One of great ministries taking place in the Central Texas Conference is Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM) under the leadership of Rev. Brooks Harrington. MJM is an outgrowth of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. Their website (http://methodistjusticeministry.org/) offers the essentials:
“The Methodist Justice Ministry was founded in 2006, first to protect indigent women and children from domestic violence, neglect and abuse; and second, to help them to new lives free of violence, abuse, fear and self-loathing.
The MJM is thoroughly faith driven. Its legal director, Brooks Harrington, is an ordained United Methodist minister as well as a licensed attorney. Our scriptural motto is: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31: 8-9)
Since the MJM began, we have represented in court the interests of hundreds of women and children from low income households. We have not only obtained but also enforced court orders for protection, for custody, for denial or restriction of visitation by the abusers, and for child support and medical support. And we have counseled with more than 1,000 individuals desperate for help.”
Recently an illustrative story of MJM’s ministry highlighted this great work of justice. A young woman, 30 years old, named “Bella” (not her real name) with children aged 14, 11, 8 and 7 came to MJM for help getting out of an abusive marriage. Bella could neither read nor write. Her abusive husband had left her for a younger woman and threatened her if she disputed custody of the 4 children.
Traumatized and depressed, she found love and support from the staff at MJM. They agreed to not only “take the case” but also to provide support and a future of hope. MJM won the case helping her to retain custody, but there is more to the story. They are arranging and paying for adult education classes so that Bella can learn to read and write. They set up two licensed professional counselors plus a case manager to work with her in putting life back together. They are helping her develop skills to earn a living for her family.
This is a great work of justice. In sharing the story Rev. Harrington adds: “I would like to tell you that Bella’s story is unusual. But it isn’t. We have handled dozens of cases like Bella’s over the ten plus years the MJM has been in ministry. Even so, people like Bella are deep in the shadows. They are too scared and alone to ask for help, or to know whom to ask, or to believe that help exists or that they deserve help. We’d very much like to see and help more Bella’s. We’re praying for that. Lord, send us more Bella’s.”
Vital congregations are engaged in ministry with the “Bellas” of this world. They are reaching out in ministry with the poor – offering the love of God in help and hope. Their ongoing ministry includes something in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 calls every week from people seeking help. The caseload is growing. It takes special technical expertise to work in MJM. This is ministry with the poor, one of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church.
There are many other examples of ministry with the poor spread across the churches of the Central Texas Conference. My challenge for every congregation and Christian is to get involved. In the words of the Apostle James, “faith without action has no value at all” (James 2:20). Pray to be led as individuals and as a congregation, and the Lord will guide you into a great ministry of justice!