Friday, January 22, 2010

Update on Billy

Just received some letters from Billy at Chillocothe Prison, and wanted to share some things he wrote. (Billy is the one that lived on the river, and was in the video about Tent City. He has allowed Jesus to transform his life, but he has to do 18 months for parole violation.)

Billy had asked for the food box for Christmas because food is used as currency in prison. He has needed a new pair of shoes since he went in, and he wanted to have a radio. He also wanted some art supplies because he can sell his drawings in there for things he needs. He was going to use the food to buy all those things.

In his last letter, he told me the food box was late, but that it finally arrived. He began trading for items, but said he was getting things like deodorant and toothpaste for the inmates that didn’t get anything from the outside. He put a little note on each item that he gave away, that said “Jesus loves you.” He had used up almost all his food for things for others. A guy that he had sold the peanut butter to came back to see him. He gave him a peanut butter sandwich, and said, since Billy had used up everything on everyone else, he ought to at least get a sandwich out of it. (Billy said his shoes and radio were not a necessity and they can wait.)

Every time I write him, I send a few bible verses to encourage him. He said he uses my letters and those verses for a bible study group he has. They meet every day, twice a day, in his cell. I had no idea he was using my letters for bible study, but now I know!

Since there has been such a dramatic change in Billy, his counsellor called him in. He said he noticed that Billy wasn’t anything like the angry, violent person that his file says. Billy told him how Jesus had changed him, and he wasn’t like that any more. His counsellor didn’t believe him, and said he thought Billy was holding it all in and would just explode one day. Billy told him again what Jesus had done, and that he had only peace in his heart. He went on to testify and share his joy with the counsellor.

In one of letters, Billy said "the day started very good, but turned very bad". One of the guys in his Bible study was a small guy and he was being bullied by one of the other inmates. He came to Billy for help, and Billy wasn’t sure what to do. Billy had lots of experience with violence, but didn’t want to go that route. Billy knew that everyone there, the inmates, the guards, the counsellors, all of them were watching to see if he was for real about this Jesus thing. Billy wrote, “You said to think what Jesus would do. But I’m lost. I’m not good with words, and I’m trying not to be violent. I feel like I can stop his problem, but at what cost?” So he told his friend that all they could do for now is pray on it, and turn it over to God, and see if an answer came. He said he didn’t want to put his nose in it, but he remembered he’d read where Paul said “we are to right any wrong or injustice to the lord’s people.” He finished the letter asking for prayer in this impossible situation.

The next letter I received, Billy told how the “bully” had confronted him that next day, and asked if he had an issue with him. Billy spoke candidly about how the bully was treating his friend, and told him he appeared to be just a bully. They talked, and it ended up with the bully apologizing to his friend, and now his friend is helping the bully get his GED! Isn't God awesome!

I just wanted to update you on Billy. He has about a year left and he’ll be back out again. He would really love some encouraging letters. If you want to write him, his address is:

Billy Pierce #616435

CCI – PO Box 5500

Chillocothi , OH 45601

(Be sure his inmate number is on anything you send him.)
I’m going to write Billy back, and let him know that we are using his letters for bible study

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


This is the testimony of Roger Richardson. Since writing this letter, he has reconciled with his family and has been staying with his father in Mason while battling his health problems. He has been a dedicated volunteer serving at the Healing Center, and outreaching to the poor and homeless. He has surrendered his life to Christ and is ready for whatever comes next. At this time, Roger is in the hospital with heart failure.

When I was growing up in Mason, Ohio, I was being raised by two common but very loving parents. They tried to instill in me good vales and send me to church. I started out at Landmark Baptist temple. I was not mature enough to understand the words of the bible. But it is amazing how much you were taught in bible school that actually sinks in as you grow older.

As an adult I backslid and chose the wrong path and forgot my roots. I got into drugs that totally took me over. I not only let myself down, but destroyed my relationship with my own family. By the time I quit the drugs, it was too late for the damage I had already done to my body. It remains to be seen whether my family and I can repair the damage that I’ve done.

I’ve had a total of eight heart attacks, a 5-way bypass and 10 stints in my heart. I had open-heart surgery on May 2, 2008. I died on the table four times, but God saw fit to let them bring me back every time. I think that God wants me to tell my story so that maybe someone else won’t hurt themselves or their family.

