Eight thousand miles stands between Johannesburg, South Africa and Mt. Holly, New Jersey, a distance equivalent to the diameter of Earth.
Each place has its own story. Johannesburg, a wealthy metropolis of seven million people, is known for its 19th century gold rush and economic power within the continent of Africa. Dissimilar, Mt. Holly is rich in history, going all the way back to the American Revolution, but far inferior when it comes to its economic prowess.
This story, however, begins in a jail cell. The Burlington County Detention Center to be exact, which serves as a way station for incarcerated inmates awaiting to re-enter society or enroute to prison.
Approximately nine years ago in the midst of winter a call came into Extended Hand Ministries (EHM) from the county sheriff’s department.
To take an inmate overnight until housing became available. EHM is a small church, set in the same locale as the county jail, Mt. Holly. Beds are hard to come by.
The inmate, Michael Gould, could not be further from home, Johannesburg, S. Africa.
Gould needed a place to stay and, for the night, EHM was the only available option, outside of sleeping on the streets. To be fully transparent, we never did learn why he was in jail - but on the surface it appears like it was a harmless crime.
Back to our story.
Michael would spend a day at EHM, as required by the county. Until that one day turned into two. Michael became acclimated and began to make himself helpful: cleaning up after meals, taking out the trash, washing dishes.
Then, two days turned into two months.
At this time, Michael developed a relationship with Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Davis, founder and then bishop of EHM.
Those two months would then turn into nine years.
Michael, till this day, still performs many of the menial tasks he did when he first arrived. There’s just one big difference: he’s in charge now. Michael oversees EHM’s non-profit operation and has been for quite some time.
Prior to Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Davis’ passing in 2012, her vision was for EHM to evolve into a full fledged social service agency.
"The thing that hurts me most - and it really drains me - is when a mother calls with children." -- Michael Gould
Capacity issues are what’s occupying Michael’s time these days, as it’s impossible to allow children in the shelter or soup kitchen. He also disclosed that they receive approximately three calls a week from mothers looking for food and shelter.
Still, Rev. Davis’ aspiration is not lost on Gould. With a big grin on his face, he pointed out the back window to a lot of grass directly behind the church. EHM is planning a capital campaign to construct a new, full-service agency. This would help meet the growing demand and provide a greater level of service to clients.
That makes a lot of sense. Now they need to find the money.
Rev. Dr. Barbara Davis would certainly approve of Michael’s plan. It would, after all, put her dream one step closer to becoming a reality.
As far as the question is concerned, that’s easy. New possibilities.