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Not Just a Job, but a Life

Submitted by Rod Kerr

She began with these words, “When I first began this program, I was feeling hopeless and in despair, but today because of Jobs for Life, I am feeling hope, rebirth and rejuvenation of spirit. I have a new sense of joy and confidence.” As a result of this faith-based jobs readiness program, graduate student Sylvia Scott has been able to dream again and refocus on a goal of becoming a certified peer specialist, using her master’s degree in community counseling skills to help many other people. “I have an analogy that is appropriate and apt from the Bible: Lazarus was dead; Jesus came and brought him back to life. Today, I feel like this ministry has brought me back to life.”

The Fall 2015 class of Salisbury Jobs for Life held its graduation in the main sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Salisbury, its host church, on Sunday. Speakers included instructors and mentors from the JFL faculty, as well as testimonies from graduating students. Special guest speakers included the County Commission Chairman Greg Edds and David Spickard, President and CEO of Jobs for Life International. Jobs for Life is a global, faith-based, job-readiness program that is in 395 cities, 42 states and 16 foreign countries. The Salisbury site has over 150 volunteers and has graduated 40 students in its short lifetime.

What had started out as a “trip” eight weeks ago soon became a journey of hard work, dedication and overcoming tremendous physical, mental and emotional roadblocks for three classes of students that met twice weekly for three hours each session. Instructors taught lessons on vocational plans, resumés, job searches, networking, interviewing skills and 60-second elevator speeches just like other job training programs. But it also became a pilgrimage as stories of biblical heroes and heroines were shared as people who overcame hardships and showed character and dedication. And of the “Unseen Hand” that is working in them and fighting for them. And the heartwarming question they kept asking was, “Is that really true?”

Robin Kerr, mentor-at-large, began by sharing that the students were not the only ones who have benefited from the ministry. “You have touched our hearts and we are grateful to have walked beside you in the good times and the rough times,” she said. “You have expanded our hearts, and we hope we have touched yours. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability as our paths have crossed for just a short time. You will be in our hearts forever.”

Instructor Mark Petty applauded the students and reminded them that they had learned lessons not just for their job search but also for their lives, “Your hard work, your commitment and your dedication has prepared you for the next step in your journey. Psalm 21 says ‘Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity.’ You students will be an example of that biblical principle.” He continued and mentioned comments that he had heard in the final class. “You talked about the ‘family environment’ you felt in the program. Let me thank you for allowing me to be a part of the Jobs for Life family. We always started class with the question ‘Does anybody have any good news?’ Usually, we would hear about a prayer request, a job posting, an interview scheduled or a new job. Tonight, it’s my turn to share some good news: It’s graduation! You did it! And we are going to celebrate a lot!”

Student Katie Crisco also spoke of that family and community atmosphere as she left the audience with two quotes speaking of her experience in the program. “I found this first one and it really spoke of what the last eight weeks have meant to me: ‘We’re all in the same boat, and I can tell you now how to reach the shore.’ ” Speaking directly of the Bible stories that were the foundation of the lessons, she shared a Native American proverb: ‘Tell me a fact and I will learn, tell me a truth and I will believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.’ Those Bible stories will be with me for a long time.”

County Commission Chairman Greg Edds balanced delicate hope and promise with the hard reality of the ways jobs have changed over the last several decades. While many of the more than 400 who were in attendance grew up in generations where jobs were reliable and secure, Edds reminded them. “Those days are gone — gone here, gone across the country and gone around the globe,” he said. “Our new globalized and industrialized economy has changed all that. That’s not good, not bad, but different.” Then he told the graduates, “There is good news, very good news. You have taken the first step in cementing your position in this new economy. There are 5.5 million unfilled labor jobs and employers are paying higher than normal wages since they are so desperate for good, dependable workers.”

He then gave several important principles to the graduates. “What you do is a commodity. How you do it is a value, and value always beats price,” he said. “Average and even above average doesn’t cut it anymore — you have to have a ‘wow’ factor. Plug into the power of connection; you’ll never get a seat on the train if you don’t get near the tracks. Listen more and talk less; make it a practice to ask successful people about their best piece of advice. Invest in the life of others.”

Each student in Jobs for Life has a personal mentor, and the leadership materials have guidelines that are given to help them in their roles of providing friendship, supporting learning, assisting in home and classwork assignments. But two-time mentor John Carlton said that there were also the ‘not-so-tangible parts of being a mentor. “It is the close relationships that continue long after the classes are complete; the working together to overcome roadblocks. We have seen JFL strengthen the attributes that are in high demand by employers: integrity, character, responsibility, and the most important to all mentors, the building of self-esteem. Those who come in shy and unsure have become proud, dynamic and self-confident. They realize we are all valuable and God has a purpose for each one of us in His plan.”

Then Carlton got to the heart of the JFL ministry, “You, yourself are a servant. I know that may be hard to do especially if you feel unappreciated or your coworkers are difficult. But just consider the example of Jesus — he was rejected, tortured and crucified. Yet, He was willing to serve even his tormentors with His attitude and ultimately with His life.”

David Spickard, President and CEO of JFL brought the various threads of all testimonies of the speakers together. He presented the two keys of the program. “The first thing we’ve learned is that God’s Word and God’s people are the change agents of the world. The local church is God’s Plan A. There is no Plan B. The second thing we learned is that work heals. We were made to work. The first thing God did after the creation of man was to give him a J.O.B. That is why what looks like a simple job training program on the surface has such great depth. We have the opportunity to see you as God created you. Because you were made in God’s image, when we spend time with you, we know we are spending time with the Creator of the universe.” He then reminded those gathered of the story of the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14:13-14 where the Israelites were assured “Don’t be afraid, stand firm…the Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.” Then, he reminded everyone, “Verse 15 tells us to also ‘move on.’ God is calling you to move forward in the confidence that God has a plan for you.”

Before the graduates received their well-deserved certificates, they saw pictures of their 8-week, 16-session journey, scenes of fellowship, service and class put to the words of the song “Mercies in Disguise”:

What if the greatest disappointment and the aching of this life

                  Is the revealing of a greater thirsting, this world can satisfy?

                  And what if the trails of this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest night

                  Are your mercies in disguise?

Applications are being taken now for the spring semester of Jobs for Life that will begin in February. Forms may be picked up at First Baptist Church in Salisbury or online at www.fbcsalisbury.org. Interviews will be held in January. Classes are limited to 20 students. For more information or to schedule a speaker, contact Rod Kerr, site director, Salisbury Jobs for Life, at 704-633-0431 or email rod@fbcsalisbury.org.

 

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