Volunteers – Making a Difference in the Lives of Others!

The room was electric with the presence of over 100 volunteers gathered to celebrate at Administer Justice’s annual volunteer appreciation breakfast.  Windows surrounded two sides of the room looking out upon beautiful greenery of the golf course at Elgin Country Club.  Snow had fallen earlier but the sun was shining bright as a visual reminder of the cold storms that beset our clients and the truth we share that the sun (son)is still present and a better day is coming.

Karen Hippchen, our volunteer services director, led the event.  A volunteer herself for many years she knows first-hand the theme from this year:  Making a Difference in the Lives of Others.  Another long-time volunteer and now staff, Phil Thacher, opened in prayer.  Our friend Kimmy Vos led in worship as we ate, laughed, distributed awards and were inspired to further service.  The theme was visibly demonstrated by testimony and the comments of those receiving awards.

Janet James volunteers on Saturday mornings and Thursday nights coordinating clients for intake.  She is a paralegal who works in the mortgage industry realizing now the weight of people on the receiving end of the mounds of papers she processes.  Janet told the story of a man, we’ll call him Jorge, who she met recently on a Thursday which is also the day of our heavily visited foreclosure workshop.  Jorge spoke Spanish and did not understand the papers he received.  Janet had time to calm Jorge with the help of a volunteer interpreter, and review his papers.  She discovered that he was being foreclosed for failure to pay a city sanitation improvement assessment which was supposed to only last three years.  Seven years later the assessment was still being applied and the city was seeking to collect with penalties, interest and fees.  Janet recognized this injustice and prayed for an appointment opening – there was one, and it just “happened” to be with a real estate attorney!  God answers prayers.  What is more that attorney agreed with her evaluation and took the case pro bono which led to eliminating the debt and saving the home.

Deb Wolf received our True Mercy Award for years of faithful volunteer service in numerous roles including bookkeeper, making brochures, leading Fun Fest and coordinating our peacemakers.  As she received her award she told the story of her sister who came to Administer Justice distraught and looking for a divorce.  Her husband was an alcoholic and she did not know what to do to protect herself and daughter.  The attorney prayed with her and recognizing she did not want a divorce provided practical ways to address the problem outside of the courthouse.  She never saw the courthouse but did see her husband change.  He quit drinking and their last few years together were a blessing before the alcohol abuse which destroyed his liver took his life.  There would have been a very different ending if a lawyer had not encouraged peace over retribution in the hour of need.

Judy Berndt received our True Justice Award for her years of service including volunteering at least one day a week at the Elgin office, for her wonderful attitude and encouragement of other attorneys to use the gifts God has given them in the service of others.  Judy shared the recent story of an 85-year-old woman who she was privileged to help.  This dear widow was overwhlemed by various legal issues which Judy was able to help resolve, but hearing the worry and lack of resources, Judy pulled out her last three dollars and gave them to the woman.  With tears streaming down her face she thanked Judy for lifting a burden and allowing the woman to celebrate at McDonalds.

Every day volunteers make a difference in the lives of others at Administer Justice.  As they do their lives are also changed.  There is power in each Samaritan who takes the time to stop and serve their wounded neighbor in need along the Jericho Road of life.  That is the message of the book, Gospel Justice, and one I shared with our amazing volunteers.  Please consider joining this wonderful team of people who are making a difference.  Visit the volunteer section of our website and fill out the form.  You will be glad you did.

Remember the Alamo

Yesterday, March 6, marked the 177th anniversary of the slaughter at the Alamo.  One hundred eighty nine brave men took refuge in a mission as they stood against Santa Anna’s army of 1800.  Thirteen days they fought to the last man.  Their courage is remembered to this day by the cry, “Remember the Alamo.”

That statement rallied people across Texas.  How could they stand passive in the face of such injustice?  Just over one month later, Sam Houston engaged the enemy in the Battle of San Jacinto.  Under cries of “Remember the Alamo”, Santa Anna’s army was defeated.

