In Seattle, Washington, community advocate Carolyn Harper-Brown knows all about sandwich making, homeless feeding, and community networking.
“After 14 years of feeding the homeless downtown, I’ve learned a lot from sitting and talking with people,” Carolyn says in her matter-of-fact way. “They appreciate the sandwiches, socks, and gloves. But what they wanted more was to be able to buy their own. Small legal issues kept them from working, getting a place to live, or going to school. They couldn’t afford an attorney.”
So the woman who is already impacting Seattle started finding more avenues of change. She remembers, “Six years ago I prayed, ‘God, I just want to be more relevant to my community. I want to do something that will change lives.’”
Carolyn began knocking on lawyers’ and judges’ doors. Those doors closed, but she persisted in her God-inspired calling. She formed a prayer team and attended ministry training sessions. She didn’t know how to start a legal clinic, but she knew God knew the right people.
After many disappointments, Carolyn went to the next legal office. She was tired of uncooperative clerks who wouldn’t give her the time of day. Her frustration drew the attention of the law practice owner, who invited her into his office.
“Are you in trouble?” he asked.
“No, but people in this city are!” she responded. Carolyn explained the situation and need for a free legal clinic for Seattle’s homeless and ended her appeal with, “And you are just the person to help me!”
The lawyer shook his head in disbelief of Carolyn’s tenacity and ended up advising her and her team of volunteers.
As of 2017, 55 percent of the world’s population is urban.
The details started coming together: office space in a converted Sabbath School room at Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church, office furniture at bargain rates, a network of legal volunteers willing to help for a couple hours a month, and a marketing company’s services at a discounted rate that matched their financial picture.
It’s been a faith journey all the way through. Carolyn and her team often found themselves short on resources, whether volunteers, equipment, or finances. She also had many unexpected admissions into the hospital, but instead of canceling scheduled planning meetings, she and her team would hold them in her hospital room. With weekly challenges, she often threatened to quit, but God kept bringing her back.
Now if you drive through the Rainier Valley neighborhood in Seattle, you will see yard signs for politicians, professional services, various causes, and Maranatha Adventist Church’s free legal clinic.
There are 522 cities throughout the world with a population of 1 million or more.
Church members posted the yard signs two hours before the dedication service in September 2017. Not long after, the phone started ringing with appointment requests, and the first scheduled evening of legal aid was immediately booked.
Even with the initial flood of calls, Carolyn and her team expected their first legal clinic to have a small turnout. She recalls thinking, “OK, we won’t have a lot of clients because we’re new. We’ll probably have about five to six clients who will actually show up, so we’ll just hold the clinic for two hours.” But to their surprise, 12 clients came in, and they stayed open for more than four hours just trying to serve everyone.
57 percent of these cities are less than 50 percent Christian.
Carolyn and team have held seven clinics since their opening day and have seen firsthand the impact their ministry is making. They’ve assisted clients with lemon cars to get their vehicles repaired. They’ve guided clients with substantial debts to receive partial debt forgiveness and payment plans for the remainder. They’ve helped many people overcome their legal issues and finally have a chance to get a job, rent an apartment, or go to school. Seeing lives change through these legal clinics reinforced the reason why Carolyn and her team named their service Life Change Ministries.
Each story of victory has blessed Carolyn and the volunteers of Life Change Ministries as much as they’ve blessed their clients. “Hearing these results helps us remember why God has led us in this direction,” Carolyn says. “Seeing clients come in burdened with a problem and leaving with the satisfaction of seeing a solution is all that we need to keep us encouraged.”
What’s next for this ministry? Carolyn says more frequent legal clinics at Maranatha Adventist Church and maybe more legal clinics up and down the Interstate-5 corridor.
“If I can be a small part in changing someone’s life, that’s what I want to do,” Carolyn says with conviction. “God changed me and gave me a second chance. More people need this help, too.”
Photos courtesy of Heidi Baumgartner/NPUC Gleaner/GleanerNow.com.
Carolyn Harper-Brown saw a need to provide legal help for the homeless in Seattle, so she used an out-of-the-box approach to meet that need. This is the core of Mission to the Cities. This world initiative seeks to plant new congregations in every city with a population greater than 1 million. This challenges “the way we’ve always done it,” calling for church planters to take unconventional routes to reach urban areas while still building on Christ’s method of ministry. It’s time to reach the cities. How will you be a part?
Explore Mission to the Cities projects around the world at MissionToTheCities.org.