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We All Need a Little Help: An Escalating Crisis

Shelter Founder and CEO Reveals Why He Considered Quitting Ministry: He Also Needed a Little Help


Contact: Jeremy Reynalds, 505-400-7145, jeremyreynalds@comcast.net


OPINION, July 15 /Christian Newswire/ -- The following is submitted by Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest homeless shelter:

It's hard for me to believe that I am now fifty years old and celebrating more than a quarter century of continuous ministry to New Mexico's homeless population.

I have first-hand knowledge of what being homeless is like because I was once homeless myself. I remember what it was like to crawl into an open storage shed for the night. I remember how good a bologna sandwich can taste when you're famished. I remember how cold my thumb got from sticking it out in the freezing rain, trying to get someone to pick me up so I could travel the five miles--which might as well have been 500 miles--to a church that had offered to let me sleep on the floor for the night.

Some time after those experiences, which I now can see were God's preparation for my calling, I began the Albuquerque-based Joy Junction in 1986. Prior to that, I worked with the homeless in Santa Fe from 1982 through 1986.

It's been twenty-two years . . . and yet it seems like a short time ago that I came up the driveway of our 52-acre property wanting to reach out to homeless families with the love of Jesus Christ. The vision I had was for a refuge where the entire family unit could stay together at one of the most difficult times in their lives, a place where husbands and wives could offer support for one another. I also hoped that their children, while attending schools in the area, could live in as normal a situation as possible. I had no idea what adventures, struggles and trials would lie ahead or that there would be an increasing need for such a haven.

Tragically, more than twenty years later, there appear to be few faith-based homeless shelters around America that are devoted to offering assistance to the entire family in one place.

Perhaps the lack of facilities or resources is due to at least in part to the inherent difficulty of working with family units. Some of the problems that surface with families just don't arrive when you're dealing with individuals such as single men or women. The issues are more multilayered with families, but the need is just as great. My prayer is that the model and standards of care and assistance would adjust to the realities.

Meanwhile, I am disturbed at the increasing numbers of people whose circumstances force them to call Joy Junction home. The escalating number of homeless people is at crisis level in Albuquerque, and many in the community don't seem to realize the seriousness of the situation. Five years ago, Joy Junction was feeding, sheltering and helping in a myriad of other ways about 150 people each night. Now we regularly help more than 300 people nightly, and that number shows no sign of diminishing.

With those numbers in mind, we have a vision for many more services to our residents. Among other things, we would like to start an onsite Christian school, provide an employment service and job counseling, offer GED training, and perhaps open a school of cosmetology. We would also like to renovate our onsite chapel and spruce up the other buildings and grounds.

Perhaps you're asking yourself, "Why? Isn't everything you've talked about just going to bring an influx of homeless people to Joy Junction?" (and other shelters nationwide).

My answer is this: No, because no one wants to be homeless. But as the costs of fuel, basic utilities, healthcare, and food continue to rise, more and more of us are being thrust into poverty and living on the brink of homelessness. The possibility becomes a probability--and then turns into a reality, and it is happening more and more often. What the resources I have talked about earlier will help us do is to cope more effectively with the influx of people whom we have every reason to expect will keep coming.

Maybe you're saying, "Well, I wouldn't ever get in that situation and if I did happen to come even close, I'd be out there pounding the pavements and taking care of my family's needs."

All right. But let's say you couldn't, for whatever the reason. Maybe the day you never thought would come actually has come. You awoke one morning feeling there was a heavy black cloud hanging over your head, and when you attempted to put your feet on the ground it was as if you were moving through a thick fog. You stepped unwillingly into the darkness of depression and you couldn't find your way out. As a result, you didn't go to work and you lost your job. Eventually you lost your house. You may have started drinking and perhaps ended up on the streets of Albuquerque or the city you live in.

If these events happened in Albuquerque, there's a good chance you may have been directed to Joy Junction, where we would do our best to help you in any way we could or direct you to other organizations that would more directly address your needs. As you saw earlier, we've been doing this for more than two decades. Why? Because we're increasingly convinced that everyone needs a little help sometimes.

