Work that provides dignity and hope

Working in communities of despair and hopelessness, the number one resonating theme is “I want to work.” I volunteer twice a week at a homeless day center that started over a year ago. Interacting with men and women of all ages, there is a sense of hopelessness and despair when you look deep into their eyes. However, when there is a hug or reach to shake a hand or sharing a story, a smile appears. At that point, when conversation starts it inevitably comes to “I want to do something, I want to work.”

Nearly six years ago, our community of churches decided we needed a job training program that allowed us the flexibility to interact with the whole person. The program also needed to offer more than a seat at a computer to develop a resume or tell someone how to dress for success. People needed more. People needed something that would help restore their hope and dignity. We, as providers, needed more. We needed something that would allow us to be participants in the process.

Attending a conference, in Raleigh, North Carolina, our prayers were answered when we talked with people from Jobs For Life. The following statement was the bait on the hook that helped us get reeled into service.

“What if millions of unemployed people were working because the Local Church intervened? It would change the world. Learn how Christ-centered churches and organizations are Flipping The List and using Jobs For Life as a discipleship platform to help underserved men and women find jobs and experience life in Christ.”

The idea of a “discipleship platform” was the most striking phrase. This platform has allowed us to serve the clients and their individual needs over the years. Whether they were homeless, returning citizens, unemployed or underemployed, it has allowed us to wrap around services to make the platform more viable and not just one size fits all.

Imagine pastors and their congregations putting their faith to work and honoring God through uplifting the lives of others. Volunteers in the church and community, giving of themselves. Volunteers seeing and sharing their brokenness through the souls of others. Being able to share their faith and work, through volunteering, with those who are yearning for that glimmer of light — hope and restoration of dignity through the love of God.

Did the road end there? No. Doors were opened to partner with various government agencies, businesses, entrepreneurial development programs and churches working together to bring hope through the Word of God infused in a discipleship platform. The community has now refocused on the church as that beacon of hope and restoration because we have gone past the handout phase to a cooperative phase of faith and work for the flourishing of our communities.

Imagine a returning citizen coming into the first day of class and they sit there skeptical and are only there because of an assignment from a probation officer. The student states they have been through several programs and no one wants to give them a job. That student now finds out that he has a mentor for life, an instructor who works with him through all his learning disabilities and family of Christians that care. Finally, that student graduates and proudly talks about how he just needed to learn to trust and that the love of God allowed him to find what has been missing in his life. He now knows that God  has designed him to work…and that his faith will sustain him. And, the student proudly proclaims that he has a job and he may be at the bottom, but there is room for growth (in many ways). The church that started this class, because of their aging population, was projected to close in a couple of years. But, God has “repurposed” them. Through his wisdom, their wisdom is being allowed to help others and at the same time finding themselves, in their renewed purpose, in the community.

In running this race, when all the conditions are set for everyone to join at the same level, the finish line is not set for the first one, two, three finishers. The finish line is for all who finish, no matter their place, because all things are equal.

Topics: Church and Ministry, Community Development, Issues Facing Workers

About the Author

Charles Cheek currently serves as the Community Networking Director for the Peninsula Baptist Association (an association of 63 churches). He coordinates the Hampton Roads Jobs For Life Network, coordinates the Hampton Roads Christian Community Development Network, and is involved in numerous activities to empower the lost and the disenfranchised. He presently attends Memorial Baptist Church in Hampton, Virginia, where he preaches, teaches, and counsels on matters of the gospel and the church.