WASHINGTON—WORLD yesterday presented the 2013 Hope Award for Effective Compassion to Administer Justice, an Illinois ministry of Christian lawyers to those among the poor and immigrant populations who have been flummoxed by legal problems.
Administer Justice, the Midwest Region finalist, received the most votes from our readers during October balloting, outpolling other organizations that made it to the final five: Beltline Bike Shop in Atlanta (South), My Safe Harbor in Anaheim, Calif. (West), Hope Christian Center in the Bronx, N.Y., (East), and HOPE International’s program in devastated Haiti (International).
Leaders from each organization spoke about their groups at a reception at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., and lawyers’ jokes momentarily gave way to Administer Justice founder Bruce Strom’s summary of how 300 attorneys volunteer their time to help immigrant workers whose employers are stealing from them, or others stuck with huge bills after suffering identity theft. Thanks to a generous donor, Administer Justice received a check for $25,000, and the other four groups each received a check for $4,000.
Strom’s own story, which he told last summer to WORLD reporter Daniel James Devine, is inspiring. He was a pastor’s kid who saw his poorly paid dad heading out to hospital visits late at night. He decided to do better financially, and after graduating from law school and starting a firm he was scoring $300-per-hour fees, plus 25 percent extra if clients called him at home. He became a respected church leader and donor.
Strom and his wife, though, suffered through seven years of infertility. “It just didn’t seem fair,” he said. That hardship started him thinking about injustice in the lives of the poor: “Their pain was different than mine, but their pain was just as real.” Strom’s wife finally had twin boys in 1999, with the aid of in vitro fertilization, and Strom started Administer Justice eight months later.
Since then, more than 40,000 persons have sought legal help from the ministry. Services are free for anyone with an income under 125 percent of the federal poverty line. Those a little over the line can still receive free consultations and are charged reduced fees. As reporter Devine noted, clients receive not only legal advice but also a folder with a handwritten note of encouragement, a list of area churches, and Bible verses such as, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” Staff members pray with clients and encourage them to consider how God may be at work in their lives for greater good.
Groups like Administer Justice or the regional winners could start up in other communities: They depend largely on volunteers willing to give time, even when there’s not much money. Previous Hope Award winners include programs that give spiritual and material help to ex-prisoners, ex-prostitutes, and many others trying to rebound from sin—like all of us in various degrees.
Attention now turns to the 2014 Hope Award for Effective Compassion. Any WORLD reader can nominate a group: It has to be an explicitly Christian non-profit organization that emphasizes challenging, personal, and spiritual help to those in need. We’ve found over the years that thoughtful, individual commitment is essential if compassion—which literally means “with suffering”—is to be effective. In contrast, many federal welfare programs feed bureaucracies, enable unproductive behavior among recipients, and attempt to banish God.
If you know of a local Christian program that you think is effective in helping the poor, please nominate it for 2014 by emailing June McGraw: email@example.com. Please give the name, city, and website address of the nominated program, and include a brief description of what you admire about it.
Listen to a report on the winner of the 2014 Hope Award on The World and Everything in It: