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The Hands of Jesus

Tuesday, April 02, 2024 @ 10:00 AM The Hands of Jesus Hannah Meador The Stand Writer MORE

For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison
and you came to Me (Matthew 25:35-36)

Christ’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew paint a picture of how Christians should respond to the hurting, the hungry, and the homeless. All three are prevalent in the United States.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that, since 2017, the homeless epidemic has risen by 6% overall. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gathered information in its 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report and stated that, on a single night, 582,462 individuals nationwide were homeless. Of that, 72% were households without children, and 28% were families with children.

In response to the growing epidemic, a shelter in Jackson, Tennessee, has stepped up and is ministering to women facing homelessness, addiction, and other traumas. The Dream Center of Jackson (DCJ) has provided more than 10,000 residents with food, shelter, and the hope of Jesus.

A time to minister 

At DCJ, the ministry’s mission is to “rebuild lives, restore hope, and renew dreams.” The friendly staff accomplishes this by offering resources, support, and love to single women as well as mothers and their children.

Between June 2022 and July 2023, DCJ served 125 women and 190 children, daily shared the gospel, moved 114 clients into permanent housing, helped 87 women find employment and 16 residents buy a vehicle, ministered to 12 counties, supplied 154,975 meals, and – most importantly – celebrated 68 professions of faith.

While food and shelter are a priority, what makes DCJ unique is its dedication to living out the call found in Matthew 25. Each resident has been, is, and always will be met with the love of Jesus, regardless of situation or status.

“There is not anything more powerful than the name of Jesus,” explained Stephanie Laffoon, DCJ’s capital campaign manager. “You cannot convince me otherwise. He breaks barriers down; He mends families. When He does those things, you realize He’s the most important thing in your life.”

A time to provide 

Many DCJ residents face one of their hardest battles as they start their stay in the shelter. While the ministry is Christ-focused, it also helps its residents break damaging habits and end the cycle of trauma. On the first day a woman arrives for help, she must start a 30-day blackout period in which she gives up nicotine and her cell phone for a month.

“Once women break that habit, they realize that there are other habits they can break,” said Laffoon. “They realize within those 30 days that they can do it.”

Following that period, DCJ continues to come alongside the women and offers courses to help them find further healing. Likewise, in partnership with local businesses and ministries, DCJ attempts to help them find employment. The shelter’s newest location is near a city bus stop, enabling women to easily commute to their jobs.

“So many of those women are so used to being let down, put down, and hurt that they forget that when they were little, they actually felt loved,” explained Laffoon. “It’s like reintroducing themselves to them and saying, ‘You know what, you were never meant to carry this burden. You’re not even equipped to carry this burden. Only God can.’”

A time to build 

The shelter’s story began after an F4 tornado spiraled through Jackson in 2003. In its wake, many families were left homeless. To help those affected, DCJ’s founders rented an old, vacated hospital building to provide a safe place for tornado victims to stay. At that time, the building housed up to 60 individuals and families nightly. Residents could stay until they found permanent housing or could renovate or rebuild their own houses.

Recognizing an ongoing need, the ministry obtained its 501(c)(3) status and began operating as the Dream Center of Jackson in 2006 and became a faith-based educational ministry to women.

Uncertainty arose in 2016 when the hospital was sold. DCJ’s leadership began praying for an open door that would allow them to continue ministering to its residents. In November 2023, DCJ saw its prayers answered with the grand opening of its new multimillion-dollar facility, which was fully funded by the gifts of generous donors.

The stunning building, which can house up to 90 residents at a time, contains a library, art room, clothes closet, laundry room, and cafeteria. But its most important features are the beautifully curated bedrooms prepared for the women and children who reside there.

A time to give  

Over the last 17 years, the Jackson community has been one of DCJ’s biggest supporters. Local churches, businesses, groups, and organizations have offered their talents to help DCJ achieve its own dreams and success.

One such dream was a parcel of land that a neighboring church, Northside Assembly Church of God, donated to the ministry so that it could construct the much-needed building. 

“God knew this vision 30 years ago before we even thought about it,” said executive director Gail Gustafson, at the building’s official opening. “It will absolutely blow your mind what God can do and the people He can put together.”

Individuals around Jackson have blessed the shelter in many different ways, including purchasing and gifting new washing machines, mattresses, bedding, food, clothing, and more.

However, when all is said and done, the ministry of DCJ is just people joining together to be the hands and feet of Christ and making dreams come true in the process.

(Digital Editor's Note: This article was first published in the April 2024 print edition of The Stand. Click HERE to get a free six-month subscription to the print version of The Stand.)

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