“Things are constantly changing- and you do have to set aside your list of things that need to get done for whoever is right in front of you. You have your list of things to do, and at the end of the day, you might not have done any of those things because of the people who came through the doors. Constant change… you have to thrive on that– you have to love constant change.”Shannon Baker, Grand Nation, Foursquare Church
How do we share the love of Jesus with our neighbors when so many things seem to be working against us? The following article may offer you some insight. Dr. Sunny Sue Chang Jonas shares a story from her conversation with Shannon Baker that will encourage you to embrace change as part of being a good neighbor.
I spoke with CCDA member, Shannon Baker, who is part of New Life Foursquare Church and works with Grand Nation, on a blustery, beautiful fall afternoon. She shared her heart for this organization, the staff, and the neighbors she serves. One story deserves special attention while knowing her scope, depth and breadth of servant-leadership spans many more narratives of investment and empowerment.
“Carley* came back from drug court-she wanted to start a Celebrate Recovery at New Life Foursquare Church. I partnered with her, we pulled others in and created a leadership team. She was a former methamphetamine addict. She was a superstar in how she went through the alternative court program. But a week before she graduated, she admitted that, “All I can think about is graduating and getting high.” There were about 14 bad months there-I would take her to different rehabilitation facilities. I think she went to 5 different rehabs. I just really fought for her, when she was fighting against herself. Things from her past: bad parents, bad home life. Worship was important to her, and I would cut and paste lyrics and text them to her. If she didn’t answer, it didn’t matter. She eventually got caught by the police again, and she got put into the county jail at 7 months pregnant. When she came out, she asked, “Shannon, can you help me?” We went through the legal system, and this time it all just clicked. We connected her to an organization that paid all her deposits, rent and utilities for 6 months and she entered into another alternative court program in November, and now she’s back at church and leading Celebrate Recovery. She said to me, “To have a home for my boys, I thought I had to have a man in my life.” But Grand Nation helped her become independent and provide for her children. A business reached out to me needing to hire an office manager-a school for autistic kids. They trained Carley to be the office manager, and now she’s a beautiful single working mom of these three boys. It’s probably the biggest success story of anyone I have worked directly with. I had to fight for her, when sometimes she couldn’t fight for herself. There are things we each do, and there are ways we provide resources for each other while doing those things…”
Shannon Baker refers to herself as “an advocate and a fighter”; she was hired in 2018 to be on staff with four other employees and a cadre of volunteers to provide people from NE Oklahoma with support and resources like food and shelter. Women like Carley start off initially as clients, but really, over the course of many years-many seasons of wellness as well as addiction, clients become friends. This transformation from client to friend, a flattening of the power dynamic from vertical to horizontal, is modeled for us by Jesus: “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15).
Similarly, Grand Nation is an umbrella organization which helps facilitate meetings that can in other contexts feel formal, forced and concerning identities of brokenness. The very nature of the organization-transforming meetings that should initially feel mandated, identities that feel contingent on brokenness and culpability, extrinsically motivated, mandated reform programming, participation in programs required for legal processes, etc, all this can change towards helping clients have intrinsically motivated, relational and authentic relationships of accountability, but also restoration and transformation.
Grand Nation and people like Shannon give the people they serve, whom they call “neighbors,” the love of Jesus and community resources, to transform typically under-resourced rural communities in NE Oklahoma, into stronger, interconnected ecosystems of families and organizations that flourish and thrive.
Some of the services that they offer are:
- Addictions Awful Truths– A peer-led impact panel that meets bi-monthly
- Turn Change– A holistic 2-hour intake and case management process to assess and provide resources and support including treatment and mental health services.
- 2nd Chance Employment– Helps people get jobs and transportation to an industrial park (45 minutes away) post-incarceration, towards a living wage.
- Worth the Fight– Suicide Prevention training through Mental Health First Aid, Mental Health First Aid for Youth, QPR and Lifelines. Care teams created for struggles with suicidal ideation.
- CIT– Crisis Intervention Team to respond to crisis in the community
- Community Gardens- Producing and distributing fresh produce for the community
- The Table Food Resource-Two client choice food pantries, three mobile food pantries per month, summer feeding for 275 kids, CSFP-Commodity boxes for senior citizens each month. In 2020, Grand Nation coordinated with 60 partners and gave out over one million pounds of food during the pandemic.
- ExamiNation– Drug testing (reduced rates/sliding scale) This program is also a catalyst/initial contact point and opportunity to get our neighbors into treatment also.
- Salvation Army– Angel Tree Christmas, Back 2 School Bash and help for homelessness and recovery; upcoming supports for workforce development through Salvation Army as well.
- Love & Logic Parenting Classes- Free 7-week class series
- Community Service– All of the community service assigned by the courts in Craig County comes through our office.
Organizations like Grand Nation, and local church, city, county, and state partnerships, bring positive change in a climate that is ever changing. The love of Jesus brings restoration and reconciliation to the “neighbors” of NE Oklahoma through practical, relational and spiritual support and walking alongside their journeys “from beginning to end.”
*Carley’s story was shared with permission.