Sadly, many people don’t like history.  To them it is the story of a bunch of dead people and hardly seems relevant today.  I disagree.  I am glad my sons join me in the love of history and what we can learn from the past that can inform our present and inspire our future.  When my boys were only four months old I took them to San Antonio, Texas where the Alamo remains surrounded by the city.  We were attending a Christian Legal Society Conference.  Here is an excerpt from the book Gospel Justice which recounts my first visit to the Alamo and hearing the echo of the cry against injustice across time: 

“One of the early CLS legal-aid conferences was held in San Antonio, Texas. A young successful attorney listened.

That attorney spoke afterward with John Robb and Chuck Hogren. His wife and new born twin sons were with him. As he toured the Alamo where courageous men had stood against impossible odds, but they stood in the gap because it was necessary, he knew the Bible was filled with such men. Would he have the courage to launch a new organization or would he question, “How can I be certain of this?” Would he look at his circumstances with a wife staying home and newborn twins and pass the opportunity by. He did not.

I stopped and Administer Justice began four months later. Administer Justice would lead this new wave of Christian Legal Aid, where Gospel Justice for the poor was the principal rather than just one of the purposes of Christian Legal Aid.”

We need men and women of courage who are willing to stand against injustice wherever it may be found.  Those who bravely serve our country, who travel to distant lands to fight hunger, disease or trafficking, and those who quietly but courageously stand on behalf of our neighbors in need right next door.  Gospel Justice will be released June 1.  I encourage you to read and study it.  Learn about injustice and dare to take a stand. 

The cry of the Alamo can be heard echoing down through the ages.  How much more the cry of our Lord and Savior.  His cry is a challenge to love mercy and seek justice.  His cry is to “Go and Do Likewise.”

The Administer Justice Birthday Story

Administer Justice (AJ) is 13 today – Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2013.  Visit our birthday page on ways you can help us celebrate! 

In the year 2000 people actually had to mail forms to Springfield, so there was no way of knowing when they would be filed.  But God knew.  AJ would be His valentine to communities in need.

When Administer Justice began a core group of seven volunteer attorneys rotated meeting twice a month on a Saturday morning out of Fox Valley Church in West Dundee.  Two attorneys would meet with a handful of clients on a Saturday morning – 27 in that first year.  At that time I had no intention of giving up my lucrative law practice to take Administer Justice full time.  But God had other plans.

As the needs grew and the answering machine could not contain the calls, so did my heart.  Perhaps like the Grinch my heart was simply three sizes too small.  I liked my comfortable life.  I liked my position and my income.  I wanted to support my wife and newborn twin sons and allow her to stay home.  The poor would always be among us and one person can’t really make a difference.  Notice “my” focus on me. 

Like the Grinch, I did not understand that true joy was not found in material things.  True joy is found in loving and serving others, just as Jesus did.  Jesus showed one person could make a difference when they put their faith and trust completely in Him.  He chose the most unlikely group of twelve ordinary men.  But they changed the world.  They faced persecution and death because they knew a deep joy that came from their risen and ascended friend. 

While the remaining back story to AJ is in the introduction to the book Gospel Justice, I finally shut down my law practice and started Administer Justice full time in 2003.  I was alone in an 8×10 office, would not be paid for five months, my wife continued to stay home with our sons, and I knew we would live under the poverty line for many years.  I was angry at God for stripping me of my identity, my money, my life…  but there’s that “my” again.   As I stood over a printer unable to print an envelope I cried out – “God, what am I doing here!” 

God’s response was as clear as though it were audible – “My will.  For whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do unto me.”

As I wept I think my heart grew three sizes that day.  It is not my will but thy will be done.  Since that day we have served over 35,000 clients in need of help and hope.  More than 750 volunteers have joined with us along the way, including more than 300 attorneys.  Each day we have opportunity in the midst of difficult circumstances to provide the hope and joy that comes from Jesus.  Each day we serve with volunteers and let them know that one person really can make a difference.