I know when I died on that table God was just giving me a preview of the afterlife because it was the most peaceful, totally encompassing feeling I’ve ever had. I have no fear of dying now that I know what my Creator has in store for me. I thank Jesus for dying on the cross for us and making a pathway to heaven for me.

I hope these few words will help someone find their way. I can’t put into words the way I feel about myself and my relationship with God now. But what I can tell you is this is the happiest time of my life. God Bless.

Friday, November 27, 2009


This letter was written several years ago by my friend. He is now ministering in Columbus, Ohio. He asked me to share this with you.

I am writing this letter because of the people I met in Washington Park. They were church people from a church called the Vineyard. They would go to the park every Saturday with their friends to give out food for the poor and homeless. At the time, I was both. At the time, I didn’t talk to church people that much. But when I looked into their hearts, I could tell there was something about them that was different from a lot of others. They were for real about their work for our Lord. Seeing this made me want to write something about them.
So I began to write a poem about what I saw them doing. I call it “In Washington Park." Then I took it to show them and they loved it. I was hoping they would, because it came from my heart.
As time moved on my life was going up and down. I came to love the people from the Vineyard because I knew that they loved me. There was a time when I didn’t know what to think about white people. Being black, I was told a lot of things. I was told that they were no good and that they didn’t care for black people. Well, I found out that was a lie.
All I got from them was love and God’s Word. When I look back at them, I don’t see white people – I see God’s people doing His work and doing it very well. That’s why Saturday became my favorite, for that was the day that I would see them, and that made my day a little bit better.
It’s hell being poor and homeless. On top of that I was a drug addict, and that’s how I got into trouble. The police found drugs on me and arrested me. They were going to send me away for this because I’d been in trouble before. I didn’t know what to do, but I remembered all the things my friends from the Vineyard told me about Jesus. So I called on Him that night from my cell. Then I tried not to worry about it. I started telling the people in jail all the things that my friends told me about Jesus. And day by day they started giving away their life to Christ. It just got better and better until I almost forgot that I was in jail.
When it came time for court, I didn’t forget what they told me, so in court I prayed. Then my lawyer told me, “You are facing 24 months, but the judge is only going to give you nine months.” I had to sign a paper saying that I would agree to nine months. I signed the paper and my lawyer gave it to the judge. The judge asked if I understood the paper I had signed. Then she said, "I have heard from your friends that you a writer of poetry.” I said, “Yes some friends are doing a book with some of my poems in it.” She said to me “Do one of your poems for me.” “Now?” I asked. She said, “Yes, right now.”
So I did a poem for the judge. Then she said, “If you can get me a copy of your book, I will reconsider the nine months.” So my friends from the Vineyard delivered a copy to her. Once again I was standing before the judge. She said, “I have a copy of your book.” Then she said to the officer standing by me, “Take the handcuffs off so he can sign this book.” After I signed it, she said, “You don’t belong in here. There are people out there that love you. God loves you. How else would you be able to write these wonderful things about God? I want you to go back out there and do the work that God has set in place for you. You are free to go.”
Once I was out, my friends came to see me in the park. I told them I’m going to keep learning about God, and I’m going to serve Him with my poetry and by telling others about Jesus. I was facing 24 months. I had signed for 9 months. Out of it all I was set free. God never left me. My friends never left me. God is, and always has been, good. Michael A Willis “The Poet”

