By Jessica Connor
The statistics can be staggering. In the Upstate alone, hundreds of children are homeless — and those are just the ones the state can document.
Families are struggling. Even as the economy stabilizes and jobs return, all too often, people exist paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth.
That is why one South Carolina pastor is heeding God s call and starting a brand-new ministry to help these families get on their feet and turn the vicious cycle of poverty around.
The Rev. Lloyd White and a board of directors comprising United Methodist laity and clergy have launched Way of Hope, a 501(c)3 nonprofit ministry with a goal of changing the world one family at a time. Serving veterans and families in transition, Way of Hope buys fixer-upper houses for cash and then refurbishes them one at a time through volunteer labor, Salkehatchie-style. If the family wishes, after a year they can buy the home from Way of Hope through a no-interest 15-year loan.
In our society, most people are two to three paychecks away from being homeless “ it s not so foreign, White said, noting that Jesus himself was homeless.
White has been involved with homeless outreach throughout his ministry, and the suffering had been pressing on his heart for a long time. Adding to the weight, a friend lost everything and became homeless after a nervous breakdown. White himself was homeless for three months when he was 5 years old after his own family lost their house to a fire.
I remember how scared I felt, and we stayed with relatives, White said. Can you imagine how these kids are feeling?
After percolating for some time, the idea for Way of Hope suddenly became laser focused, White said. God put a call on his heart last August to use his gifts to help homeless and transitional families full-time. And Way of Hope was born.
White retired as pastor of Lee Road United Methodist Church at the end of June. Now, he and the Way of Hope board are doing all they can to identify families, spread the word, raise money and select houses so they can live out that divine call.
Our goal is two houses by year s end, White said.
Through the generous donation of a rental property and help from some benefactors, Way of Hope is planning to place its first family in a home within the month.
The Rev. Brian Gilmer, pastor of Lyman UMC in Spartanburg, sees his service on Way of Hope s board as an extension of the ministry he already has.
The whole vision of Way of Hope “ helping those down on their luck “ is what we re called to be as a church and as Christians, as disciples, said Gilmer, who encounters many homeless individuals and families at his church.
Gilmer said two strong outreach programs in the Upstate “ the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network and the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network “ are already hard at work helping many of the families. But these are typically 90-day programs to help them get back on their feet.
But what about after that s done? There are not a lot of programs to help them with that next step, Gilmer said. Way of Hope is the missing link, filling a void.
Charlie Gray, a member of Trinity UMC, Spartanburg, said that is precisely why he is passionate about the ministry.
It s trying to make a difference, Gray said. These are people who are in desperation “ I classify a lot of them as the working poor “ and they can t swing a break either way. This might give somebody a way out.
Deacon Karen Kluever, minister to youth and college students at Woodland UMC, Rock Hill, is called to help Way of Hope because the ministry provides for a real physical need.
It s supporting people who are invested in trying to make things work in their life, Kluever said. They just need a break, and by providing them with a home, this helps them try to break this cycle of poverty.
Statistically, Kluever said, when families are in a home, their children do better in school, are more likely to go on to higher education and generally have a better quality of life.
Kluever and others involved with Way of Hope also hope it will become an adult version of Salkehatchie Summer Service Camp. While many adults are involved with Salkehatchie, that mission work camp experience draws far more youth participants. White and the directors hope to introduce an adult camp aspect of Way of Hope to allow adults a weeklong mission experience where they can make a difference in a family s life.
We forget how privileged we are; there are children who don t have a home, White said, noting his encounters with kids who ask for clothing, a house or a job for their parent instead of toys for Christmas. All Christians should have a heart for this.
We don t have to look far to find people who don t have anything, he said. I take Jesus word to heart “ that much is expected of us because we ve been blessed. ¦ If we really profess to be who we are (as Christians), then we feel pulled to help people any way we can.
Way of Hope is supported entirely by grants and individual and church donations. To help Way of Hope with donations, or to get involved, contact White at 864-208-6268 or [email protected], or mail checks to Way of Hope, P.O. Box 190, Lyman, SC 29365.