’s campus ministry, going to church, and having Christian friends made me a Christian.

But I was missing one thing…. I didn’t believe the Gospel. 

I didn’t believe that God loved me, I didn’t believe that He forgave me for the sins I committed against him, and from this I carried the weight of shame and disappointment on my shoulders for years.

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On November 5, 2009, my life drastically changed.  I learned that God demonstrated his unconditional love by sending his son Jesus to bare my sins and shame on the cross and die the death that I should have died.  No matter what sins I committed in the past, and still commit today, God’s love is everlasting!  

I pray for the men and women around the world that are struggling to believe that God loves them.  I pray for them to become connected to a community that will speak truth into their lives, and I pray for them to understand that God’s love is enough!

I am so thankful to be a part of Jobs for Life, an organization where its volunteers and staff pour God’s love onto those impacted by joblessness.  Not only do they love them through triumphs and hardships, more importantly, they help to show them why God loves them.

This Valentine’s Day, don’t allow flowers, candy, and dinners to make you feel appreciated and loved.  One thing I have taken away from my relationship with God is that His love will always remain steadfast and true, and that’s a love we can trust.

Laurel DeLuca, Development Support Specialist

That Scene from The Help Still Haunts Me

ImageThree years ago I watched The Help and was deeply impacted by the social commentary that the book/movie tackled.  So much so in fact, that one three minute scene opened my eyes and has stuck with me ever since.

In this particular scene, the “well-meaning” women of 1960 Jackson, Miss. put on their annual banquet for the “Poor Starving Children of Africa.”  While there are certainly poor and starving children in Africa, what was depicted was anything but a benefit for many reasons:

  1. It was much more about the inter-workings of the Mississippi “upper-class” than the cause of those in Africa.
  2. They paraded “the help” out front for a simple round of applause.
  3. Those in leadership really felt they were doing all they could and couldn’t see their hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, in Jackson, Miss. in the 1960’s, leaders such as John Perkins were fighting the real battles for dignity and rights.  In comparing that scene with what Perkins describes as happening only miles from where that “benefit” would have taken place, it is hard to comprehend the ignorance and blind malice that took place.

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  1. “In between beating us, these men made me get down on my hands and knees and wipe up my blood, yelling at me for getting their nice clean floor all dirty.”
  2. “I knew then the potential for evil within the human heart.”
  3. “They were pro-segregation, pro white superiority, and anti black.  In 1960, racism was alive and healthy in Dixie.”

*Quotes taken from He’s My Brother, by John Perkins and Thomas Tarrants

Depending on who you ask, in many ways, the USA as a whole has come a long way since 1960 and I’m thankful for that.  There are no longer laws that demand racial segregation and each citizen has the right to a vote.  Of course in many states, including North Carolina, there are battles raging about how far we’ve really come.  So, as I watched that scene from The Help, judging those “upper class” leaders for their callous, unloving, even hatred filled actions, I began to ask myself similar questions:

  1. Are there ways that I am “serving and loving,” but actually only humoring myself?
  2. Are there deeper systems of injustice that I simply accept, but that really have racist, classist, sexist undertones?
  3. Finally, as someone whose job description includes organizing and leading “benefits” like the one in the movie, I wonder who is really benefitting and how can I include more voices in the overall narrative?

There are no easy answers, but I have realized more and more the value of asking introspective and community focused questions, even in looking in the mirror.  I’ve also appreciated the insights of Bob Lupton in Toxic Charity, the example of Nehemiah’s repentance in Nehemiah 5, and the leadership of my co-workers at Jobs for Life and groups like CCDA in helping me wrestle with these topics.

54 years ago, faithful people were willing to ask these questions and fight these battles.  I pray that I, that we, would have the courage to fight them for the next 54 years as well.  The great news is that Christ’s example of selfless love has already given us an example how to proceed.

May we all live with eyes wide open.

- Daniel Alexander, JfL Field Director, Triangle Area NC

SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE

Everyday thousands of African American males drop out of high school, with far too many headed to our nation’s juvenile detention centers and adult prisons.  In urban communities the graduation rate has plummeted to less than 20% and nationwide, fewer than 50% of young black males will experience graduation.

STPPgraphicThe “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education.  They argue that this “pipeline” is the result of public institutions neglecting to properly address students as individuals who might need extra educational or social assistance, or being able to do so because of staffing shortages or statutory mandates.  The resulting miseducation and mass incarceration are said to create a vicious cycle for individuals and communities.

 In the media, we hear countless stories about the devastating impact of juvenile incarceration in America.  Reports show that “one out of three” of African American males will be incarcerated before the age of eighteen.  For a growing number of students the path to incarceration begins with the following stops:

  1. Failing Public Schools – Inadequate resources increases disengagement and dropouts, increasing the risk of later court involvement.
  2. Zero – Tolerance and Other School Discipline – Overly harsh disciplinary actions push students down the pipeline and into the juvenile justice system.
  3. Policing School Hallways – Increased reliance on police rather than teachers and administrators to maintain discipline.
  4. Disciplinary Alternative Schools – Students who enter the juvenile justice system face many barriers to their re-entry into traditional schools.
  5. Court Involvement and Juvenile Detention – Students pushed along the pipeline finds themselves in juvenile detention facilities.

