A recent study conducted by the American Bar Foundation and University of Illinois interviewed a large, random group of people in a Midwest city over a period of 18 months. They discovered that two-thirds (66%) of adults experienced at least one of 12 different categories of civil justice situations including employment, money (finances, government benefits, debt), insurance and housing. Almost half (47%) resulted in significant negative consequences such as feelings of fear, a loss of income or confidence, damage to physical or mental health, or verbal or physical violence.
People did not seek help for several reasons but sadly 21% were too embarrassed believing this was a private family matter while another 56% were resigned to being judged as “part of God’s plan.” What a powerful opportunity to demonstrate to the community that God’s plan is not to condemn, but to save them and see them restored to a loving relationship with Him and with a community of faith. So what might that look like?
Gospel Justice Initiative is a national organization that partners with local churches so that the hope of the gospel, the help of a lawyer, and the support of a church can be brought together to transform lives and communities. We train teams of lawyers and support volunteers to meet the legal and spiritual needs of neighbors. Consider Sandy’s story.
Sandy lived in fear. She had cared for her mother for years prior to her death. An estranged brother had no contact with his mom and was in and out of prison. When the mom left the home to Sandy, he accused her of cheating him out of the inheritance and threatened to kill her even though the home was underwater because of medical loans taken against the property. The home was in foreclosure, Sandy was physically sick, and she did not know what to do. A friend told her about a legal ministry at a nearby church.
Sandy walked in the doors of the church and could not believe how friendly the people were. There was coffee and cookies as she completed paperwork. She had been to several government offices for her mom and they were cold, bare and the people gruff. She was led back to meet with an attorney who asked if she could pray for Sandy. She couldn’t remember anyone ever praying for her and agreed. The prayer brought tears to her eyes.
Sandy spoke of the foreclosure, her brother’s threats to reopen the estate and threats to kill her. Her brother was in jail, but she didn’t know when he would get out and felt she needed to hide. She thought she needed help with a complicated blind trust. The lawyer put her at ease. She explained time had expired for the brother to contest the estate and talked through options on the foreclosure including a short sale. She explained that no document could protect her, but that God loved her and would watch over her. She also said there were those at the church who helped with short sales, and another team that helped with moving. Sandy left with a huge weight off her shoulder.
The church helped her with a short sale and a team helped her move into the church’s neighborhood. A volunteer again spoke to Sandy about Jesus and on the first day in her small home she accepted Christ. She had heard many prayers prayed for her and she asked the volunteer if she could pray. Her first prayer was for her brother. Two days later Sandy ran into her brother at a grocery store. She did not know he had been released from prison. But she was not afraid. She began a conversation that resulted in their reconciliation. Today Sandy is a vibrant part of the church and the community because of a restorative gospel justice ministry.
That is the opportunity of gospel justice which reflects the character of our Creator as we love Him and love our neighbor. Let’s demonstrate that love as we follow His voice and
Go and Do Likewise!