Friday, November 13, 2009


Billy had always known violence as a way of life. His father was a Viet Nam vet and all his uncles had been soldiers. They taught him that to be a man he’d have to be able to “stick up for himself”. Billy learned that meant that you always had to be ready to fight, whether it was during a war or at the local bar. Every time Billy came home from fighting at school, his father praised him for “not taking no sh*t.” So Billy got into lots of fights, and learned that he received respect from the people who feared him.
So it was no surprise when he got into a violent fight when he was 14, and was sent away for a couple of years at a youth facility. He still didn’t stop the violence there and ended up going to prison. More violence there brought more time. He ended up with 37 stabbing cases in prison which extended his stay from a couple of years to more than 24 years. He had been “brought up” by prison, and now that was the only way of life he knew.
When I met Billy, he was recently out of prison and staying at a camp down on the Ohio River. Everyone knew he was quick to fight, and when he fought there were no holds barred. He suffered from the “fastest gun in the west” syndrome, where every new kid around would try to fight and beat him. So he always carried a weapon, and was always alert and ready for a fight. We talked a few times but he didn’t trust me and kept an eye on me to try to figure out my angle. After a while he realized that I really did care about him, and just wanted to introduce him to a better way to live. We had long conversations, and he started coming to church with me a few times. I could tell he really did want to change. The first test came when his girlfriend betrayed him. In the past, everyone would have steered clear, knowing he could take it out on anyone. But I was the only one around when he got the call. He stopped speaking, and put the phone down. I could tell he was seething mad, but he just gritted his teeth. After a minute he pounded a wall.
That was it! For the first time in his life, Billy had controlled his temper. And afterwards, he was proud of himself and said what a new feeling that was for him. Later, several other challenges came up that would have ordinarily made Billy go wild with anger. But each time, he gained more and more control. He began to understand the peace that comes with turning things over to God. He understood his anger had just been another way of trying to control things which he had no control over. He began to trust God and understand that things happen for a reason when you give control to Him. Billy gave his life to Jesus, and promised to try to follow Him.
Billy had an outstanding warrant from a year or so before. So when the police appeared and handcuffed him, he was not surprised. But it was a surprise for the police. They had been warned that he was violent and would not come willingly. But Billy didn’t even fuss, and even smiled and talked pleasantly to the police, who had to double check to make sure they had the right guy. They took him down to the Justice Center, where he had been “red-flagged” as violent, and the staff was fully prepared for the struggle. But when they brought him in, Billy smiled to himself when he saw their jaws drop to see how docile he was. Not only the staff, but the other inmates were amazed. Some questioned him, trying to figure out what his game was, but soon found that he was sincere. He was the real thing. He told the other inmates about how he’d let God into his life and now he was truly changed.
He went to court and faced the judge, having John 19:11 to comfort him. “Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above."” He trusted that God knew what was best for him, and if God needed him in prison, He knew what he was doing. Billy accepted his sentence peacefully and was sent to CRC in Orient Ohio, where he waits until he gets sent to a prison to do his 18 months.

Today I received this letter from him:
“I’ve asked a lot of people where they think I’d do the most good. Everyone has agreed with my decision to go to Lebanon or Lucasville (prison). They think I’m doing a great job so far. They don’t realize I took pages out of your book to get to people. You buy cigs and stuff to give to people that need it and then show God’s love. Well, you sent me 10 stamps… I gave 5 of them out to people that needed them to write family… and told them the envelopes were from God. I am doing everything in my power to show love and mercy. I haven’t shown any anger or doubt in what I’m doing. Everyone has given me credit on my changes. I like it! … I just want people to see that there is a better way than violence. There are a couple of people that have tried to get me to blow up, but I’m not going to do it. I pray a lot and read my bible… and ask myself “what would Jesus do?.. I’m not a real good talker, so I just let people see how I’m handling things and the options that we all have.“

What an amazing God we have!!!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