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 Ministerial, Educational and Community Leaders around the globe are asking the question, “What do we do”? They are trying to figure out – how do we help students who are forced out of school for “disruptive behavior” and sent back to their home environments filled with negative influence? Those who have become bitter hardened or confused because they have lived most of their lives in poverty or being shuffled from one foster home to the next. Or those who decide to commit crimes in their communities?

The U.S. has the highest incarceration in the world and my hope as a mom of an African American son would be that the community at large would embrace our African American youth without the stereotypes or negative stigmas that are typically used to identify them. Also invite local leaders from the community (Pastors, Principals, Law Enforcement, etc.) to the table to create solutions that would attack the social injustices that continue to create systemic oppression for low-income families. Connect with local organizations that target youth experiencing a lack of identity.  Finally, pray that the walls that continue to enforce racial divide and social injustice would be destroyed.

At Jobs for Life we have a curriculum that targets young adults between the ages of 16-23 called Powered for Life that is designed to equip and train disadvantaged youth to obtain meaningful employment and experience the abundance of God’s provision.

Please join us!  Together we can make a difference!

Shay Bethea - Director of Training & Leadership Development

Trinkets, Surrogates and the Tragically Hip

I like gift shops.

I like them because they give me the ability to tangibly ‘own’ a piece of an experience I enjoyed.  They are physical reminders that not only remind me of the experience, they also make our Christmas tree glow with nostalgia each December.

Have you ever noticed that most gift shops are located – like strategically-placed chocolate in the grocery store checkout line – on the way out? (Yes, the gift shops at the airport are for the people leaving, not those arriving).  This locale ‘plays’ on impulsiveness and emotion.  Most items in a gift shop are nothing more than miniature, overpriced ‘trinkets,’ but they represent something real we’ve just experienced – and so we buy them.

If the Gift Shop came first – before the real experience, it’s reduced to a room of ‘trinkets.’  Without the experience, there is little value in the ‘trinkets.’

Would you be content only exploring gift shops, buying whatever caught your attention, and skipping out on experiencing the main attraction?

I thought about this question over the holidays as we visited Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s childhood home, with our two nieces from Canada (ages 8 and 6).  The girls had studied this remarkable woman in school and so last fall, when my wife and I first visited Ivy Green, we bought them a gift from the gift shop and sent it to them.
JfL WordPressSure, it was nice of us to send them a gift. It made us feel good and they really appreciated it. But the gift came to them without the ‘experience’ of being there, it came without the ‘memories,’ it came without a ‘journey’.  As such, our nieces asked, ‘the next time we visit, will you take us to Ivy Green, please?!’  This wasn’t being ungrateful; they were voicing a truth within a relationship.  They knew 2 things:

  1. Actually being there would be better than the surrogate ‘experience’ we sent through the mail.
  2. Being there with us would be special.

Although not always possible to accommodate, we knew these things, too.

Going to Tuscumbia, Alabama meant overcoming the logistical challenges of a journey. Their wonder at being in Helen Keller’s home and our joy of the shared experience made the challenges worth it.

When we work – we are experiencing something we were created to do.  Our jobs–however tedious they seem at times–give us context that helps us understand our God-given value, purpose and dignity. Every time we buy something we need or want, we’re making a Gift Shop purchase that deep down, connects us back to the reality of how God provides for us through the work of our hands.

Most people are materially poor because – for diverse and nuanced reasons – they don’t experience work.  They live only in the Gift Shop.

Those who care for the poor usually demonstrate this care by giving gifts (directly or indirectly) that meet apparent needs and wants.  Gifts are given with good intentions. Gifts almost always get smiles, words of appreciation and conjure feelings of goodness.  They seem nice, and except for times of crisis, they are just like the Ivy Green Gift Shop gift – they are ‘trinkets’ from a foreign place or foreign experience – they are Gift Shop ‘surrogates’ for the dignity found in work.

What would be better, and deep down we all know this to be true, is the opportunity of relationship, the challenge of a journey, and the experience of using God-given talents and abilities in a job. This is the wonder and joy of experiencing something meaningful and something real, together.  This is JOBS for LIFE.

We believe that when the Church, Christ’s people, enter into relationship and journey with people in need, there is an opportunity for those in need to experience the dignity of work and for all to experience the ultimate reality of Christ.

I still like Gift Shops, but I love shared journeys and experiencing the real thing.

