GraceWorks’ Interim President, Andrew Brown, introduces himself in the following article.
Growing up in rural Appalachia was, in many ways, a rich experience. The unique people of the mining community of my youth loom large in my memories. Good, earthy, hard-working, God-fearing mountain folk. I am forever indebted to the examples my family and faith community taught me.
But mining in Appalachia is boom or bust. While my experiences were rich, in the late ‘80s our community began a descent into long-term poverty. Mining operations slowed then ceased, unions and management fought, jobs disappeared and the security of small-mountain-town living was lost. Change, poverty and hopelessness were the new reality.
In response to this community loss, a group of churches (including my home church), banded together to start the Copper Basin Crisis Center. The goal was to help families in transition as they sought new work, tried to pay bills, and struggled to feed their families. The Crisis Center was a place of spiritual and physical hope. As a young man I spent many afternoons working in this center’s food pantry, sacking groceries for my neighbors. Putting my neighbors first was engrained into my DNA.
Over the years I have experienced poverty in other parts of the U.S. and abroad. While the locations are different, the challenges are the same. Poverty often starts in crisis and ends in long-term struggle. Complications arise, coping addictions emerge, networks disappear, and layers of life are added. Poverty is a multi-faceted spiritual and physical challenge.
Six years ago my family and I moved to one of the richest counties in the nation – Williamson County. Our motives were steady work and promising education for our children. I thought poverty was nowhere to be found.
Yet around the corner and in places away from the malls and chain restaurants I began to see poverty in plain sight. I began to chafe that others didn’t see it, and that no one wanted to get dirty with “those people.” Name dropping and ladder climbing seemed more important than helping a neighbor.
It was in this season that I began a spiritual journey back to my roots. I asked myself what mattered, whether Jesus was real, and if so, what was my role in His work? If Jesus was real, how was I to see the people, my neighbors, around me? Things began to change as I gave away some dreams and surrendered to Christ. Suburban life, while comfortable, took a back seat. Through a series of life experiences, God brought me to GraceWorks late last spring.
Here at GraceWorks, I’ve come full circle. I am thankful God put me in a GraceWorks community that cares for our neighbors – a community of staff, volunteers, church and community partners, board members – a community that loves people. Our GraceWorks community sees the impoverished neighbors living in the margins of our Williamson wealth with Jesus eyes, through His lens.
Whether it is food, emergency financial assistance, a backpack of school supplies, or a long-term journey with a mentor out of poverty, we have a Biblical responsibility to see and love the people Christ calls the “least of these” and “our neighbors.” Really, our neighbors are just like us, children of God. Being a part of a ministry that treats all people with dignity and respect is my richest joy.
From Appalachia to Suburbia, people are the same. Will you join the GraceWorks community as we love our neighbors in Jesus’ name?
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:29-37 NIV