This is a question I ask myself as I interact with those experiencing homelessness. So many I encounter have been beaten down by the world and its adversity to the point of giving up. They see little or nothing to live for, no reason to try, no hope for their future.
But when hope is introduced, and it doesn’t be need to be a lot, great changes can take place!
*Names have been changed in the following stories to protect privacy*
Jerry was a trucker who needed to get his life back in order. Addiction, homelessness and an estranged marital relationship had knocked him off his feet. He heard us talk about Jobs for Life and knew it could be a game-changer for him. He began attending classes but managed early on to lose his nearby housing. He was trying to figure out what to do when his wife invited him to move back home with her while he finished the course- that was good news. The “bad” news? She lived in Victorville, 75 miles from our site! Jerry began making that commute faithfully twice weekly, because he found a hope that had been missing from his life, and he decided to hold on tightly.
I really doubted if Lonny would ever find a job, even with his JfL training. He was in his 70’s and didn’t seem overly eager to work. But by the end of our eight weeks together, he had not one, but two job offers! One was a part-time food service position (which he took), but he was more interested in a possible customer service opportunity. He told me, “This job is about helping people and I could take what I learn there anywhere. I could have a great career!” A great career?! How many 70-somethings even talk about beginning a career?! But Lonny had discovered a new hope that took his journey to a higher level.
John was not much different from Lonny. Although younger (62), he had decided that he didn’t want to work anymore. That his skills (mostly computer) weren’t up to date and that the market had passed him by. He had given up thought of employment, instead opting to collect social security and trying to find a place to live. He trudged through the Jobs for Life classes somewhat reluctantly, but then one evening something changed. He had not planned to attend that night, but we encouraged him to come anyway, so he did. And our words of encouragement somehow sparked new hope within him. His attendance was perfect from that point on, and he was early almost every class! He completed his homework and began to resonate with the teaching on a deeper level. When graduation day came, John came to me and said, “Mike I was set on retiring and just trying to get by. But now I’m seriously thinking about work again. I think I could do it, even part-time.” What changed within John? A rebirth of hope.
Mary was an outstanding student in one of our first JfL sessions. She worked faithfully through classwork and homework each week. Although English was not her first language, and the US not her first culture, she managed to faithfully grasp and apply what she was learning. But her hope was dashed shortly before class finished. A medical emergency placed her in the hospital for some time and she was unable to graduate. We were disappointed, but not nearly as much as Mary was. Everything she had hoped for had been suddenly quashed by circumstances she had not seen coming. This kind of obstacle can snuff out hope in many. But not in Mary. A few months later as we prepared to begin another cycle of classes, she was front and center, ready to go! It was hard to journey through old material for her at first, but she doubled down and finished well. And a renewed hope gave her a glimpse of where she could be and what she could do … regardless of her circumstances.
* * *
Too often in our culture, the word hope is associated with wish or desire. It is something we would like to happen but we know probably won’t. But Biblical hope is not about a wish. It’s about assurance. About believing that what God has promised will happen. It’s a confidence that just as God was faithful in our past, so He will be faithful in our future. This is the hope that our Jobs for Life students are learning, some again and others for the first time.
What’s the difference between those who make it out of their situations and those who don’t? It’s hope. Do you believe what God has told you? Will you trust Him for the impossible (or even the implausible)? Will you step out and see if He really comes through like he says he will? Hope, the assurance that God will do what He says He will because He is what He says He is, propels you forward when fear would stop you. Hope believes when fear doubts. Hope says, “Yes!” when fear cries, “No!”
In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells captive Israel that His plans for them, no matter what they appear through the lens of captivity, is for a future and a hope for them. We are learning the truth of those ancient words as we see men and women refuse to allow their past determine their future, and who have come to recognize- and believe- that God is ever in the business of rewriting their story, using a key word as He writes.
– Mike Carman
Director, Jobs for Life Program at OC United
If you would like to get involved in the Jobs for Life Program at OC United,
you can contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
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