Restored Ministries Restore People: The Story of Medford Gospel Mission
Fourteen years ago, when Jason Bull accepted a position as an Associate Director of Medford Gospel Mission, he realized he needed to learn how to faithfully operate a nonprofit ministry. He remembers, “I didn’t know anything about nonprofit management or working with a board of directors. I had to educate myself!” He began reading various books to sharpen his ability to lead the organization and to faithfully serve the homeless community of Medford, Oregon.
During the process, Jason read When Helping Hurts and came to a realization, he says “I thought: this is great stuff. It turns out, I’m hurting people.” During that time, Jason was excited about what he was learning, but unsure how to apply it in his ministry work. Little did Jason know, COVID was going to force his ministry to rethink their programing, and the Chalmers Center was a ready resource to help them do it.
Forced to Change
“Prior to COVID, we did primarily relief services. We provided housing to people experiencing homelessness, but 80% of the people we were helping only stayed a night or two. With the government saying that was no longer safe, we were forced to change; but it was a blessing, because it put us right in line to move from relief to development.”
While learning what their ministry would look like going forward, Jason and another colleague went to the CityGate Annual Conference. A Chalmers partner since 2021,the Citygate Network is North America’s oldest and largest community of independent, faith-based crisis shelters and life-transformation centers.
At the conference, Jason’s colleague met with a Chalmers’ staff member at a booth during the event and came back to say, “What if we just scrap what we are doing and start doing Chalmers stuff.” Jason responded, “Chalmers? What’s that?” His colleague answered, “The people who wrote When Helping Hurts.”
“It was like a veil was lifted from over our eyes.” Over the next few months, Jason and his team were trained in all 3 of Chalmers’ US-based programs, Faith & Finances, Work Life, and Innovate. The courses were helpful, but also forced Jason to face a major issue: the Medford Gospel Mission needed to make some real changes.
“We needed to change as an organization, which was scary because we were founded in 1959. We started asking questions like: How can things be different? How has culture changed over time? How has south Oregon changed over time? What is our relationship to the local churches? What did we implicitly teach churches about poverty and about homelessness?”
As he was struggling through these questions, Jason took our Innovate course and said, “It made us learn how to think and how to make smart changes in the ministry. We realized that the concepts we learned from Chalmers couldn’t just be tacked onto our ministry. We needed to train everyone; and everyone, from me to the cooks in our kitchen, needed to be speaking Chalmers’ language. Everyone needs to know that we are about restoring people’s lives through relationships and through asset-based community development.”
Jason goes further, “We are only going to be restoring relationships to the extent that we are restored as an organization.”
Jason started to notice specific patterns he wanted to see changed. One example was how his ministry, and therefore the program graduates, related to God through the local church. “We had a strong discipleship program, but we had a real problem when people graduated from our program. They seemed to do well in our community, but after their graduation, they weren’t connected to another community.” Chalmers’ emphasis on the importance of the local church motivated Jason to start forming church partnerships so that graduates of his program would continue in Christian fellowship long after receiving help with their material poverty. Since then, Medford Gospel Mission has recruited six local churches to be “allies,” along with 50 local churches who act as partners to the ministry.
Through a few years of training, restructuring, and reprioritizing, Medford now focuses on rehabilitation and development. Now that Medford has shifted its focus, Jason notes, “We are seeing people thrive. We now work with people one-on-one.”
In our time with Jason, he shared stories of current and past participants who have been restored in relationships with their family and the church, stories of people learning how to be restored to work culture and learning to do God-honoring work. All of this, Jason attributes to the blessing of God and thanks the Chalmers Center for helping him learn how to help without hurting.