Maybe your issue is not homelessness--it could be something else. No one, me included, can expect to walk through life without stumbling on a pothole or two on the road, and we all need help sometimes in getting back up. The upcoming book from which this article is excerpted, "We All Need a Little Help," tells of how some fell, but it also tells of how someone helped them to walk again--maybe with scars, but with renewed strength through God's grace. One of those people was me, and I'm here to affirm God's amazing grace in rough circumstances.

From Despair to Hope

For many years, my marriage had been difficult, to say the least.

There were routine arguments and strained communication resulting from my long working hours and the lack of a shared vision. The worse the situation became at home, the more I wanted to retreat into the peace and security of my Joy Junction office and school. However, the more I retreated, the more tense things became at home.

In addition, I wasn't making a normal commute to school. Enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Biola University, I had to fly to Los Angeles for class work every week for three long years. When I was home, I was always preoccupied in keeping up with the expanding amount of reading I had to do. For the three months before I took my comprehensive exams in June 2002 I read in bed, I read in the office, I read on the plane, and I read in the gym. Wherever I was, I read. However, even though the reading was intense, I was feeling a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from both my academic studies and the shelter--which was more than I could say for my marriage.

While my wife and I had long discussions about what, if anything, was left of the future of our relationship, the discussions never resolved anything and always ended in arguments. I felt emotionally drained. I still don't really know how my wife felt because we never actually communicated. We just fought.

The situation worsened, and in late 2004 I ended up moving out of the ministry-provided house where I had been living with her and the boys since the late 1980's. I began living in another very modest residence located on our 52-acre property--so modest, in fact, that it did not have a working stove or microwave. I kept a small number of close friends and colleagues apprised of my situation, though in retrospect I realize that they did not know how to help me. I do not blame them for what seemed at the time like a lack of support. I have since come to understand that people are very nervous and reticent about what to do with someone who is separated or on the brink of a divorce.

While my new living arrangements were lonely, they were at least peaceful. I threw myself wholeheartedly into Joy Junction and my writing projects--primarily my Ph.D. dissertation and a book that was never published but which I was working on that dealt with research I had been undertaking on the use of the Internet by radical Muslims.

I buried myself in my office. What I didn't know back then was that although I was going through all of the motions of running the shelter, issuing news releases and trying to make sure that the money kept coming in, something tragic had happened: I had lost my heart for what I was doing. I had emotionally shut down. I considered resigning, but kept my increasingly confused thoughts to myself. Even in my depleted and depressed emotional state, I knew that a lot of people were depending on Joy Junction.

Life went on like that until one day in April 2005, when a former staff member asked me if I would take part in a job interview with him for a new office manager. While I agreed to do so, my thoughts weren't particularly in it--we had gone though a stream of office personnel for one reason or another in the preceding few months. I really just wanted to get back to my office, where I could once again emotionally and physically retreat. That was when I first met Roseann Vona Page.

She quickly demonstrated phenomenal skills and an ability to listen and bond with those in need. As a result, I soon promoted her to be my assistant and then chief administrative officer for the shelter. During those difficult months that followed, Roseann became both a trusted coworker and a friend. She was a wonderful listener, allowing me to express my pent-up need to communicate with someone. She graciously offered ongoing encouragement when I was depressed and on the brink of becoming unglued.

Roseann's willingness to stand by me in my deeply troubled emotional condition provides an example of what can happen when someone is willing to take a risk and get involved. I had a small circle of friends who knew about my wife's and my separation and impending divorce, but many of them didn't seem to know what to say to me or how to act around me. I felt they began to emotionally shy away from me. That was not the case with Roseann. Her friendship probably saved my sanity.

Her encouragement also provided the support I needed to stay at Joy Junction. The Lord's prompting through Roseann and many of our residents helped awaken me to the needs of the hundreds of people and scores of families pouring through the ministry. I realized that the Lord's calling on my life hadn't changed. However, I had changed. I was in a new position to appreciate the privilege and importance of such a calling.

Over the next few months my spirit woke up again, and I became completely aware of the needs of the brokenhearted people with whom the Lord surrounded me. Roseann, the rest of the staff, and I focused daily on doing everything we could to provide for them.

It is to Roseann that I owe the encouragement and inspiration for my upcoming book and its title. We all need a little help, me included. I thank God for Roseann and others like her. They are the living stones that make up the kingdom of heaven.

Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D. is Founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest homeless shelter. For more information go to www.joyjunction.org