MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, July 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the Hope Awards for Effective Compassion, part two.
This time, Anna Johansen takes us along to an outreach center in Joplin, Missouri—resolving poverty through food, shelter, hard work, and the gospel.
ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: Logan Fields is a sunny, All-American 22-year-old with blue eyes and a baseball cap.
FIELDS: I got arrested for the first time for assault on a law enforcement officer…
He’s also been in jail 22 times. That’s the same number of years he’s been alive.
FIELDS: And that started a long repeat offense for me. Like I was on a first-name basis with all the jailers I mean, they didn’t even book me in hardly anymore. I mean, I’d come in, I’d say yeah, and they’d give me my oranges and send me on my way. They’d do the paperwork for me.
Fields says there are two things that saved his life: First of all, meeting Jesus. But second? A place called Watered Gardens.
WHITFORD: So the outreach center is just where we’re engaging people who are struggling with a lot of need, chronic brokenness, chronic poverty, chronic addiction.
James Whitford founded Watered Gardens in 2000. It started out as a simple outreach center. People came, got food and other basics, and left—until the next time.
WHITFORD: It was, um, unfortunately a handout model ministry. We recognized that, you know, we’re seeing a lot of people over and over again. Are we really helping them?
One man named David had a habit of going from place to place, getting food but never changing his behavior. One day he ended up at Watered Gardens.
WHITFORD: David sat in my office, he was like, I need to eat. And I said, David, I tell you what, you want to help me in the kitchen a little bit with some things they need done and I’ll give you a food basket today. And his response was sobering. He said, with all sincerity, why should I have to work for my food?
Whitford found that mentality everywhere. So he changed his model and introduced the Worth Shop.
PATRICK: These guys are scrapping, recycling.
The shop feels a bit like a warehouse: Concrete floors, high ceilings, exposed air ducts. And there’s junk everywhere. Five or six guys work at tables around the room, wielding screwdrivers and wrenches.
Clayton Patrick is the supervisor.
PATRICK: So we get all these donations people bring us anything that plugs into a wall and then we will take it and break it down to its bare nothing and recycle the copper, the metal, the circuit boards, anything we can harvest out of it.
People can work for set periods of time in exchange for basic items. An hour of work earns a week of groceries. Twelve hours a week earns a bed in the shelter.
It’s simple work, but not everyone is on board. After the switch to a work-based model, Watered Gardens went from serving 4,000 people a year to 1,500.
But for those who stick it out, the work is rewarding. Whitford explains that it’s called the Worth Shop for a reason: Working restores dignity and a sense of worth.
WHITFORD: So there was a guy named Allen who I remember coming in and he said, I’ve been to shelters all over the nation, but I’ve never been to one where you had to work for your bed and meals. You guys take the shame out of the game is what he said.
But Whitford says work alone won’t solve a person’s struggles. Character is also vital. Each day starts with a devotional and prayer.
WHITFORD: And we’re grateful to be in, in your care and under your watch today to be filled with your holy spirit today. Thank you Lord. All God’s people said, Amen.
Whitford also started Forge. It’s an intensive mentoring program for men coming out of homelessness, addiction, or prison. One year ago, that description fit Logan Fields to a T.
FIELDS: I was a punk. I looked like the criminal who had done all those things. I mean it was a bad deal.
Fields only applied to Forge because he needed a place to stay after getting out of prison. But Forge is a little like the Marines—the few, the proud. It has only a 5 percent graduation rate.
The men take classes on work readiness and legal living. But most importantly, Forge challenges them to get right with God.
It’s a hard sell: Most men want to make it on their own, without accountability and without Jesus. Fields tried to walk away twice in his first two months.
FIELDS: Everything went smoothly until I got back in my own head. I thought, ‘Oh, I can handle this. I’ve been clean for two months now. I can rock and roll.’
But when Fields tried to leave, he kept coincidentally bumping into people who worked or volunteered at Watered Gardens. Soon, he was convinced: God wanted him back at Forge.
FIELDS: God? Oh man. That dude loves me, I tell you what. [30:40] He’s been chasing me a long time.
Fields says it’s that relationship with Christ that flipped his life right side up.
FIELDS: My life is—phew, it doesn’t look anything like it ever has in my life, I mean…I haven’t been arrested now since—when’s the last time I got arrested? That’s crazy too, that I can’t remember that.
Now, he’s six months away from graduation. He has a full time job and a restored relationship with his family.
And wherever he goes, he shares the gospel.
FIELDS: It’s cool having relationship with God. It’s a lot better than…Life’s a lot better on this side than it was on the other side.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen reporting from Joplin, Missouri.