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(Photo: Unsplash/Zhipeng Ya)

At Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission, I've met many men and women who've traded the freedom of God-given work for the chains of government-sponsored welfare. Decades of failed welfare policies have led many of them to believe they are better off not working, and they've missed out on the dignity of work as a result. They come to our mission defeated, but when they give up their government benefits in exchange for a place to sleep and an opportunity to work, they experience something different: hope.

A shift in federal policies may finally give millions of Americans this same hope. Recently, President Trump signed an executive order to ensure welfare programs promote work for those who are able. And Congress has included work requirements in the 2018 Farm Bill proposal—a reform that would lift millions of able-bodied adults on food stamps out of poverty.

These reforms should instill hope in anyone trapped in dependency, and they should excite all of us in faith-based ministries. After all, you only need to look to the Bible to realize that work is literally a textbook solution to poverty.

Many in the Christian faith are familiar with the verse, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man." From the Bible we learn from the failures of those like King David, who, when not working, fell into temptation and sin. And we learn from the successes of those like Joseph, whose hard work and diligence enabled him to provide not only for his family, but for an entire kingdom. Our faith began with work: in Genesis 2:15, God places Adam in the Garden of Eden and gives him a job: to work the land.

When the poor come to us at Watered Gardens, their needs are met in exchange for work in our Worth Shop—and they get much more than clothes and food. Through work, they find dignity in their self-sufficiency and freedom from government dependency. They find a purpose.

Take April, for example. Before coming to us, April spent most of her life abusing drugs and living on welfare. But at Watered Gardens, she was given a job to do—she was given a purpose. Shane also came to us after struggling to remain sober. Shane lost his job, his home, and the life he once knew, but at our Worth Shop, Shane was able to regain a purpose for his life as well. It's a simple principle—work leads to prosperity—but it's a principle with real results. For Shane, it led to sobriety and gainful employment. For April, it led to her own ministry as the Director of a Women's Discipleship House.

For everyone, it leads to a fulfilled life with meaning.

These stories aren't exclusive to Watered Gardens. States like Maine and Kansas are applying these same principles to their food stamps programs and are getting results. Research shows that when work requirements are applied to able-bodied adults on food stamps, individuals' time spent on welfare is cut in half. After leaving food stamps, they find employment in over 600 different industries and their incomes more than double on average. To get these results, Maine and Kansas simply moved out of the way and let the God-given principle of work do its job.

When the government gets out of the way, local churches and missions, like mine, have a greater opportunity to help our neighbors break free from government dependency. We have the chance to allow them to experience the joy of earned success, the hope of independence, and the truth of God's promises. That's a torch I will gladly carry—and one I hope you will, too.

James Whitford is the Executive Director of Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission in Joplin, Missouri.
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