A hand up, not a hand out…
By Fred Comella
Mixing faith and politics has proven tricky for me at times. So I’ve learned to merge the two only when appropriate, and never in church. (Chuckle)…
All kidding aside, I continue to struggle with the notion of poverty in a nation so rich as this one. I refuse to even attempt to reconcile the terms “less fortunate” or “under-privileged”, when we are witnesses every day to the politicians and so-called community organizers putting in place the very roadblocks to addressing these issues they claim to want to tear down. Moreover, there are those here in our own backyard that fall just outside the lines if you will, and who struggle mightily day in and day out just to get by. And no amount of pandering or postulating by elitist political types has ever truly reached these embattled souls. It often seems as if the conversation of poverty refers exclusively to the homeless. And while the problem of homelessness is certainly more of an immediate circumstance requiring a more concentrated and equally immediate response, entire families living in this so-called recovering economy today are experiencing the potentially longer term issue of being just one paycheck away from that fate themselves.
So now that I’ve spit out my political frustration with definitions and labels, I want to talk to all of you reading this today about a very special ministry, one that sees the trials and tribulations of this life as difficult but navigable hurdles, and also about its founder who insists that the self-imposed barriers of faith, denomination and doctrine must be set aside so brothers and sisters in Christ may work together to build a road out of poverty for all God’s people.
Justin Perreault came to his Christian parents at just nine days old. They would ultimately foster more than two hundred children but would adopt Justin as one of their very own twelve. He loved sports as a boy and was always happiest when competing as a high-school wrestler and football player. But like so many teenagers, Justin fell victim to the ever-present pressures and pitfalls of youth and even contemplated suicide at one point growing up. Ironically, he always loved the Lord and the church, and was most comfortable around those who shared his faith. But he was a follower who hadn’t quite gotten the bigger picture to be sure. More troubled teen years would follow and eventually lead to a bad marriage and even a short stint behind bars. It was at this painful life juncture where Justin finally reached for the relationship with his Lord and Savior, the One who would carry him the rest of the way, and Who he discovered had been with him the whole time. Joshua 1:9 “Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you always“.
The now re-married father of three recounted his emotional struggles during those difficult years and how Christ had awakened a part of him that was always there, simply waiting for the outlet only true and unfettered “re-birth” can provide. He knew from that pivotal moment that the Lord had bigger plans for him and that his story and experience would be the catalyst for a future life of service to what he referred to as the “Under Resourced” among us. A native of West Warwick, Justin now lives in Cranston with his wife Kimberli and their two young children and was kind enough to spare a few moments out of his busy schedule so we could talk about his ministry.
Justin is the President of “Peace and Providence”, a volunteer driven organization that finds and fills the needs of individuals and families within the state of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And as we began our conversation by phone, Justin was quick to remind me that the word “Providence” in the title of his ministry was a reference to that which God directs and not the beleaguered capital city of my beloved little Rhode Island. Immediately I sensed his commitment and dedication to God’s word, and realized that I was about to fill yet another page in the book of my own Christian journey.
Justin began Peace and Providence in 2010 when he was member of the North Providence Assembly of God and after he had a vision. He told me that he saw a human heart that he understood represented the flow of assistance to those in turmoil and need, ultimately represented by the human body. He saw that the vessels and arteries were clogged with a build-up which he interpreted to be the denominational and doctrinal walls so often an impediment to our goals of service and God’s will. Justin believed he would lead a mission of the faithful, unified by their simple acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and that that effort would ensure a more expeditious and effective “flow” of help to those who needed it. Justin brought this to his pastor who immediately recognized his parishioner’s passion to serve, and who proceeded to help him realize the beginnings of “Peace and Providence”.
