Yesterday we met Bruce Strom who is helping to grow and steer a movement of lawyers and churches giving a voice to legally disenfranchised (and poor) populations in this country. Today we get a bit more personal, with Bruce sharing how he came to this line of work, leaving a successful and remunerative law practice to start Gospel Justice Initiative—and we hear some touching real-life stories of transformation. “Good News” doesn’t get much better than this:
How did you come to this work in the first place? Or, to borrow your language…if your vocation is calling the church and lawyers to action on behalf of the poor, how were you first called to this work? I love the Bible. Some people in the Bible heard the call, “follow me” and they dropped everything and went. I’d like to be one of those individuals, but I’m not. I’m more like the other guys in the Bible who liked their life and didn’t want a challenging call – like Jonah. Truth is I was very comfortable as a successful lawyer and did not give much thought to the poor. The last thing I wanted to do was sell everything to go serve the poor. So like Jonah God sent a series of storms my way – first a long seven year struggle with infertility which ended with the miraculous birth of our twin sons; and second through a series of struggles in my practice that demonstrated God was trying to get my attention. That was another three year process. I’m a pretty stubborn guy, but I praise God for his relentless pursuit of me until I fully yielded to him.
Can I share quickly the turning point? I shut down my law office and found myself in the belly of a giant fish – a little 8×10 office. I was all alone and everyone thought I was nuts. Who would leave a lucrative career to become poorer than the clients I was serving? Honestly, as I stood over a printer and could not figure out how to print an envelope, I thought they were right. I cried out to God – “Lord, what am I doing here?” God’s response was as clear as though it were audible: “My will. For whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do unto me.” I broke down crying and my life has never been the same. God shows up if we will fully yield ourselves to Him.
I get the sense that you love telling the stories of the people you serve. Can you share one or two? I learned from the master storyteller – Jesus. Just two? Hope they are helpful and encourage others to read the book which is filled with many more stories.
Wilma, a deaf-mute, suffered in silence. The state took her son, Danny, away. She could not speak for herself, so the state believed her incompetent. For years she sat alone in an institution, clinging to one hope. She clung to a piece of paper in her pocket with the name Danny on it. She clung to the hope of being reunited.
Danny was placed in foster care, adopted, and given the name Ken. Ken did not blame his mom for abandoning him, but felt incomplete without her. When he married, she was not there. When his three children were born, she was absent. He continued to hope for restoration.
Forty years after the forced separation, Ken’s wife found information on the Internet that led to locating his mother. They traveled from Illinois to Alabama and found Wilma—neglected and alone. When they met, Wilma reached into her pocket and pulled out the worn paper with Danny’s name. As they embraced, Ken wanted to free his mother and break the chains that kept her from him, but he had no legal basis. Wilma had no assets. Ken and his wife were both in ministry and had no means to hire an attorney to establish guardianship and secure all the legal work to release his mother so they could be restored as a family.
Compassion alone could not restore this family. They needed compassionate justice. A team of attorneys was assembled and Ken now walks my neighborhood hand in hand with his mother who has learned sign language and can communicate with her family. You can meet Ken and Wilma here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBuN5kzQwa4&feature=c4-overview&list=UUrFdgkfntJD6CuNb7wkuVpA
Maria was thirteen when she entered the United States. Her father had died and her mother abandoned her. Alone in Mexico, she had no future. With relatives in the US she accepted a nice man’s offer to bring her to America. After he sexually abused her, he sold her to a cantina where drugs, alcohol, and men dulled her senses and threatened to destroy her. But her relatives tracked her down and rescued her.
Undocumented, Maria was afraid, not knowing what to do. She found us, and we helped her face her oppressors for prosecution and obtained a special trafficking visa (T-visa) to establish lawful residence in the United States. Maria now has a new outlook on life: “They gave me hope that there can be justice for everyone—even someone like me.” You can meet Maria and hear a couple more stories, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5CtxwrpNKI&list=UUrFdgkfntJD6CuNb7wkuVpA&feature=c4-overview
My Beliefnet readers are all over the map when it comes to matters of faith. We’re “converted, unconverted and under conversion,” as I like to put it. What would you like them to know about issues pertaining to faith, justice and God’s call to serve the poor? Whether we recognize it or not we are all on a spiritual journey. Sadly some of your readers might be put off by the church or organized religion and I can understand that. One of my heroes was Mother Teresa. She was once asked how she received her call to serve the poor. I love her answer. “My call is not to serve the poor. My call is to follow Jesus. I have followed him to the poor.” If we follow Jesus we will reflect humble service toward others. We will love one another. We will pursue justice. And we will take Jesus’ challenge made to a lawyer when he told the story of the Good Samaritan. We will go and do likewise.