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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 Great Depression.

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 back home.”

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 thousands more.

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 particular.

“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 their communities.

“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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