Loving People Into Wholeness

Courtesy of flickr.com.

by Mary Peterson

Cars race through a busy intersection, their engines revving and growling. Liz Kelly, 38, looks across the street and describes her former life. "You look around. You see a trick come. You wait for him to spin around and pick you up. Nothing to be proud about."

When you meet Liz today, you see no clue of that life. "It was a tragedy," she says, "but it was the biggest blessing I could have ever had because I have life now."

Liz found life through the Body of Christ. Church members from all over Lansing, Mich., helped her when she had nowhere else to turn. Their congregations were part of a network called World Vision Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ).

Years ago, World Vision had been looking for an innovative way to help U.S. churches. Staff members envisioned local denominations working together, sharing resources, and sending members out into direct ministry. As it turned out, that very model already existed: Love INC, a ministry founded 25 years ago in Michigan. Today, Love INC is part of World Vision and has expanded into more than 110 communities nationwide.

How does this model change lives? "You've got to love someone into wholeness," says Love INC President Robert Odom. That's exactly what Love INC did for Liz.

Liz had battled drug abuse since she was 13. Three years ago, she hit her lowest point. She was wasting away – addicted to cocaine and living on the streets, her children taken away into foster care. She went through a drug rehab program, but she came out of the door of recovery into nothing: no job, no support group, no family contact.

It would have been a short trip back to the streets. But a seed of faith had been planted, all the way back in Liz's childhood, and she found herself drawn to the Bible. She was searching for an answer.

One day Liz was visiting a social service agency and saw a Love INC pamphlet. When she called Love INC, congregations from all over Lansing helped her with exactly what she needed. Catholic churches provided a car. Baptist, Nazarene, and Episcopal congregations made sure her family had groceries every week. A Lutheran church gave child-care money after she won her kids back from foster care. A Baptist church provided diapers for her newborn son. In all, hundreds of people in 21 Love INC churches touched Liz's life.

With all this love, along with a support group she found in a Love INC class, God's Word sunk in. The Bible had made sense to her before, but now it engaged her head and her heart. "God's love wrapped deep," Liz said. "He didn't touch the surface, he touched inside, and now, it shows on the outside."

She joined one of the churches in the network that had supplied her family with food, Immanuel Community Reformed Church. There she saw people who lived out their faith seven days a week.

Joining the Love INC network has energized Immanuel's congregation as well. "Probably 75 percent of our members are involved in hands-on ministry," says the pastor, Richard Heusinkveld. And they've expanded their ministry vision beyond the community now – serving in soup kitchens in Washington, D.C.; helping homeless shelters and AIDS hospices in Staten Island; repairing homes in Appalachia.

"Their lives are transformed," Pastor Heusinkveld says. "They experience God in their own lives in a more powerful way."

Although Liz keeps busy with a full-time accounting job, she also volunteers to coordinate the Love INC furniture ministry.

Today, when she heads back to her old neighborhood, it's in a truck carrying donated furniture. A bluetarp covering bunk beds flaps in the wind as she drives through the streets. She arrives at a rental unit in the back of a house where a young woman greets her. Michelle, a single mother, has just moved in with her four children, including a 3-month-old boy. The place is bare. Holes in the wall from the previous tenant need repair. Liz had heard about Michelle's needs through a social service agency.

Three men arrive from a Love INC Methodist church with more furniture. Liz organizes them as they move in beds, linens, dishes, towels, and a couch. As the commotion goes on, Liz teases the kids to get a smile out of them. But after the bunks are assembled and the new household items are put away, she turns serious. She has one more item to deliver – a Love INC pamphlet. Liz urges Michelle to give Love INC a call, knowing what it's meant to her.

Before she leaves, Liz shares her story with Michelle, speaking from her heart. "I don't want to see anybody left alone," she says. "I wasn't left alone. They helped me. So I'm here for you."

[Love INC has 115 affiliates in 28 states and Puerto Rico, serving more than 400,000 people each year through nearly 6,000 churches and more than 5,000 community-based partners. To find out more, call(800) 777-5277.]

Mary Peterson is a writer and video producer based in Seattle, WA. This article first appeared in WORLD VISION TODAY MAGAZINE, 2002. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the editors.

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