Recession’s Ragged Edge
Jobless find resources, help with Convoy of Hope
By Robert Mims
The steady drumbeat of bad economic news dominating
headlines and newscasts has furrowed the brows of many Americans with worry.
Some may find relief, at least temporarily, simply by tossing out the newspaper
or changing the channel.
However, Michael Redmon knows there is no escape for the
millions of Americans struggling with unemployment, poverty and lack of health
services as the recession has deepened. Redmon, director for Convoy of Hope
U.S. Outreach programs, says he and his staff, along with church and community
partners, are at ground zero of the nation’s worst economic crisis since the
The nonprofit organization’s domestic services — which
have provided disaster relief and spiritual encouragement to 27 million people
worldwide since COH’s formation 15 years ago — have never been in such
sustained demand as in 2009.
With U.S. unemployment hovering near 14 million, or approaching
10 percent of the workforce at the beginning of summer, Convoy of Hope is
seeing the numbers of people desperate for its food, medical and dental help,
job search assistance, counseling and prayer swell for each of its outreach
campaigns — particularly in the country’s hard-hit inner cities.
“We’ve seen a big increase in guests coming out to our sites
just to get the free groceries, and not just those who have been laid off and
are unemployed. These are people who have jobs but have had their hours and pay
cut,” Redmon says.
At a recent outreach in Raleigh, N.C., one woman told how
she had been forced to take in her daughter and three grandchildren when the
young mother lost her job.
“I have a full-time job,” the older woman said. “But I just
can’t keep up with the financial demands of having my daughter and family move
Just in outreaches held in Raleigh, suburban Atlanta and
Galveston a combined 12,000 people showed up for hot meals, groceries, medical
and vision exams, basic dental services, haircuts and job fairs. Before year’s
end, Convoy of Hope expects to sponsor roughly 50 outreaches and serve tens of
Guests also are treated to concerts performed by Christian
bands, and a new addition — a family portraits tent — is proving
popular as well.
“We provide the portraits for free,” Redmon says. “The
family can take them home in a nice frame.”
Special emphasis, of course, has been paid to bringing in
potential employers. Inside the outreach campaign’s “job service” tents, guests
can learn about offers for both full-time and temporary positions; access job
training programs; or get help writing and producing professional-looking
résumés to aid in their search for work.
Along with physical hunger, though, Redmon also is seeing a
thirst for spiritual comfort. Each outreach features staff and volunteer
counselors and prayer partners, and these services are as much in demand, if
not more so, than any of the others.
“Most of these folks just want someone to talk to, someone
to pray with them,” Redmon says, “and we pray with almost 90 percent of the
guests who come to the outreaches, mostly about the economy and jobs.”
There are moments that forever touch the hearts of Convoy of
Hope workers. Redmon tells of a man in Raleigh who came in just for the dental
services, having been unable to get an infected tooth extracted during six
months of suffering.
“You have no idea what a blessing this is to get this tooth
pulled today,” the thankful man said.
In Galveston, a woman who had just received groceries
confessed: “I thought God forgot who I was; I can’t find a job anywhere. But
today I learned He still knows who I am; He has not forgotten me.”
Pastor Jeremiah Oswald knows firsthand how valuable Convoy
of Hope can be for those experiencing tough times. He says almost 10,000
attended a recent outreach in Montgomery, Ala. But he remembers one guest in
“He was a man in his mid-30s, and I remember he came with
three of his children, hungry and in need,” Oswald recalls. “He and his family
came for groceries, but he left that day with a job.”
The man, laid off from construction work, had another
challenge: He could not read or write. But he found help on site in drafting a
résumé. While he verbally recounted his work history to a volunteer, his
children played in structured outreach youth activities.
“He teared up when he got that résumé,” Oswald says. “He
said, ‘This is invaluable to me because I couldn’t do this on my own.’ ”
A short while later at the event’s job fair, he immediately put
the résumé to use — and landed a job with a local construction company.
Demands on Convoy of Hope services have been heavy, and
Redmon says it’s going to take a united effort to fill the requests from city
mayors and churches desiring to reach out to thousands of hurting families in
“But people are still compassionate, and they still want to
give,” he says. “In Convoy of Hope they are finding the ministries on the front
line that are really making a difference.”
Redmon is gratified to see fellow Christians “help restore
hope in hopeless situations.” That comes with help from local fellowships,
Christian businesses, suppliers, doctors, nurses, dentists and many other
volunteers united in their desire to help the discouraged and suffering.
“These times are a catalyst for opening the eyes of our
churches,” Redmon says. “If we help build an army of compassion — people
who are passionate about the needs in their communities — together we can
really make a difference.”
ROBERT MIMS is a journalist and member of Life Church of
Utah, an Assemblies of God congregation in Salt Lake City.
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