“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32 ESV)
This is a beautiful verse with a hint of the already and not yet. All believers can be assured that whatever we face… even death itself, should not bring us to fear. For even in death we get to receive our inherited, eternal kingdom. There is a promise that one day believers will take up residence in a perfect kingdom free of the effects of the curse that challenge us every day.
But the kingdom is not meant to be just a long-awaited promise, it is something we are meant to experience… to get a taste of, catch glimpses of, and share in the here and now, however imperfectly. I have had many opportunities to glimpse the kingdom frequently in my ministry with the hurt, abandoned, cast out, and forgotten people I have been blessed to share the gospel with across the county. In my current work, I get to taste it daily.
I am the program director at a residential ministry for women and children coming out of homelessness, poverty, addiction, trauma, and generational dysfunction. Our families stay with us for up to two years while we help them get their lives back together and learn the tools to be successful all while bringing the gospel to bear on all areas of their lives. We have a myriad of programs that holistically treat and equip them, but no intervention is as powerful as daily rubbing shoulder to shoulder with The Kingdom of God.
It’s hard for me to put into words what that looks like, but I will focus on some of the things that make it so. First of all our work is marked by grace. We meet families where they are at when they come in. We meet their needs and make their new home a safe place to heal, change and grow. We love them as if they were our own families. When they stumble we show them the way back to the path and give them the freedom to choose it.
And they do stumble. A lifetime of pain and dysfunction is not resolved with few Bible studies and recovery groups any more than homelessness is solved by giving someone a house. It is a gloriously messy journey. Some of my favorite times are meetings spurred on by discipline. The meeting begins with anxiety and fear and by then there is almost always repentance and growth along with tears and hugs.
This is the second thing that marks our community — high accountability. To put it another way, high responsibility: “to him much has been given much is expected.” We meet our families where they are at but we don’t leave them there. By around 6 months the women in our program take on leadership roles in the program and even take turns leading devotions. Many enter the program without their high school diplomas and having little if any experience handling the Bible. You would never know it by the time they leave.
Here they are taught that to keep what they have received they must give it away. They are not perpetual victims destined only to take of the resources of the kingdom. They make meals for the homeless, serve beyond what they are required to and share the gospel with unbelieving family members.
All this would not be possible without the third thing that marks our community — humble, servant leadership. As staff, we share transparently about failures and struggles. We try to model an authentic representation of Christianity where coming to Jesus doesn’t mean you are free from problems, only that you have hope through them and a community to support and challenge you. We learn from the residents as much as they do from us and along the way do some dishes, take out the trash and change a diaper when a mom needs a break.
When I started the work of transforming this program in light of the gospel I had a simple thought… what would it look like to model a program by the designs God laid out for his church? My motive was as much personal as theological. I wanted to create a place that was what I needed at my lowest as a single mom. I am still selfishly motivated to keep the gospel preeminent. I want to go to work every day and be real, not to be in a petty, competitive, or haughty environment. I want to be challenged and continue to heal and grow. We have cultivated a culture that provides that and so much more.
This last year was hard on the world but Acres of Hope remained a positive and uplifting place. Babies were born, women graduated, and all of us grew through the experience. Beyond that miracles continued to happen around us.
I think anyone that doesn’t believe miracles still happen should spend more time in homeless shelters and rehabs. At Acres we see women that have spent years in prison freed from the real shackles that bind them, we see blind eyes opened to the gospel, we see women lame and unable to pick themselves up out of the mud run to the feet of the cross and we hear in thousand different ways, “I was dead and now I am alive.”
It is a miracle, but the path is nothing special. It is just a group of people humbly trying to live out the plan God so generously gave us in scripture. There is a place in the kingdom for para-church programs such as ours, but it is no replacement for the Church being the sweet taste of the kingdom. After two years our families need to leave and they need healthy churches to belong to. Churches where they will be called into service and into the homes of church members for dinner. They need to continue to grow and learn but they also need to share the gifts they have received. They need Bible studies where they can be real and feel safe and not looked down on or dismissed because they talk or dress differently.
I believe all churches can choose to be this. There are people everywhere that need the change, healing and growth promised and prescribed in the Bible, but this is especially true of the urban poor in gospel deserts. The solution to brokenness in our culture is not more residential programs. The solution is more churches bringing the kingdom to the people, shoulder to shoulder, offering a taste — a glimpse — of eternity promised. This is why I support the work of NEU and why you should also!
Christie Griffith is a friend of NEU Church Planting and is the Director of Family Services at Acres of Hope, a residential ministry for women and children. She has 20 years of experience in ministry, social work, recovery, and mental health. She has also participated in several church plants and revitalizations. Along the way, she has developed books and ministries including the Women in Motion ministry, The Gospel Focused Bible Journal method, and The Challenge Journal. Her passion is bringing the gospel to marginalized, addicted, and low-income people and making churches a ‘healthy nest’ to heal in, grow, and be sent from — to make disciples that make disciples.