So Happy Birthday AJ!  I pray there are many more to come.

New Hope for the New Year

“I am so glad to see you here!”picHispanicMan

Juan raced to the help desk where Pam was seated.  He had good news – his foreclosure suit had just been dismissed.  Pam was stunned.  The joyous man before her was far different from when she first met him at her foreclosure workshop. 

Juan’s mortgage had been purchased by another bank and he’d not been given instructions.  He kept making payments to the former company.  The checks were not credited to his account and the new company filed foreclosure.  Juan went to a business for a loan modification, met with an “attorney” and was charged significant money to resolve the matter.  The “attorney” provided Juan a signed approval but the bank denied the agreement existed.  Juan returned to the “attorney” who kept telling Juan he would appear in court and take care of the matter.  Pam discovered he was NOT an attorney.  That person failed to complete paperwork correctly, did not go to court, and Juan lost his case as a result. 

Juan meant to come to us sooner but his mother fell into a coma in Mexico and his friend, who was on the mortgage, had to make an emergency trip to California because his son was murdered.  The world was crashing in on Juan when he finally walked through the doors of Administer Justice.  He was feeling hopeless as he joined more than twenty others in the weekly foreclosure workshop. 

After the workshop Juan was able to meet with Pam, and hope returned.  Pam prepared paperwork for Juan and told him how to present.    Even as she sought to provide hope, she believed the delay would prove fatal.  “I prayed for Juan, but I confess that I did not believe that God would answer this one the way that I wanted him to.”

God answers prayer.  The answer came not from the judge, but the bank’s attorney who read Pam’s motions, reviewed the proof and understood the injustice taking place.  He dismissed the action and told Juan he would instruct the bank to give him the loan modification. 

“I could almost hear God laughing and saying to me, ‘O ye of little faith!’  And it is true; my faith is sorely lacking.  But God works miracles in spite of our doubts and in spite of our lack of trust in Him.  I really believe that this was a miracle.”

Juan has new hope for the New Year, but not only Juan.  Pam raised the issue with Bruce who recognized the systemic challenges within the system and he is addressing these with the judges.  He also called a friend in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to pursue the fraud being perpetrated by the person holding himself out as an attorney so that others are not victimized.

Justice for All

Did you enjoy your 4th of July celebration?  This year I had my 13-year-old twin sons read the Declaration of Independence so we could discuss it together.  What a great document!  For the first time in history, men declared that revolution was an honorable course when pursuing a just cause.  The words of the Declaration have inspired and influenced free men on every continent.

Our founders believed that there were certain truths that were self-evident and inviolate.  They believed these truths derived from ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”.  That our Creator wrote these truths upon the hearts and souls of men as unalienable rights including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  That it was an act of tyranny to close one’s ears and be “deaf to the voice of justice”.  They believed so strongly in this fundamental notion of justice that they pledged to each other “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”  And they meant it.  Had the war turned out differently they would have lost their fortunes and likely their lives, but they were willing to make that sacrifice in the pursuit of justice.

Today we often take liberty and justice for all for granted.  We don’t realize that our shores house tyrants who traffick in labor and sex slavery.  We don’t see the fraud, oppression and abuse perpetrated against our elderly, minorities and vulnerable neighbors.  We take for granted the right of someone to access our justice system for a redress of grievances, without asking how that happens.  In our country today if you perpetrate fraud, abuse or slavery you are entitled to a free attorney, but if you are the victim of such heinous acts you have no such right.  The United States consistently ranks at the bottom of nations in the developed world who provide access to our justice system.  We have become “deaf to the voice of justice.”

Administer Justice exist to give voice to justice.  We want people to understand the needs and challenges facing our low-income neighbors and how they can get engaged in making a difference.  Will you pledge your life, your fortune and your sacred honor to advance the great ideals that birthed this nation?  It is not hard.  Go to our website and click on “Justice for All” in the top right and we will walk you through how you can get involved in making our pledge of liberty and justice for all a reality.