Elginite’s book points to poverty in suburbs
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org June 26, 2013 12:06PM
Bruce Strom, executive director of Administer Justice and author of Gospel Justice. | Emily McFarlan Miller~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 30, 2013 6:25AM
ELGIN — The woman came to Administer Justice “just overwhelmed,” according to executive director Bruce Strom.
Her brother was in prison, and he had made threats against her life, Strom said. She was struggling financially, losing her house. She was afraid and didn’t know what to do.
The volunteer and staff lawyers at the Elgin-based Christian legal aid organization were able to help navigate her through selling her house in a short sale and obtaining a more affordable home, he said. They also were able to counsel her that nothing, not even a restraining order, can guarantee safety, but there is a God who does care and can protect, he said.
The day she moved into her new house, she made the decision to trust that God, and the first prayer she prayed to Him was for her brother, he said. Two days later, she ran into her brother at the grocery store.
Not only were her legal troubles gone, the executive director said, but also her fear.
That’s one of the “powerful stories of change” Strom heard at Administer Justice in Elgin just last week, he said. And it’s the kind of story he wanted to share in his first book, “Gospel Justice,” released last month by Moody Publishers.
“I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to tell stories about actual people with real needs and how they got to this situation and the great opportunity a lawyer has to make a difference in that situation that transforms the circumstances and also the person’s life and the life of the person volunteering,” he said.
‘Call to action’
“Gospel Justice” is “a call to action to the Christian, the church and the attorney to get involved in justice for the poor,” he said.
And it’s an urgent call, he said. He only could find one other book written about justice for the poor, aptly named “Justice for the Poor” and published back in 1919. Meantime, so many people have so many serious misconceptions, he said.
For one, Strom said, when most people think of justice, they think of the criminal justice system.
“They’ll carry that over and almost think that the poor should be punished, like in America, ‘If they just worked hard enough or just were educated enough or just spoke the right language or learned it, they’d be fine. There’s no reason for them to be poor,’ and that’s just not at all true,” he said.
“All kinds of circumstances happen in every one of our lives.”
The most common causes of poverty are not choices, he said, but the loss of a job or a marriage, or a disability.
Another misconception is when most people think of the poor, they think of the city, Strom said.
Yet many more people are living in poverty in the suburbs of Cook County than in the city of Chicago, he said. Still, about 96 percent of the county’s resources go to the city, where there are 40 legal aid organizations, compared to two in the suburbs, he said.
“In the suburbs, (the poor are) terribly hidden because people in the suburbs don’t think there are any poor or that there’s only a few little pockets, not that it’s so incredibly prevalent,” he said.
Changing those misconceptions, raising awareness of the issue is a start, Strom said.
A “Gospel Justice” companion guide also is coming soon with more practical suggestions for readers wanting to help meet the legal and spiritual needs for the poor, he said. A website for the Gospel Justice Initiative now is up at GJI.org.
And Administer Justice only is able to do what it does because of its volunteers, the executive director said. The organization served more than 6,000 people directly last year and 12,000 indirectly, he said.
It has only 12 staff members but more than 700 volunteers, he said. Only about 400 of those volunteers are attorneys, he said.
The organization also can use paralegals and secretaries, and people who can bake cookies or help with mailings and events, he said.
For more information about Administer Justice, or to purchase “Gospel Justice,” visit administerjustice.org.