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Hope for the poor

"Hope for the poor" Continued...

The group offers computer and GED classes, job skills counseling, one-on-one mentoring, Bible study, and childcare to women struggling with difficult circumstances, including addiction and poverty.

Six years later, executive director Becky Sumrall is still leading the group, and spoke in a phone interview about the organization’s growth. Significant changes include adding an ESL class for international students and a jobs program for men. (When the group advertised for a GED class, 75 percent of the respondents were men.)

With the poverty rate reaching 16.5 percent in Tennessee, a weakened economy has brought more people seeking help. Sumrall has joined Nashville’s poverty reduction committee to serve the city in looking for ways to help needy residents.

The growth at the ministry has brought more challenges, including maintaining enough volunteers to meet the needs, says Sumrall: “The hardest thing has been that we can’t serve as many as walk through the door.”

Sumrall says the group has stayed at a size it can sustain, and keeps the spiritual component at the forefront: “Our model is still working.”

Each of the other Hope Award recipients continues its model as well: The Arkansas Sherriffs’ Youth Ranches (2007) provides a home for hundreds of abused, neglected, and homeless children. 

A Way Out (2008), a Memphis, Tenn.–based ministry, rescues women from the city’s prostitution, stripping, and drug culture. An intense program includes Bible studies, counseling, and Bible-based classes on subjects like sexual addiction, depression, and maintaining boundaries. 

Forgiven Ministry (2009) is a Taylorsville, N.C., ministry that still provides day camps for prisoners and their children. The program includes biblical teaching on fatherhood for the inmates, and gives children a day with parents they rarely see. The group has added more camp dates and additional staff.

Freedom for Youth (2010), a Des Moines, Iowa, ministry, teaches inner city kids how to break cycles of poverty. The services include a mentoring and tutoring program for elementary-school students, an after-school program for teenagers, and a residential house for adults.

Mark Nelson still directs the ministry, and says he’s seen similar growth that others report—and similar challenges—as the poverty rate has increased. “We’re seeing it at our rural sites,” Nelson said in October. “The kids are coming in very hungry. They haven’t eaten.”

More children means the need for more volunteers—something the ministry struggles to maintain. But the group has added three sites in rural areas, and a girl’s home for homeless young women.

“Ministry isn’t getting any easier,” says Nelson. “But when things get tight, that’s when our faith seems to grow the most. … It’s showing us there is even a greater need to give the hope that only Christ can give to those who are suffering.”

By 2011, a cooking school won the Hope Award: Victory Trade School in Springfield, Mo., provides a Christian discipleship program—and culinary training—for men who need help finding and keeping jobs. Young men apply from 15 different states, and many have gone on to successful careers. 

This year’s Hope Award winner has a similar goal of training men and women to learn how to get and keep jobs by offering a Christ-centered approach that encourages a biblical work ethic. 

The WorkFaith Connection has chosen not to pursue government funding so that it can maintain its Christian emphasis. That has cost the group grants from other sources as well, but CEO Schultz said: “We cannot make Scripture optional. Without connecting work and faith, we are not The WorkFaith Connection.”

The concept of connecting work and faith in poverty fighting isn’t a new idea. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to take care of the poor, including providing opportunities for them to work. 

In the New Testament, that teaching continued, as the early church took close care of its neediest members, and the Apostle Paul encouraged hard work from all Christians—a teaching that flowed from God’s creating Adam and Eve as workers in the Garden of Eden.

Christian care for church members—and outsiders—continued as the still-young church cared for the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, and many of the sick during plagues that ravaged the ancient world. 

By 362 A.D., the emperor Julian complained to the high priest of Galatia about the virtues and extensive system of good works by Christians: “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”

By the time of the Protestant Reformation, theologians began re-emphasizing the importance of caring for the poor. Indeed, John Calvin asked his congregation: “Do we want to show there is a reformation among us?” If so, he said, “There must be pastors who bear purely the doctrine of salvation, and then deacons who have the care of the poor.”

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