On File

Turning Prayer into Action

Before Marcus Cooper attended church at the Philadelphia Kroc Center, his only chapel was the backseat of his car.

“I spoke to God so many times in my old car,” said Cooper. “That was where I read my daily Scripture. Sometimes at night in there, I would pray myself to sleep, wake up the next day, and finish praying where I had left off.”

Three years ago, Cooper was a journalism student at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. In those days and after class, he stayed for the night on campus with friends.

In 2013, Cooper graduated from the university and returned to his home in Philadelphia. Although a college grad living with his or her parents is common in today’s economy, Cooper soon learned that his values and mindset clashed with those of his mom.

“My mother and I had different ways of looking at life. We were both trying to prove our points to each other. When two egos collide, it never turns out well. One day, she just kicked me out of the house.”

Without a job or access to his friends in Shippensburg and with local family members unwilling to take him in, Cooper soon began sleeping in the backseat of his car.

“Every morning, the first question I would ask myself was Why? Why is this happening to me now? I would think, This is what happens to people when they’re old or when their job closes down or when they go bankrupt—not to a college graduate in his 20s.

Family bonding

Woe and self–pity got him only so far, said Cooper. For his sake and for the sake of his children, he had to face reality.

While attending the university, Cooper had fathered two children, Marziyah and Caseean. They had different mothers. He and Marziyah, the older child, shared many homeless nights because her mother struggled with problems of her own. On occasion, Cooper stayed with Marziyah at family shelters. But when Marziyah stayed with her mother, the shelters denied access to Cooper.

Lord, my faith and my children are the only things I have left now.  Please, make life better for the three of us.” — Marcus Cooper
Cooper began spending more time at The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps and Community Center in Philadelphia. At the Kroc Center, he exercised, showered, and used the computers to search for jobs. He eventually brought his children with him. Cooper, Marziyah, and Caseean looked forward to participating in the center’s many activities.

“Those kids’ programs served a bigger purpose for my family,” says Cooper. “When we were going down the waterslide, taking self–defense classes, or playing basketball, Marziyah and Caseean didn’t have to see what I was going through. The struggle was mine, not theirs. At the Kroc, we weren’t a family living out of a car. We were a father and his two children, bonding and having fun.”

Answering a prayer

The Kroc Center Chapel was as valuable to him as any other resource the Army offered, said Cooper. He walked into the chapel when its doors opened, and stayed as late as he was allowed.

“Lord, my faith and my children are the only things I have left now,” he would pray. “Please, make life better for the three of us.”

Cooper’s prayers were answered through the kindness of the friends he made at the Kroc Center’s gym. “They knew I loved exercising, trying to eat right, and helping others focus on their health.”

“One of the employees said to me, ‘Do you want to host fitness programs? You’re in good shape, for a homeless guy.’”

Although Cooper laughed, the offer was a serious one. Though it was only a volunteer position, he accepted. When the Kroc Center provided healthy snacks to the programs, such as sandwiches and fruit, Cooper was allowed to take home a portion to his family.

Through the Kroc Center and the Kind Family Ministry Program, Cooper found shelters that would take him in with or without his children. He also obtained work as a longshoreman at the docks in Philadelphia. The hours were limited, so Cooper took a second job as an Uber driver. Though his own car would not pass the qualifications, he was debt–free and his credit was good. He traded in his old car to help him purchase a better one. He also maintained both jobs.

In Cooper’s past, spending long hours inside his car had been a sign of misfortune. Now, it was a sign of success, and the promise of a better future for his family.

Carrying a cross

“When my family didn’t want to hear from me, and when the mothers of my children did not want me in their lives, all I had was my confidence that God would see me through,” says Cooper. “He had done it for His Son Jesus Christ, and He would do it for any of His children.

“At my lowest point, I thought to myself, Is this how Jesus felt when He carried the cross to His death, abandoned by His friends and disciples? It’s our faith that gets us through the most difficult times, when we each carry our cross. In fact, I thank Him for every cross I’ve carried. They’ve made me the man I am today.”

Cooper is also grateful to the Philadelphia Kroc Center for being there for him and for his children. He has recommended its services to people in similar situations. He knows God helped him when he took the initiative to turn his prayers into action.

Today, Cooper is repairing family relationships, working with a bank to purchase a home after two years of steady employment, and is attending the Kroc Center regularly.

“Faith without hard work is not faith, but a cliché,” says Cooper. “It’s fine to be angry, to feel broken, and even to cry. But don’t ever give up. Make that last cry your first step to keep on going. God will never abandon you, but you need to push yourself until the moment you hear Him answer your prayer.”

by Hugo Bravo

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