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. ●