“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:33
They were the roughest looking crew I have ever seen outside of prison. Even wearing long sleeve welder’s jackets, the gang tattoos were clearly visible on their necks and shaved heads, and yet they sat there giving the instructor their complete attention. Steve Bunyard is an associate pastor at Rolling Hills Covenant Church in Palos Verdes, but he doesn’t spend his time there, rather he is a welding instructor to a bunch of ex-cons, former gang bangers and recovering addicts at Wheels of Hope vocational training school, just off skid row in downtown Los Angeles. In between Bible studies emphasizing moral rehabilitation, these men are learning the welding trade, and in just 16 short weeks, they will test to receive their certification from the American Welding Society. This certification makes them employable as apprentice welders at $16 to $35 an hour. Demand for their skills is high, prospects for immediate employment excellent.
They come from all over the LA metropolis to get free vocational training in a marketable job skill, partially made possible by a grant from Serving California. When speaking to the men, the Holy Spirit connection is apparent. Some are recently released from jail, placed here by Ray Cruz of Awana Lifeline, a program we sponsor in Los Angeles County Jails. Two others come from One in Christ Ministries, one of our reentry partners, and four were students in The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) while they served time in prison. Once you speak to these men, all the apprehension brought on by their appearance melts away. They are humble, appreciative, faithful and filled with hope for the future.
My favorite character in this story is Jim Landino. Jim is in his sixties now, strong build with gray hair and handlebar mustache. He looks rough enough to relate to his students. Having spent 40 years in the welding trade, he is now retired, but plenty busy. A man of few words, when pressed about his volunteer teaching assignment, he freely admits “I love this more than anything I have ever done.” Boom, end of story. Yes the greatest of these is love, lived out by committed followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.