Beyond Labels

Prisoner. Addict. Homeless. Drunk. When we use labels, we miss out on seeing people for who they really are. We confuse peoples’ actions with their identities.

Looking in from the outside, people might have labeled Shannon Duval a druggie, a jailbird, an unfit mother or even a loser.

When she was 21, Shannon gave birth to Evan, who was born prematurely. For 2 months, Shannon was unsure whether Evan would live. She used drugs to deal with the fear and uncertainty.

When Evan finally did get better, Shannon stopped using. Over the course of the next three years, she had two more children and earned her college degree.

Within weeks of graduating, however, Shannon started using again, and her addiction became insatiable. “I just lost my mind—that’s what drugs do.”

Shannon protected her three kids from the reality of her addiction as much as possible. But eventually, her poor decisions caught up with her. “It got pretty bad to the point where I was in danger, my kids’ lives were in danger. My kids were taken away.”

Shannon’s kids were taken by Child Protective Services and placed in a foster home while she went to jail. That’s when her life began to change.

In jail, she heard about the LIFE Recovery program at the UGM Center for Women and Children and recognized it was exactly what she needed. She wanted her children back, and she was determined to work hard and do what she needed in order to be with them again.

“I think everybody was skeptical of me, saying, ‘You’re not going to see those kids for years.’ That’s not what happened at all. I got [to the Center], and when they saw that I really wanted to be here, that I wasn’t here just to get my kids back, that I was really doing my work in the program…I got my kids back full time [five months later].

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There is Always Hope

We have been using the slogan “Hope starts here” for years now, and I’ve always thought I got it, but after a recent trip to a major metropolitan area, I see it in a whole new way.

Almost from the moment I stepped off the plane in this city, I felt the oppression: Garbage-strewn streets. Graffiti everywhere. The lawn at one of the charter schools was two-feet high; it hadn’t been mowed all summer. 40,000 vacant homes. Countless businesses boarded up, windows broken out. Unemployment sky high. Men and women sitting on stoops and curbs in the middle of the day all over the city. I thought to myself, it’s hopeless. Why would anyone invest a penny in this situation? How is it ever going to get better?

Then it hit me – that’s what many of the men and women coming through our doors feel like. There’s too much damage, too many hurdles. It’s never going to get better. Turning their lives around seems like an insurmountable task. Why try? They have no hope.

The problem of homelessness in general is similarly daunting. Let’s say you build enough affordable housing for every homeless person in the Inland Northwest. Would it solve the problem? Would they be able to pay their rent? Do they have the skills to get a job? Did they finish high school? If you give them money, do they have the skills to manage that money? Do they have felonies preventing them from getting housing and employment? If they can get a job, is it going to pay enough for child care? Is their driver’s license suspended? If they have mental health issues, do they have access to the care and medication they need? Homelessness is a big, complicated problem, and generally, the deeper you go, the more complicated it gets.

But the message for the city I visited, the people who come through our doors, and us as a community facing the formidable problem of homelessness is the same: There is hope because we serve a mighty God for whom nothing is impossible.

The Bible tells the story of an exiled people coming back to a city in far worse shape than the one I mentioned above. Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down by their Babylonian conquerors and its gates destroyed by fire. It lay in ruin, but Nehemiah prayed and fasted and entreated God to let him be part of rebuilding the city he loved. And God answered.

The most encouraging part of this story for me is the way he answered. It wasn’t magical. He didn’t send a troop of stone masons and builders. He used ordinary members of the community – each one working on his own small section of the wall – side by side by side. Chapter 3 is full of the phrase “and next to him…” as it lists the people and groups who made repairs. I especially like this line in verse 8: “And next to him, Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs.” I’m guessing, as a perfumer, Hananiah didn’t know a whole lot about construction.

We have to look at homelessness, life change, city restoration, in bite-sized pieces. As illustrated in the cover story, we break the cycle and change the culture one person, one mom, one dad, one child, one family at a time. And, as we see God work, we are changed as well. We gain excitement. We look forward to what He’s going to do next. Hope does start here. ●

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Take Action: Come for Coffee or Lunch


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Volunteer: Michaelyn Hodges


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Helping Children in Need

Student Impact Team – Thanks to help from the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals and Moody Bible Institute, UGM Youth Outreach started the Student Impact Team to reach teens and children throughout the school term. In the team’s first year, over 40 college students helped stock local high schools’ clothing closets, mentor students at Rogers High School, conduct homework club for children at the UGM Crisis Shelter for Women and Children, and more. It was an incredible year, and the future looks even bigger and brighter as we dive into new partnerships and new opportunities.

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