And after a glimpse
Over the top
The rest of the world
Becomes a gift shop

(an excerpt from ‘Gift Shop’ by The Tragically Hip)

Marten Fadelle, Middle TN Field Director, Jobs for Life

My Gifts: Four Guys, Four Ladies, Two Red Heads and a Chief Encouragement Officer

love-my-jobI love my job! How often do you hear that? I rarely hear it. Usually when you hear about someone’s workplace there is an underlying tone of drudgery, hardship, and I can’t wait until its Friday attitude. And I cannot tell a lie. I have experienced this negative sentiment in prior years.  There are many reasons why I, like so many others, have felt this way. Burnout, glass ceilings, position lacking passion, and an inadequate understanding of work are all reasons why people hate their jobs. (If it is difficult for you to see the divine nature of your work, you should read Chris Horst’s, blog “I’m Living the Dream”. It will bless you and give you a greater understanding about the blessing of all work.)

But, back to why I love my job.  IMG_8226 copyThere are so many reasons, but one in particular that keeps me going each day. You may guess it is because of Jobs for Life’s mission and impact. We engage and equip hundreds of churches to address the devastating impacts of joblessness through the dignity of work. As a result, over 4,000 men and women were served this year. That’s a blessing and I’m grateful for how God has worked. But when you work in the background like I do it gets difficult to keep this reality in the forefront. What keeps me going and is one of the best parts of my job is working with my colleagues – Four guys, four ladies, two red heads and a chief encouragement officer. They are committed, hardworking and talented beyond measure. They all have gifts that I get to receive each day. One has the gift of giving grace. One has the gift to gather and inspire. Another the gift of unwavering faith. And another the gift of connecting and building meaningful relationships.

LaurelAnd now, we have a new colleague that has joined Jobs for Life.  Laurel DeLuca is the new Development Support Specialist. She is responsible for helping us care for and serve our donors well.  In addition to her experience in fundraising, we are excited about Laurel joining our team because of her love for Jesus and how she has demonstrated her ability to work well with others. I can’t wait to see how God will use Laurel to bless Jobs for Life and build His Kingdom.

Don’t get me wrong. It is not always roses and sunshine. We have been thrust into the complexities and struggles of humanity, sin and miscommunication. By God’s grace and His Holy Spirit we have overcome and have sought to understand and reconcile. But, more often than not, encouragement, respect, humility, a whole lot of prayer and even more laughter is what I witness regularly.

PresentsSo, this Christmas, I admonish you to think of all the gifts that work alongside you each and everyday. Someone covered for you. A manager took you underneath his/her wing. That administrative assistant encouraged you. And someone took a chance on you. If you think about it, you will realize that you have received thousands of gifts with value that is priceless and eternal. That’s what I’m thinking about this year: my gifts – four guys, four ladies, two red heads and a chief encouragement officer.

Merry Christmas to my JfL family!

The Pope’s comments are NOT just dreams

Christians are often like the media.  We like to nit-pick, focus on the problems, and talk about what isn’t working.  We even take it one step further and talk about how it is theologically foundational that we are sinful and how it’ll never change.

We gripe about the failings and schisms of the church and we lose sight of the fact that the church already IS the vehicle for the light of the world.  Christ entered the world and it was a game changer.  He set up the church and it WILL NOT fail.

Recently Pope Francis issued this statement:

blog - homeless ministryI prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.

If we’re not careful, we’ll interpret this quote as a dream statement rather than a reality statement, or worse, we’ll dwell in the condemnation of what the church is not rather than what it is.  After 2 years as a part of JFL, I feel uniquely blessed to be able to confirm that there are thousands of reasons why this is a reality statement.

Daily I see faithful people taking actions that the world would call miraculous.  AND I AM ENCOURAGED.

Weekly, I also see churches taking these actions in the context of community, which is even more INSPIRING. This fall I sat with an Outreach pastor of a local church and listened to her list off the dozens of outreach activities of her church members.  It was at that moment that I vowed never to criticize the Church again for “not doing anything.”  We may not always serve and love correctly, but certainly the Church is alive and active.

BoC December 4Last week we had a JFL Breakfast of Champions in Raleigh where there were over 20 churches, 25 businesses, 15 non-profits, and various government agencies represented.  As we discussed the quote from the Pope, it became quite apparent.  The church in Raleigh and beyond CURRENTLY loves as a broken, hurting, and dirty servant of the community.

There is a Church in Nashville that has entered into life with a broken and brave man, named Alonzo.  You can watch THEIR story here.  Or, there is another man named Chris who has been loved on by Jesus was Homeless Church in Branson, TN.  Watch THEIR story here.

And it’s not just through JfL.  Inside and outside the walls we: give, serve, love, care, share, fellowship, sacrifice.  I see churches opening their doors for the homeless, tutoring the fatherless, surrounding the widow, rescuing sex trafficking victims, embracing the broken family, freeing slaves, and empowering entrepreneurs in foreign countries.

blog - mangerSo, this Christmas, let us celebrate.  Let us celebrate that God entered the world as a helpless baby, in a dirty manger, surrounded by smelly farm animals, to a teenage girl from a no-name town.  AND He has never left.  Let us celebrate that, though we are broken, He is using us as bruised, hurting, and dirty vessels to be that continual light in the world.