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Deloris Thomas has an MBA from Harvard, so she knows what the brightest and best have to say about making money. Instead of working for a Wall Street investment bank, however, she is vice president of the Joseph Center at Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park.
"Those programs [at Harvard] are wonderful," she explained, "but knowing who God is and being able to apply his principles along with that education really takes you to another dimension because there's a wisdom that only comes from God."
Thomas said the Joseph Center's approach to achieving prosperity begins with trust: "The Bible says that the blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich and it addeth no sorrow. It also says that in the time of famine you shall be satisfied, so Pastor Winston [Living Word's pastor, Rev. Dr. Bill Winston] has instilled in those who observe his teaching, which is Bible based, to trust in the Lord."
In other words, prospering begins on the inside and works its way out to a person's circumstances, not the other way around.
At the Joseph Center, trusting God means believing that God already has the resources you need and is just waiting for you to claim them. "In the midst of an economic collapse," wrote Winston in 2006, "God's people will draw from heavenly provisions." (The Kingdom of God in You)
Thomas said the Joseph Center offers financial literacy courses in which "we help people understand how to create a budget, how to really manage their finances when situations change."
Once a person's individual or family finances are in order, the next step on the road to prosperity is getting a job. In their preparation for employment program, the Joseph Center instills values like showing up to work on time and becoming excellent at whatever you do.
Communication and computer skills are taught, along with how to manage employees - for those job seekers looking to enter supervisory positions.
Thomas emphasized that Pastor Winston believes if you preach something, you have to do it. The Joseph Center translated words into action by sponsoring a career fair on July 12 at which over 20 companies, from Walmart to McDonald's, interviewed people on the spot for both entry level jobs and managerial positions.
"On Thursday," said Thomas, "80 positions were available. On Friday 80 new people were employed. That's not just preaching about how God is going to prosper you but showing you how he'll prosper you."
Finding a job is a blessing, but Thomas said creating a job is even better. She declared that if God can create the world out of nothing, "there is something in all of us that has the ability to create opportunities in an environment where everything seems helpless and hopeless." The Joseph Center encourages people to trust that God can make their dreams come true by first writing down their vision in a business plan.
"Let's teach you to do an analysis to figure out what it would really take for you to be successful," she continued. "You can do that at any university, but what you can't get there is how to do it God's way, how to have a synergy between your belief as a Christian and the practical skills you need to run a business."
The highest level, the ultimate goal for the Joseph Center faculty is to train up entrepreneurs who create jobs for other people. "To be a true Christian," she said, "is to bless others. God has given us the potential, ability and wisdom to go about creating opportunities so that we can be a blessing to others."
To help people reach that goal, the Joseph Center trains students in the Joseph Business School, their Business Incubator, and continuing education courses and seminars.
Small businesses can rent office space, computer hookups or meeting rooms on a monthly basis. A computer center is available to the public. Even walk-in clients can rent meeting rooms for as little as $20.
"It all begins," said Thomas, "with changing the way people think about themselves, on reviving their dreams, on mining the gifts that God has given them."
In response to those who say there is no point in striving for prosperity and excellence when the system feels stacked against you, Thomas declared, "We believe you change the world one brick at a time. Just saying the world needs to be changed without putting your hand to the sickle to actually begin the process of change does no good."
Thomas compared changing the world one person at a time to planting a seed which sprouts and grows and multiplies. She could have used Pastor Winston as an example. His Living Word Christian Center, now located just east of the Walmart near Desplaines and Roosevelt, has grown into a megachurch of 20,000 members (according to their website) from a group of 12 who first met in a storefront on Madison Street over 20 years ago.