Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
From the Streets to the Pews: A Story of Holistic Healing
By Emily Davisson
May 23, 2014
A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.
If you asked Reverend Darrel Fiddermon to show you around Washington, DC, he would tell you that he knows the streets better at night. As a youth selling drugs, he regularly roamed the city at 3:30 a.m. Darrel was a poor young man, going to all measures just to earn some money, but eventually, the inevitable happened. He was arrested and sentenced to community service, but little did he know that those hours he spent cleaning the Central Union Mission would lead him into the most transformative time of his entire life.
Thousands of people in Washington, DC have experienced total life transformations like Darrel did because of the work of faith-based organizations that are dedicated to a holistic approach to alleviating poverty. This approach recognizes the whole person and sees not just material needs, but relational and spiritual needs as well. One of these unique organizations is the Central Union Mission, whose mission is “To glorify God by proclaiming the Gospel and meeting the needs of hungry, hurting, and homeless individuals and families in the Washington Metropolitan Area.”
At the dedication of the new Central Union Mission facility last month, DC Mayor Vincent Gray spoke about the unique needs of the poor and homeless in Washington. He reported a shocking 7,000 homeless people living in Washington, DC, all of whom have very different backgrounds and reasons for being homeless. These diverse and different needs are what make the work of faith-based missions like the Central Union Mission critical in fighting poverty.
Diverse people, diverse institutions
Faith-based organizations provide a distinctive approach in their care for the poor and homeless. According to Rhett Butler, government liaison at the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, “Faith-based organizations don’t just target physical and material poverty; they target relational and spiritual poverty as well. They emphasize healing the whole person: mind, body, and spirit.”
At the dedication of the Central Union Mission, Mayor Gray spoke about the need for diverse institutions in our community in order to serve people’s diverse needs. In the case of homelessness, he said that the government can provide necessary material things like housing, “but we don’t have a government program called love.” No one institution can provide everything a person needs to flourish, so it’s important that we engages all institutions in society as we work together to meet the diverse needs of a diverse community.
A holistic approach to caring for homelessness means fostering the development of whole people and whole families. The work of the Central Union Mission reflects a holistic, faith-based approach by providing food, clothing, furniture, household appliances, school supplies, and more. Emergency housing, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, spiritual transformation, job opportunities, and work therapy are also offered. The Central Union Mission also partners with other DC-based programs in order to provide the most effective and well-rounded help to its clients. One of their partners is the DC Central Kitchen Culinary Arts School, which provides job training in the food industry that people can use to get jobs at restaurants and food facilities when they graduate.
The homeless in DC suffer not only from material poverty, but also from relational poverty. God created humans to thrive in relationship with each other, with the greater society, and most importantly with him. Faith-based organizations play a distinctive role in recognizing the opportunity to restore people to the wholeness that God intended for them through programs that strengthen their spiritual lives, support their intellectual growth, and provide for their basic human needs. This restores people to dignity by giving them the community, the support, and the tools they need to lead a successful, sustainable, and flourishing life.
Radical Hospitality in the Name of Jesus
In Matthew 25, Jesus declares that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give a stranger a place to stay, visit a prisoner, or take care of the sick, we are really doing all of these things for him. For Christians, justice involves radical hospitality in the name of Jesus. When Darrel was wandering the streets late at night, running out of hope and money and slipping into despair, he said he would look for the light of the cross. The Central Union Mission, and missions all over the country, always have their light on signifying that all are welcome to come in and find rest.
If organizations that care for the poor and homeless fail to meet people’s “needs for forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation and acceptance, then an important dimension of what it means to be human will have gone unacknowledged and perhaps tragically unmet.” Darrel started on the streets as a drug dealer and ended on those same streets as a pastor because of the love of Jesus shown to him through compassionate people, working through institutions, dedicated to doing the work of Christ.
- Emily Davisson is a senior political science and nonprofit management student at Olivet Nazarene University. She is the assistant editor for Shared Justice.
 Boddie, Franklin, and Trulear. “Healing Communities.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation. December 2010.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”