|Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And both that morning equally lay
I shall be telling this with a sigh
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Throughout the history of my ministry with Embrace Richmond, there have been many divergent paths. Once again I am standing at that proverbial fork in the road trying to discern which way to go.
I spent several hours this morning biking and hiking the trails at Pocahontas State Park and praying about this coming year. After making many path choices, my bike trail ended at the CCC Museum, so I entered the building with two goals; first, to find a restroom and secondly to see if in our history, I could discern a clue to our future. Unfortunately, the museum has no public restroom, but thankfully the hostess, whose name is Lois, was kind enough to give me a history lesson about the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps. Below is a summary of what I learned. These words were taken from the museum brochure:
“By March of 1933, 13,600,000 people were unemployed in the United States. In the face of this emergency, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, only two days after his inauguration, called a meeting of the government officials to create a Civilian Conservation Corps. In its nine years, the CCC employed more than three million men and left an undeniable imprint on the nation’s landscape. The CCC built more than 40,000 bridges, planted 2 billion trees, restored nearly 4,000 historic sites and structures, improved thousands of beaches, roads, shorelines, and created 800 state parks.”
I shared with Lois my desire to learn from the past, principals that might be helpful in working in the inner city of Richmond today. Lois, a child of the depression, was quick to point out that the times have changed significantly and issued this caution, “I don’t think you can relate what is going on in today’s society to the Great Depression era. Things were far different back then. People were different. The young men of the CCC worked for $30 a month and were required to send $25 per month back home to help their families. Back then, it was all about survival and people were willing to do back breaking work for very little money in order to support their families.“ Lois then sheepishly said, “I think people today are, dare I say, too selfish? It seems people today are all about getting what they want without working for it.” Lois did not get any argument from me. However, as different as the culture between now and then is, the problem is the same…no jobs, especially for the poorest of the poor. Are there any lessons we can glean from the CCC that could help us find the right path for today?
As I reflect on the ministry of Embrace Richmond, the thing I am most proud of is the fact that God has taken what we started and created six permanent jobs and nearly 30 transitional jobs annually. When I think about Embrace, what makes me smile is not the thousands of individuals who have been served by the various ministries we have engaged in over the years, but the stories of those who have served alongside me as volunteers, AmeriCorps members, and staff. I have been especially touched by those who were once homeless or who are at risk of homelessness. Most of these jobs would not exist if it were not for the funding provided by AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps as we know it today grew out of the CCC which later became the NCCC, National Civilian Conservation Corps and The National and Community Service Act of 1990.
As a faith-based non-profit, there seems to always be a tension between those who would like for Embrace to be more “evangelistic” and the prohibition against “proselytizing of and by AmeriCorps members” as defined by our AmeriCorps grant. I have had some well meaning Christians suggest that we should take the path that excludes AmeriCorps funding. The path that places the spiritual needs above the physical and financial needs of those we serve. However, I have chosen a harder path, the path that allows us to address not only the spiritual needs of our community but also the very real need for jobs.
I have not chosen this path because I am motivated by the AmeriCorps funding. I have chosen this path because I believe that vocation and the ability to earn a living is a spiritual matter. One thing that Lois said to me today was “These boys needed hope and by serving with the CCC, they were given hope. Hope for their families but also hope for this country. They were investing in the future. The fruit of their labor would be appreciated for generations to come.”
I know in my own life, I have been given an incredible opportunity to leave a legacy for future generations both through the ministry of Embrace Richmond and also through the opportunity to write and publish. I know these opportunities to give myself away are spiritually nurturing. When I am giving out of my gifts, I feel God working through me and I am strengthened and renewed. There have been seasons in my life when I was not able to find opportunities to serve in this way and I found myself feeling lost and depressed. I believe everyone deserves to have an opportunity to give of the gifts God has given them. I also believe all of us deserve to have opportunities to earn a living. FDR could have simply handed out $30 checks to needy families, but instead he gave both financial support and dignity to the young men of this country and what the country gained in return cannot be measured.
Running an AmeriCorps program with a large percentage of at-risk and homeless individuals as members, is not an easy undertaking. As we enter into our third year of AmeriCorps, I have a long list of things I wish I would have done differently. It would be far easier, less costly, and likely yield greater outcomes if I were to recruit AmeriCorps members from local college campuses like most AmeriCorps programs instead of out of public housing and homeless shelters. However, I chose the path less traveled and that has made all the difference.
Please pray for Embrace Richmond and our 2010/2011 service year. Pray for our incoming AmeriCorps members, our staff, and our Board of Directors as we seek to take the path God has uniquely designed for us. Also pray for our country as we seek to address the issue of unemployment. Pray we find ways of helping the poor that restores dignity and provides people with opportunities to leave a positive legacy like the one left by the CCC all across this country. Pray God gives me the strength to continue to walk upon the road less traveled, even when it is rocky and steep.