Who Do We Help and How?
There was a time in my life when I remember it was a disgrace for someone to be a beggar. Government programs and benevolence from charities and friends were aids to help in times of crisis but were never seen as something to rely on long-term. Times have changed. Nowadays, there are able-bodied people taking as much assistance as they can from as many places as they can as often as they can—all so they don’t have to work very hard. Some are so skilled at this that they don’t even have to work at all.
“I don’t want a job. I don’t want to change. I’ve got it made. I know where to get all the free meals. I know how to work the system, and I enjoy the con.”
This is the response I received a few years back as I was endeavoring to help a former inmate who was homeless.
“He’s got to be joking.” I thought.
Suddenly, I had a flashback of another conversation I’d had with an inmate back when I was incarcerated. One day, he had asked me what my plan was after prison.
“Try to fix the relationships I’ve ruined, go to work, and start digging out of the financial debt I’ve created.” I said.
My fellow inmate chuckled at this and said, “Not me. I’m never working again. I’ve got it all planned out. I know where to get free food, free clothes, and free medical. I’ve even figured out which bridge I’m going to live under.”
Criminal behavior and homelessness is often blamed on poverty, dysfunctional families, and poor education. And while I’m not saying these are not serious contributors, my personal experience over the past ten years working with those coming out of prison has given me a more complete perspective. Stubbornness, rebellion, disrespect for authority, and selfishness are just as much a part of the problem in those who are not serious about changing as any other factor.
Which is why the focus of this ministry is to help inmates reconcile with God and change their lives. We do not utilize resources to enable them to remain where they are. Enabling interferes with what God is trying to teach and change in them. If He is trying to teach someone an important lesson, and we interfere with God’s plan by “doing their homework for them,” we become a part of the problem instead of the solution.
In fact, all of what we do comes down to two simple steps. First, we ask them if they want to change. Second, we make ourselves available to come alongside them as friends, and we encourage them through the hard work of that change. Information, education, and programs have their place, but the greatest fruit I’ve personally witnessed has come through relationships. Taking the time to listen, understand, and encourage others is incredibly valuable. In every instance where I have taken this approach, I have observed God working in some amazing ways.
If, however, they say they are not interested in changing, we give them our information and tell them to call us when they are ready. We don’t beg or plead with them to reconsider. We don’t offer them assistance without a commitment to change. We leave it to God to work in their hearts. This approach allows us to partner with Him, letting Him take the lead, rather than trying to make change happen ourselves, which oftentimes leads to enabling.
How I actually learned to do this is through my own experiences with God. I knew that God loved me and had a plan for my life. Yet the clarity of the plan and the intimacy of the relationship always suffered when I tried to get Him to partner with me on my ideas instead of me choosing to partner with Him on His. It was as if God was saying to me, “I’m here. I love you. I have the answers. I have the plan. Whenever you get tired of beating your head against the wall, we’ll get started.” As soon as I was, He was right there.
Yes, I have my own examples of not being ready, or not being honest, or starting and stopping, or starting and wandering off. Perhaps that is why I don’t get too worked up about those who respond to this ministry in the same way. Realizing it is God’s job to fix or change people—not mine—is an important reality to embrace. It allows loving, serving, and coming alongside others to be a non-stressful, healthy experience.
Life Coaching Update:
Life coaching is the newest approach we have added to aid in effective discipleship. It is not counseling or mentoring in the traditional sense. It is coming alongside others with the idea that God has the plan for them and the way to implement that plan. (Jeremiah 29:11). Through the skills we are learning from the life coach training, we are witnessing real spiritual growth and positive results. In six or fewer sessions, participants are telling us they are experiencing huge breakthroughs in areas they have struggled with for years. “I am learning how to discern God’s voice in my life,” they tell us.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice…” (John 10:27). As many of you know, there is nothing more exciting in life than experiencing that sense of God speaking to your heart and seeing the fruit of obedience. Many of those we are coaching are having their spiritual eyes opened and coming to a true understanding of God’s love for the first time. All we are doing is coming alongside. We are not telling, fixing, or solving. Yet, through this simple method of coaching, we are seeing people encounter God and experience His transformational work.