Paul Abbott: A Man With a Mission – Part 2 – The Vision
Man with a Mission – Part Two: Paul Abbot’s vision to help end homelessness in Redding
The Missing Component
Paul Abbott came to Good News with vast experience in overseas community development, including working with World Vision as a country director in North Africa for over 15 years. His experience in working with refugees and the poorest of the poor has given him a unique perspective on the crisis of homelessness in the U.S., particularly in the Golden State.
“When I first returned to the U.S. in 2017 and I saw all these men and women sleeping on the sidewalk, I was aghast,” exclaims Abbott. “It felt like a third-world country—of where I had just left. I dropped to my knees and asked God, ‘What’s going on here? Surely, we can do better than this?’” He started researching what does work in helping America’s homeless, some of which Good News was already doing.
While we may have more external resources to help the homeless rise out of addiction, poverty and homelessness here in the U.S., there’s still a critical missing component—and it’s an internal one. Abbot believes that many who are trapped in the cycle of addiction and homelessness are missing this important foundation: a loving and supportive family. A dad who imparts a core identity (i.e. I’m good enough and have a purpose to my life) and a mom who provides emotional and spiritual nourishment is vital for a child’s healthy development. Sibling relationships can have profound impact as well.
Without these core foundational relationships, a child will be set adrift—left, in essence, to raise themselves. But being your own parent is stressful, counter-productive … and impossible. To cope with that lack of identity and nurture, a child will soon find other ways to fill that gaping hole. As a teen, and into adulthood, self-comfort can easily take the form of chemical addiction—some more harmful and debilitating than others.
Ministry of the Interior
Many who are trapped in the cycle of homelessness and/or addiction may sincerely desire to become a functioning and responsible adult, but that quest can often seem elusive. Self-sabotaging behavior is all too commonplace. To become future minded—moving towards a life beyond daily survival—those core issues must eventually be dealt with. Otherwise, “the devil within” becomes more powerful than “the devil without.” You can take a person off the street, but without a soul transformation, “the street” will still be in them—ruling their mind and emotions. As the analogy goes, you can put a pauper in a palace, but if he still has that pauper mentality, before long, the palace will be trashed as well.
Of course, no can minimize the importance of individual faith; specifically, the transforming power of Jesus Christ to change hearts. However, that doesn’t mean that someone who was saddled early on with dysfunctional parental relationships will magically become emotionally healthy upon their conversion. The temptation to numb unaddressed childhood pain with risky and self-sabotaging behaviors can be overwhelmingly powerful.
This is where the local church, both as individual believers and as a cohesive unit, must step up and step in to intervene, hopefully helping to break the cycle of addiction, poverty and homelessness. It’s a long-term outreach ministry model to the homeless that offers both deep friendship and a kind of “re-parenting.” If done right, it will eventually empower the affected individual to take a leadership role—drawing others who have faced the same emotional and psychological struggles into a family as well.
That’s exactly the plan that Abbot is proposing to help the homeless in Redding. His vision is simple and clear cut. He wants to invite, then train, what he calls “street coaches” or missionaries from various local churches to befriend or “adopt” long-term homeless people and give them that feeling of belonging, of family. Abbott believes this would not only help the homeless get off the street, it would give them a fighting chance to turn their lives around.
In other words, the lack of foundational good parenting in childhood doesn’t have to be “over when it’s over.” Even when we’re adults, God has a way of bringing into our lives those missing relationships … if we’re open to them. Those who are plagued with an orphan spirit must (a) recognize their real need for replacing these lost, identity-forming relationships and (b) are willing to do what it takes to foster them. Unfortunately, the very things that are needed—specifically, emotional nourishment, identity formation, self-discipline and basic life skills—are often rejected. This is particularly true if the level of neglect and abuse has been deep and pervasive.
Spiritually, this is huge. The breakdown of the traditional family unit is not just a political talking point of those on the right–it reveals a serious systemic problem that is, at its core, a spiritual one. God’s deepest longing–the cry of his Father’s heart–is to see “fathers’ hearts turning to their children, and children’s hearts turning to their fathers” on a global scale. Without this reunification taking place–in every strata of society–the earth will remain under a curse as we see in this “good news, bad news” declaration spoken by the prophet Malachi.
One prominent Christian leader describes this Malachi 4:6 restoration this way: “Instead of being distant and offended and rebellious against fathers, they’re going to love and connect with their fathers [both natural and spiritual]. It will be a remarkable reversal of what the enemy’s trying to do in the nations right now, because his biggest agenda is to separate fathers and children, and then have the children broken and rebellious and lawless. But the Lord wants the family of God functioning and in profound unity together. This reunification will be a critical part of the Church walking in power and in victory–and an irrefutable demonstration to the world of His redemptive love.”
Home Can’t Be Built in a Day
The Mission’s 18-month New Life Recovery Program is an example of how a functional family discipleship model can work in a residential setting to help overcome homelessness and addiction. In the program, participants have 24-hour access to mentors, case workers and some volunteers from the community—though there’s always a need for more. Residents also have the opportunity to form a family unit in an “iron-sharpening-iron” model that can be tough–not all will make it through to the end. But for those who do, it’s a life changer.
Within the Mission, at the overnight shelters, that quality of relationship is more difficult to duplicate. Guests come and go and there’s less structure and intentionality. In addition, the case workers, while deeply committed and engaged, are stretched thin, limiting the scope of what they’re able to do. It’s why volunteers from local churches who want to befriend the homeless and enter into wholehearted and long-term relationships are needed. To fill that void, Abbott would like to see properly trained street coaches available both at the Mission (in their overnight shelter program) and for those living on the street.
Reaching out to those staying at the Mission, even those who are only there for a few days or a week, has its advantages. This population is a “captive audience” and therefore potentially more open to being helped. After all, they’ve already taken the first step toward inter-dependence. There’s no doubt that a bed and a meal serves a real need—mainly helping to ensure survival, but obviously the goal is to go beyond that—which is to help bring about lasting transformation. The Mission also offers resources to help those who sincerely desire to get off the street; but more often than not, that desire does not translate into action—or even motivation. The reason for this is simple: This beleaguered-by-life population usually has no internal resources to break the cycle of homelessness, joblessness and addiction. So what exactly does success look like? Continued in Part 3 …
Read Part Three: When the Kingdom Happens
To volunteer for homeless ministry go to: https://gnrm.org/get-involved/volunteer/
Check out our new Faces of the Homeless gallery: https://gnrm.org/faces-of-the-homeless-photo-gallery/