For Americans, the month of November brings with it the reminder to take notice of the blessings in our lives and to be grateful for them. This November was no different. At the Clinic, we took stock of things like amazing partnerships with organizations like Shepherd Community Center, a group that is fighting to end generational poverty on the near Eastside of Indianapolis every single day.
We also reflected on current events happening in our world and in our country, and our Executive Director Chris Purnell shared his thoughts on what it means to respond to them in a way that brings glory to Christ.
As governors continue to erect legally questionable verbal barriers to their borders in the wake of the Paris terror tragedy, Christians need to remember their roots. In the midst of a rational fear, at best, and good old-fashioned xenophobia, at worst, Christians need to be constantly reminded of what Scripture tells us about vulnerable people and what the call of the Christian is. Here are five things I’ve been reminding myself of lately from my vantage point as the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, as a husband and father, and as an elder of a church.
Over the years, Shepherd’s services have evolved to match the changing needs of their neighbors and to break the cycle of generational poverty. In a video on Shepherd’s website, Executive Director Jay expresses the importance of addressing both the physical and spiritual needs of their community, saying: “To try to preach a message of hope to a kid who’s hungry will never work.” Therefore, their approach is multi-faceted. Although Jeremy stresses that Shepherd’s primary focus isn’t just socioeconomic. He says, “Poverty is about a lot more than just money, and our goal is to try to holistically help our neighbors, and we truly believe that the greatest spiritual poverty is not knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.”
Jesus taught this to his followers in fairly concrete terms. He said if you’re going to invite someone to your fancy soiree, invite the poor and those who can’t pay you back with a return invite (See Luke 14:7-14). And, in a very famous passage in Mark, he says that all “payments” made for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven will be repaid by God in the end—and then some (See Mark 10:17-31). In the reality of Christ’s kingdom, we are free to be generous and free to receive generosity because we all know where the gift comes from.
This month included one of our biggest volunteer events of the year: Refugee Adjustment Day 2015. Coordinated by Immigrant Justice Program Manager Brandon Fitzsimmons and Staff Attorney Rachel VanTyle, the Clinic helped 51 refugees complete green card applications in just one day! In fact, a majority of the photographs* in this month’s collage feature men, women, and children who have fled catastrophic conditions in their home countries and who now reside in our community.
During this event, we streamed our first live broadcast using the Periscope app. If you’re interested in receiving an alert the next time we broadcast live from an event, please be sure to download this app and follow us @NCLegalClinic. We also learned more about Grace Church and all of the ways they are using their position to serve the community via the Grace Care Center.
Despite its outward facing nature, the internal benefits of Grace Care Center are vast and, more importantly, intentional. Committed to transforming their church body, Grace’s service-oriented endeavors also provide its congregation with new experiences meant to help increase both ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Keith says, “We’ve had a passion for a long time of getting our people out of the comfy confines of Hamilton County and our suburban neighborhoods and inviting them further into different places in the world where they may see a different view of God’s kingdom.”
Rachel VanTyle, the lead staff attorney for RAD, adds that mass volunteer events like this are important for the community and for efficiency’s sake. She says, “What it would take me 4 months to do, we can do in 8 hours with this many volunteers.” Such days also give the Clinic the opportunity to provide services for which we might lack funding. Rachel explains that each application, if completed by a paid attorney, would cost roughly $500 per client. Therefore, by relying on volunteers to help so many people at once, the Clinic is able to provide more than $25,000 worth of services that might otherwise be impossible.
At the Clinic, we deal with the legal complexities of suffering in many of its guises. Poverty. Abuse. Betrayal. Relational baggage. Debt. Mental anguish. Homelessness. Death. It’s all there: suffering persistently parading its wares in open mockery of the goodness of God’s creation.
And yet, for James, suffering gets turned on its head. Indeed, for the beleaguered, for victims of injustice who cling to vibrant faith in a God who suffered deeply and traumatically, suffering gets transmuted into something beautiful. Suffering becomes redemptive. Death leads to resurrection.
This month was one of our busiest of the year. Between Justice For All celebration preparations, various CLEs and trainings, and UVisa Day there was barely a free second for our staff. However, our theme for this past month has also been Renewal and so even in the midst of the craziness, we took time to reflect on what it means to be renewed in all the different areas of our life and work.
If you were unable to attend JFA on September 23rd at the Westin Downtown, you can still see the fun photos above in this month’s collage. You can also watch the video that we premiered at the end of the event and that tells the story of three different clients and the attorneys and staff who worked with them.
Our organizing theme for JFA 2015 was Renewal. At the event, Executive Director Chris Purnell talked about where we’re headed as an organization and why renewed passion and purpose for Christ and for our clients is so important. He then told the story of a couple he was able to assist early in his career at the Clinic. After he helped the couple, the wife mentioned it was her birthday and began crying. When Chris asked her why she was crying, the woman responded, “This is the best gift I’ve ever received.” Chris then asked attendees to prayerfully consider a donation to the Clinic, reminding them that this donation might be the best gift someone else has ever received.