News Archives

Faith sustains family in hard times

11/24/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photo is available. For related coverage, see UMNS story #567.

By Tim Tanton

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
"There really are a lot of Annie Calhouns out there. … Maybe they’ve lost their confidence," says Annie Calhoun of Portland, Ore. Though she and her family have struggled with hardship, she says her problems have brought her closer to God. A UMNS photo by Tim Tanton. Photo number 03-487, Accompanies UMNS #568, 11/24/03
PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS) - Annie and Stefhan Calhoun arrived in Portland from Los Angeles one Thanksgiving Day, eager to start a new life and raise their infant son in a safer community.

That Thanksgiving marked the beginning of a decade of hardship as the family contended with homelessness, unemployment and illness. Today, living in subsidized housing, the Calhouns are getting by.

Amid the difficulties, Annie, 46, has found her spiritual life strengthened.

"The Calhoun family is not poor," she says. "We're just financially challenged."

Two United Methodist congregations helped the family meet some of its challenges. First United Methodist Church and Vermont Hills United Methodist Church provided monetary aid and other support.

"I wouldn't be where I am today if the church hadn't been part of my life," Annie says.
Her story illustrates the ease with which a family can find itself mired in poverty through a series of setbacks.

Annie has been out of work since October 2002, partly because her husband and son are in poor health. Stefhan, 56, has an enlarged heart, back problems and a sleep disorder. Trevor, 10, weighs more than 300 pounds and has Blount's disease, characterized by severely bowed legs. He is the youngest of five children - ranging in age up to 29 - and the only boy.

Their troubles began the moment they arrived in Portland in 1993, when they discovered their intended home had burned down. The following month, Annie's new employer downsized and Annie was left without a job. Because of his health problems, Stefhan had difficulty finding work.

The Calhouns moved from place to place, staying in a motel for several months, then with friends, then going to the YWCA, which put them up in a hotel for four weeks. Eventually, they got into public housing, and Annie found a calling doing work with people in need.

She helped start a youth advancement program in October 1995, working with kids and their families living in homelessness. She played a key role in developing the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference's Creation Vacation camp, offering homeless or needy families the opportunity to take a week's vacation near the beach.

"I took 43-year-old moms who had never ever in their whole lives seen the ocean," Annie says.

She also served on the conference task force for the Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty.

"Poverty is not just a way of life," she says. "Poverty is more of a feeling of hopelessness, of feeling desperate that there's no way out of this. You got there because you don't have any money, but it's not about the money. It's about what's in you."

Annie says the adversity has brought her closer to God and that God doesn't give her anything she can't handle. She has learned to rely on God more, knowing that she can't do the hard work without divine help.

"I just know that God is so in control that you have to pay attention to him," she says. "You have to know that you're not in it alone, and if you pay attention, more often than not, there's only one set of footprints in the sand."

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*Tanton is United Methodist News Service's managing editor.

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