Leon Negen enrolled at Calvin College because it offered the urban atmosphere of Grand Rapids, Mich., unlike the small Minnesota community in which he grew up.
Little did he know that God would be calling him to work with people living on city streets, walking alongside them to bring help, hope, and a home in Christ’s name.
Negen took an unusual academic path—working for a year after high school building modular homes, attending Calvin for a year and a half, taking a semester in Spain, and then returning home to marry his high school sweetheart. He returned to Calvin as a married student and finished his degree in sociology.
“Going to Calvin was significant for me,” he said. “That’s where faith became mine, where I knew it to be real.”
He wanted to work in a helping profession, and Calvin’s career office connected him to a position at the Christian Opportunity Center (COC) in Pella, Iowa.
“The job wasn’t in a large city, and I needed a map to find Pella,” he remembered.
Negen worked as a director at COC for 13 years, developing programs and serving clients. This work led to larger involvement with social service agencies in Central Iowa and a master’s degree in rehabilitation administration from the University of San Francisco.
He became a board member of the Bethel Rescue Mission in Des Moines, Iowa, and within a few years the board asked him if he’d run the fledgling organization of three-plus staff with a $300,000 budget.
Twenty years later, the organization—which merged with another mission and is now called Hope Ministries—employs a staff of 60 and has a budget of $13 million. It is dedicated to improving the lives of homeless people in the Des Moines area.
“Ultimately, what we’re about is building a life-changing environment around people to transform hearts,” Negen said.