Remember Pay if Forward, the movie with Kevin Spacey? A seventh grader is challenged to change the world--and he does. He goes out of his way to help three people, charging each of them to help three people in return….
At the heart of this seemingly new idea is an old one. Read the words of the Apostle Paul:
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35.
We all need help at one time or another. Remembering the help we have received when we encounter another, is a gift we can give to God.
In this edition of Inner City Mission E-News, we tell of a woman who has embraced the concept of paying it forward, and look at some of the seeds she has sown….
Linda grew up in this area, but left home at age 17. She moved to California and gave birth to four children while in a relationship that didn’t last. “I grew up in a dysfunctional home with alcoholic parents,” Linda says. “My early adult life was a rift of bad decision making on my part.”
The young mother returned home to live with her own mother. When that situation exploded, she found herself without a home. “She kicked us out, and we needed help fast. I went to ICM and was accepted right in.
“I wasn’t there long, but I was able to stabilize there. It was a lifesaver for my four children and myself. My children didn’t even realize they were at a shelter. They had so much fun there. The meals where we all sat down together were wonderful, and there were so many good conversations with the staff….
“If Inner City Mission hadn’t been there for me, I would have lost my job. Everything would have gotten worse from there, I’m sure.
“I remember promising God that if he helped me in this situation, I would help the homeless myself in the future.”
Linda was able to find childcare help through DCFS so she could keep working. She got into a house with the help of Calvary Temple. Soon, she was able to pursue her education.
All these events took place about 25 years ago. Linda worked her way through a Master’s Degree in Divinity. She started working with Helping Hands, then with Salvation Army, and finally, Homeless United for Change.
One day, she was introduced to Scott Payne, ICM’s executive director, at a meeting. She was reminded of the care she had received there so long ago, and for the first time in ages, she recalled her promise to God. She had forgotten about the commitment, but God hadn’t. She was fully involved in homeless services.
Currently, Linda is an intern chaplain at St. Johns Hospital and co-pastor with her husband of 14 years at Body of Christ Church in Buffalo, Illinois. She is executive director of Homeless United for Change (see article below).
She speaks especially proudly of her children: “Two of my daughters--the twins--work as registered nurses now; the third is a police officer in Delevan. My son has been recognized as a “Hometown Hero” in Springfield, for his service in Iraq. He saved quite a few lives.”
Linda has accomplishments and projects beyond those listed above, but we think we’ve made our point--once directionless and in need of support, she is now “paying it forward” in a big way.
“June 9 of this year, I was in a car accident,” Lynn says. “I had no health insurance. I lost everything; my vehicle, my job…I was in St. John’s hospital with nothing and no idea what was going to happen to me.
“Linda Gessaman came to see me as a chaplain for the hospital. I’d never met her, but she became an advocate for me, and kept me from being discharged with nowhere to go.
“I had never really considered myself homeless: I would sleep in my car, get a hotel room for a week or so…. But with the accident, reality came closing in on me.
“Linda was there for me, she prayed with me and comforted me when I didn’t know what was coming next. She told me not to worry, and started making calls.”
Lynn remained at the hospital while she worked through therapy for a broken hip. When she was mobile again, a room was ready for her at Inner City Mission.
“My first impression…I didn’t know what to expect. It was just a hectic day when I came in. I was very shy, and kept to myself at first.
“Now, I love every single person in this place. They are my family. They’ve given me a connection I’ve longed for with the Lord. I’m learning how to make better choices in life, and to think about my decisions. I can see changes in myself.
“There’s people from all walks of life here, and we’re one big family. It amazes me. I thought that accident was the worst thing that could happen to me, but it turned out to be the best.”
Lynn plans to remain at Inner City Mission and finish the Stability for Life program. She is working again, and will save money for a mobile home, so she never has to face homelessness again.
“Then, I want to give back to the community,” she says. “Everyone has been so generous to me, it’s been mind-blowing. I don’t think I got it before--why they would do that--but now I do.”
Linda Gesseman, executive director of Homeless United for Change, provides this synopsis of HUC:
“This is a grassroots organization that advocates for the homeless community. It is membership driven, with the 250 homeless members choosing their issues. Right now, we’re addressing the system by which shelters and breadlines bar people from services. The membership body chooses the issue, and I help them develop programs and plans.
“One of the most important aspects is my speaker's panel with HUC called “Faces of Homelessness.” People from the street, the chronically homeless, speak to the community about their experience with homelessness. We speak every year at Lincoln Land Community College. We had recent engagements at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, the Girl Scouts, and the Seratoma Club. We've also spoken at University of Illinois Springfield.
“We have a program called "Help Me See What You See." We meet at the mission every Friday and sit with anyone from the homeless community who wants to express himself or herself through art. This project allows people to express their feelings (anger, sadness, pain, happiness, hopes, etc.) in a healthy way.
“Last year, we helped build a house with Habitat for Humanity. It was a great way to show the homeless that they can be helpers too.
“One of our rallies was called "I AM A PERSON." This rally informed the community that people who are homeless are part of the community too. It's not fair to segregate them and label them... they are part of God's creations too, and precious in his sight.”
Lots of praises this month!
Lynn got a job.
16 year old Cierra got her driver’s license and went to her first job interview.
Kristy got a job and is continuing to study for her GED.
Michelle and Kelli have decided to get baptized.
But prayer is needed in these areas:
After 6 years of remission, doctors believe Michelle’s brother has cancer again.
Shaina needs prayer concerning legal issues.
Kris asks for strength and wisdom for hard decisions that need to be made.