After much prayer and reflection, on September 17th 2010 “Peace and Providence” held its first outreach festival featuring live Christian music, food and activities for the kids. Justin hoped that those in need physically and spiritually, and/or who just needed to know God loved them, would happen onto his rented area at the Bank of America Skating Center in Providence. Well, on that very special day more than 8000 people turned out, and Justin understood with even greater clarity that his mission was worthy and necessary in the eyes of God. And so it began…
Since that time Justin has expanded his outreach to include year round giving and assistance in everything from blankets and care packages for the homeless, to medicine and food for those families struggling to make ends meet. The ministry also provides things like heating assistance and help to the elderly, and within the last two years has begun a huge Thanksgiving and Christmas initiative in the form of food baskets, holiday food gatherings and presents for the children. Justin told me that in keeping with his belief that the outreach must be a hand-up and not a hand out, he provides nearly 500 toys each year, but allows the parents to take them home and wrap them first in order to reinforce the family bond and maintain a sense of normalcy for these struggling families. As is sometimes the case during these conversations, my eyes began to water and I was taken aback by the God-given humility and sense of purpose I heard in Justin’s voice, and which I’ve come to know as the hallmark of the missionary…
Justin and his family are now members of Waters Church in Attleboro, MA, and he tells me the entire church is as focused on inclusion and community as anything else they do. This type of community based approach is central to Justin’s efforts. He explained that “Pastor Pete” has taken Justin’s message of denominational inclusion to heart, and is a major source of encouragement and support for his ministry. We spoke of the upcoming annual festival taking place on Saturday October 3rd from 11 AM until 9 PM. This years outreach will be held at the Alex and Anni City Park, located at 2 Kennedy Plaza in Downtown Providence, with 85 venders and new additions including a HUGE Arts and Crafts vendor area, expanded children and family activities area, raffles, 12 bands and amazing food. Admission remains free and all proceeds from the very reasonably and family priced goodies like “sausage and peppers and dough boys” will go to fund Justin’s goal of 2000 Thanksgiving food baskets this year. So be sure and put this one on your calendar and don’t miss a great early Fall event that will surely change the lives of countless souls, meeting both the physical and spiritual need.
Justin graciously gave me a few more minutes while trying to squeeze in some yard work, so he could tell me about his plans for the future. Peace and Providence hopes to bring on-line in 2017, its first mission house. The focus will be in assisting families who would otherwise have been split up by misfortune into separate shelters, so they remain together while getting back on their feet. A one year program will help with the basics necessary to sustain the family while providing additional support in the areas of education, job placement and financial planning, and again all while keeping the family unit together. Once again, a hand up and not out. Appropriately, Justin calls this initiative “Liberty’s House”. The ministry has also begun assistance outreach in high-rises for the elderly, as this is an overlooked and extremely vulnerable segment of our society. The elderly are all to often forced to make life choices between rent, food, and medicine that no senior citizen of the richest nation on planet earth should have to make. This program is actually off the ground and rolling in Providence at the time of this print, but in keeping with the norm unfortunately, efforts in other areas continue but are slowed by the many bureaucratic and political roadblocks no matter the worthiness of the cause.
Note: In the humble opinion of this author, it is simply shameful that government stand in the way of genuine and proven initiatives to help those in need. But thats a story for another time.
As we finished up our talk I couldn’t help but be appreciative of Justin’s ambition and drive. I knew it was inspired, but there was something else about the man on the other side of the phone. A ‘common sense’ if you will. Fact is, the best intentions are not always the best answer. Those same best intentions however, when administered through the “hand-up” lens are just plain more effective. In the end, some may choose the hand-out, but how long does that last? Justin’s vision is one of hope and inspiration for those who seek to rise above their temporary “lack of resources” and rejoice in the spirit of the independence born of their efforts and blessed by God’s grace.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12English Standard Version (ESV) 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
The politics of poverty is often just that, politics. Lord knows there are countless ideologues who’ve built their careers on pandering to those in need, essentially turning need into dependency, and dependency into votes. And though I don’t speak for Justin Perreault, I suspect this is not acceptable or in keeping with his mission. God has called him up to serve, and he is indeed listening. But Justin is also turning Band-Aids and bandages into splints and the power of God’s healing, so His people may go forward and succeed. Only in this way may we adequately aspire to Christ’s calling to love thy neighbor as ourselves. For to truly love him, we must do more than simply help him out. We must grab hold and help him up…
In closing Justin asked that I mention the efforts of his entire staff and support network, to whom he humbly credits the success of his mission, and to the many churches which have put aside their respective denominational differences to join him in doing God’s work for the “under resourced”. He also asked that I mention his beloved Kimberli, a wife who walks with him unconditionally to the same place. It is no wonder that it was God and His church which brought them together.
The need remains great and growing…and with the growth of his ministry Justin asks that anyone who wishes to partner with him please visit his website for information on how you may contribute both monetarily and through prayer, www.peaceandprovidence.com. Of course, all who wish to physically volunteer to help with the many programs “Peace and Providence” sponsors throughout the year, including the very special October 3rd festival in downtown Providence, may contact the ministry at:
Peace and Providence, PO Box 40094, Providence, RI 02940 or email Peaceandprovidence@gmail.com or call 401-369-9252.