“Oh, she’s a ‘Jones’,” the Life Skills instructor remarked knowingly. “I’m familiar with that family. And so are all the cops and nurses in town.”
The instructor was referring to a client who had come to our center for parenting classes because she wanted to regain custody of her children.
I knew from our files that this client wasn’t the only one in her family to seek our services. I’d seen a couple of her cousins and sisters as well for pregnancy tests.
Generational poverty does terrible things to families. It robs them of hope. It traps them in negative cycles. It makes them develop faulty coping mechanisms.
In other words, it turns them into the folks all the cops and nurses know.
That’s because, all too often, patterns of substance abuse, domestic violence, and broken relationships are passed on from one generation to the next in the context of poverty.
When your mom cycles through multiple sexual partners, how do you learn what healthy marriage looks like? When your dad solves his problems with his fists and gets thrown in jail repeatedly, how do you learn to resolve conflict?
When your parents are alcoholic, how do you avoid using the same escape from the chaos of your life?
Enter the work of pregnancy help centers.
For folks facing an unplanned pregnancy, and for those who need to hone skills like parenting and budgeting, there’s a place to go for help. There’s a place to go where cycles are broken and hope is restored.
There’s a place to find not merely short-term fixes, but long-term, sustainable change.
That’s because pregnancy help centers are founded on the hope and truth of the gospel—and the gospel changes everything.
Even generational poverty.
Does this kind of transformation happen overnight? Can we wave a magic wand and make clients all better in a few weeks?
Consider some of the analogies Jesus used when he talked about the kingdom of God. He spoke of yeast leavening a loaf. He spoke of a tiny mustard seed growing into a huge tree.
Change comes incrementally, quietly, unobtrusively. And we may not even realize it has come unless we have the eyes to see.
At our clinic, we worked with a Life Skills student who completed a whole unit of the “Earn While You Learn” curriculum. From the perspective of someone who has a college degree, that might not seem like a big deal, but for this girl?
It was the first thing she’d ever finished in her life.
That’s change. It’s hope at work, defeating despair. It’s the seeds of transformation sown into a life.
If you plant an acorn near a sidewalk, one day it will grow into a mighty oak with roots strong enough to eventually push up that sidewalk and break it into pieces.
This is what your work does. You sow seeds into lives. You speak the truth and minister with compassion. You demonstrate a better way of living.
Numerous times, I’ve seen clients’ eyes light up with hope simply because I tell them I’ve been married for over thirty years.
If it happened for her, maybe it could happen for me. Maybe a healthy, happy marriage is actually possible.
For clients who don’t attend church, you might be the one place where they see the truth lived out. You might provide the only environment where they are treated with the respect and dignity due to God’s image bearers.
I don’t mean coddling and enabling, either.
Our nurse manager, who worked at the local hospital, would often see the same people at the hospital as she did at the center. She noticed that at the hospital, those folks demonstrated an attitude of entitlement, but at our clinic, they behaved with gratitude and respect.
That’s because we included healthy boundaries as part of compassionate care. We treated clients with respect and fully expected them to return the favor.
Image-bearers of God. This is how we see people. Pregnancy centers exist to protect pre-born image-bearers—but we also transform communities by offering hope and breaking cycles for image-bearers who are already born.
Our great enemy in this process is cynicism.
If we notice that a client is from a family with a negative reputation, we need to be careful not to make judgments. We need to be intentional about exercising faith.
We need to see every client as a potential living testimony to what the power of God can do. We need to actively believe God can and does change whole family lines.
Many times, it starts with one person.
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What if, every time we run across a ‘Jones,’ we thank God in advance for what he is going to do in that client? What if we speak faith over her whole family, believing they can change because of the power of the gospel?
What if we ask God for eyes to see the miracles he is doing in the lives of those we serve?
Imagine the ripple effect in your community. Imagine seeds of transformation planted deep, growing strong, one person and one family at a time.
Let’s refuse to be cynical. Let’s be full of faith for our clients. No matter what cycles they may be trapped in, let’s see them as Jesus does.
As image-bearers He wants to restore to wholeness.