Removing a Cloak of Shame

by Lori Arnold — 17 November 2021

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The flashback was almost instantaneous for the Tucker, Georgia woman. There was no ignoring the young mother standing near her van as she and her three small children held up the hand-scratched sign, "Hungry, help."

Hungry, HelpDecades of memories and emotions fell away and Jonell Permenter was suddenly a girl of 10, standing behind the local grocery store as her brothers rifled through the trash looking for something to bring home for mom to cook.

The reality of searching for food scraps became a near-daily exercise after her father's death, leaving her widowed mother with limited means to raise her six children.

"We didn't have anything to eat," she said. "That's why I try to help somebody else along the way. If someone asks me for a dollar I give them two."

While her passion helping those dealing with hunger has lasted decades, her motivation to serve them didn't start until her conversion to Christianity.

"I didn't have time," she said. "I was out in the world. My son, which is my pastor, kept on after me about going to church. Every time he'd come to the house I'd run to the opposite end."

Eventually, she got tired of hiding.

"Finally, I made up my mind to go one Sunday and I enjoyed it," Jonell said. "I've been going ever since."

In addition to gathering with believers on the Sabbath, Jonell takes church to the streets as she ministers to the homeless and hungry, often using resources from Cru® Inner City, which partners with her church, New Life Outreach.

"I try to help," she said. "If I'm out, people don't have to ask me for nothing. I see people alongside the road and you can tell if they really need help. I've packed my clothes up and gave them."

“We didn't have anything to eat,” she said. “That's why I try to help somebody else along the way. If someone asks me for a dollar I give them two.” That's why Jonell's compassion compass honed in on the family standing outside their van at the local Walmart, prompting her to go back home to get a couple of Boxes of Love®, supplied by Inner City. The boxes include staples, canned goods, bread, a gift card for meat, and gospel literature.

"As we got closer to her, I could see she was really sad," Jonell said of Jenny, the children's mother.

Jonell gave her the boxes, pulling a Scripture book from among the contents. As they looked it over, Jenny began to cry.

"She was beginning to lose faith," Jonell said. "And she did not know how she was going to feed her family because she was a single mom."

Above and Beyond

Jonell was compelled to invite Jenny to her home for lunch.

"To be honest, my children get upset with me when I do that," she said.

And yet, in those moments, Jonell often sees strangers as friends.

"They came and we fed the kids and they played with my grandchildren," she said. "They had a good time."

After lunch Jonell listened, as Jenny explained she had been laid off from work and a replacement job proved beyond her grasp.

“We want them to know that God loves them and will always take care of them no matter what.” "My daughter asked her if she wanted to bathe the kids and she said no, she didn't want to impose like that because they didn't have no clothes," Jonell said. "So she told them that she would run to the store and get them something to put on. But she didn't want that, either."

Jonell recognized the cloak of shame that seemed to add 10 pounds to Jenny's frame.

"I told her don't be embarrassed, you know it can happen to anybody," she said.

"We were just sitting at the table and I was telling her how I come up and didn't have nothing but what somebody gave me. My momma couldn't work."

Motivated Giving

From there, Jonell brought the conversation back to the Boxes of Love and the heart behind the gift.

"We want them to know that God loves them and will always take care of them no matter what," she said. "She (Jenny) said that was a sign from God."

Jonell invited the family to church, but COVID-19 restrictions soon shut it down, a common pandemic dilemma for inner-city workers.

After a two-hour respite from the street, Jenny and her kids left Jonell's home with a full stomach, food for a few days, gas money for the van and a heart of hope.

"I feel real good helping people," Jonell said.

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Lori ArnoldLori Arnold serves as senior writer for Cru's inner-city ministry.


Jonell shows us how Christ can redeem a painful past, freeing us to serve others. Share her story on Facebook or other social media platforms by using this link.

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