Although Justice Champion Penni McConnell has faced some challenges getting the San Joaquin Gospel Justice Center started, she will be the first to tell you it was worth it. “Anything I do for Jesus is worth it,” says Penni. Through it all, God never stopped calling her to the family business of justice and He hasn’t left her side for a moment. While Penni’s pursuit of a Juris Doctorate will equip her to meet the legal needs at the San Joaquin Gospel Justice Center, her deep and abiding faith already gives her the compassion and strength needed to minister to neighbors in need.
GJI: Have you always had a heart for justice?
PM: I think that I have always had a heart for fairness. I knew as a young girl that I wanted to be a lawyer, but I could never really articulate why; I just knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. Now, as an adult, I do think that I am “called” to doing work in the legal field.
GJI: Tell us about your journey to Justice Champion. How did you find Gospel Justice Initiative (GJI)?
PM: I first heard about GJI when I attended the Christian Legal Society national conference in 2016. I met Brent Amato at the legal-clinic workshop. After the conference, I received an email telling me about GJI.
GJI: What was the biggest fear or challenge you had to overcome before “jumping in”?
PM: The #1 fear and challenge was not finding people who wanted to work in the clinic—especially attorneys. Also, I was afraid because I didn’t start the clinic on time; I felt as if I let GJI down. I did an Elijah— running away and Brent had to come to pull me out from under the tree!
GJI: Thank goodness, he did! What misconception do you think you had about starting a clinic?
PM: The greatest misconception that I had about starting the clinic was that I had to make it happen instead of trusting God to provide for the center.
GJI: He is Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, isn’t He? Justice Champions have so many stories of His provision. He provides for the clients through your work as a Champion, and He will call others to work alongside you.
PM: My greatest joy is the staff of volunteers that we have. They are God-sent, dedicated, fun, and loyal. Only God could bring us together, month after month, whether we have clients or not. Only one on staff is a member of my church and the attorneys are not regular church attendees; yet, we make it work
GJI: Is there a Bible verse that really resonated with you throughout your journey?
PM: Not so much a verse but a Bible narrative. Many years ago, God told me to get involved in restorative justice (mediation); however, I never could seem to get the training or make it happen. The Bible narrative that I cling to is Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33). I believe his story is the perfect example of restorative justice.
GJI: Favorite quote or concept from Bruce’s book?
PM: The fact that I don’t have to save everyone or expect the clinic to solve all the problems of the people was life changing!
GJI: It is a transformative realization, isn’t it? Tell us about the community in which you serve.
PM: Our clinic is in the Southeast section of Stockton, California. It is an area that has a high percentage of Hispanic residents. I know that there are immigration issues; however, we just got an attorney who has immigration experience, so we haven’t really marketed to that population.
GJI: Again, an example of God’s provision. A lawyer with immigration experience will provide new opportunities. We are grateful for your work in Stockton. How can we pray for you?
PM: [Pray] that the word will spread about the clinic and the traffic increases. We have scaled back the hours from four to two so that we are making the best use of the attorneys’ time. I would like to have at least 5 cases per month.
Visit https://www.gji.org/san-joaquin/ to learn more about the San Joaquin Gospel Justice Center. Find a justice center near you and answer the call.
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