When the priest arrived for his assessment at the apartment at 13th and Vine, he was not prepared for what he would find. The priest was aghast when he saw Kenny, only weeks old, crying uncontrollably, already suffering from malnutrition and neglect. Besides the soiled and dirty condition of the baby, he had bruises covering his tiny body, and bleeding from his left ear. At the hospital, they discovered a broken arm, a broken sternum, and two fractured legs. His mother, a prostitute, insisted he only fell out of the crib, but Kenny was immediately put under the care of Child Protective Services and placed in a foster home.
His foster parents, the Stegmans, were loving, caring people that Kenny adored. During his next seven years with them, Kenny grew to love them dearly. But in the 1960’s the state put emphasis on keeping families together, so every few months Kenny was returned to his biological mother for a visit. And each time, he would come back to the Stegmans hungry and beaten. Kenny would beg and plead not to be sent there for a visit, asking, “If you really love me, why would you send me back there?” But that was the policy of CPS at the time. When he had to go on a visit, Mrs. Stegman would make sure he ate a good meal before he left, knowing he wouldn’t be fed until he returned a few days later.
During the visits, the Browns would drink and scream constantly and his father would beat his mother. She constantly had different men in and out of the apartment. The apartment was filthy and infested with roaches. There was seldom food there, and the rats were the size of small dogs.
When Kenny was visiting his parents, he always got into trouble. He was always trying to run away and would lie and steal. Kenny became labeled a “problem child”. Once, (age 6) he was so filled with hatred for his biological parents, that he set their place on fire, and burnt it to the ground. Finally during one visit, his father was angry and yelling at his mother, and Kenny got in the way. He began punching Kenny and broke his nose. When Mr. Stegman came to pick him up, Kenny’s beautiful blond hair was caked with blood, and his face was dark blue from all the bruises. Mr. Stegman picked him up and held him, pushed back his bloody hair and told him it would be ok. He would never let anyone hurt his boy again. Kenny never went back to see his biological parents again.
During his years with the Stegmans, Kenny felt loved and wanted. He loved his foster parents, but it was always on his mind that he wanted a real family – a permanent family. He dreamt of the day a family would meet him and want him for their own. The Stegmans had two kids of their own, and four other foster kids, so wouldn’t be able to adopt him. Kenny knew he was different – having no real family. He often wondered “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t anyone want me?” So when he was nearing his seventh birthday, and the Harrisons began to visit Kenny with an interest in adopting, his hopes ran high. When Harrison family finally asked “Kenny, do you want to become our son and live with us? Be part of our family?” Kenny knew he wanted that. He wanted a family more than anything.
The Stegmans opposed the Harrison’s adoption of Kenny and felt something wrong. Little incidents made them wonder if there was really any love there. Once Ms. Stegman told Ms. Harrison Kenny had an allergy to tomatoes, but Joy Harrison forced him to eat them anyway, saying, “This is what’s for dinner – you will eat it.” So Kenny ended up in the hospital. Other incidents made the Stegmans wonder if this was the right family for Kenny.
But despite the Stegmans’ objections, the Harrisons adopted Kenny and changed name to Jon Harrison. At age seven, Jon now had a real family. He had a brother and a sister. He had his own room, clothes, and a puppy. He was now part of a rich, influential family. He met all of the relatives and they all doted on him, commenting on his beautiful blond hair and blue eyes. It was a good Catholic family that attended church every Sunday. Family. Jon finally had a family.
About three weeks after the adoption, Mr. Harrison came into his room one night and sat next to him on the bed. He told Jon how much he loved him, and asked him if he liked having family. He brushed back his hair, told him what good boy he was, how happy he was that Jon was there, and how he made the family whole. Then he kissed his forehead, and his cheek, and slowly slipped his hands down his pants. Jon didn’t know how to react. Mr. Harrison fondled Jon, gave him a kiss, and said, “This is how daddy shows he loves you.” Although it made Jon uncomfortable, he thought this must be what family did.
The game progressed into sodomy and rape. One day his dad told him to go in and take a bath. Jon went into the bathroom, and had just taken off his pants, when his dad came in. By this time, Jon became sick to his stomach every time they were alone, and he withdrew into own world. His father touched him and fondled him. Then he reached for the lotion in cabinet, and raped Jon. Jon screamed from the pain, but his dad kept saying “Shut up! Shut up”: and put his hand over Jon’s face. Finally he stopped and turned Jon around. His father said, “Now look what you’ve done.” There was blood all over him, so he told Jon to clean up. “Get in the tub and wash yourself – You are nasty”.
This went on for years, 2 or 3 times a week, regardless of whether they’d just returned from church, a shriners convention, or back from grocery shopping. But his dad always put on a righteous front in front of the people outside. He was considered an upright Christian leader at his church. That was the beginning of Jon’s hatred for the church.
The abuse didn’t stop with Jon’s father. He was shared with his Uncle Bill, sometimes both at the same time. Afterwards they’d tell Jon, “Such a good boy.” Once when Uncle Bill came over, Jon tried to refuse. So Uncle Bill said, “Then we’ll just make a wishbone out of you.” They forced his legs open and snapped his pelvic bones. Jon was in a body cast for four months. He still has scars where the doctors had to screw his bones back together.
During the next few years, Jon ran away several times. They sent him to 20/20 or foster homes or into psychological treatment. Throughout it all, Jon never told his therapist the truth. They thought he was just having trouble adopting. They also diagnosed him as mentally retarded. Jon couldn’t comprehend what was happening. “Why?” he wondered. He never did anything wrong to them. Why did he feel safer in a foster home or 20/20 than at home? Why won’t God help him?
Jon finally told a friend in the hospital what was going on. The doctor confronted his father, but his father denied everything, saying Jon was a drug addict and a liar. So they just passed it off as Jon's imagination. So Jon knew no one would help him. By the age of 13, he had spent several years in the children’s home or an institution. And they kept sending him back home. So one day, after his dad raped him, Jon took a razor and slit his wrists. He didn’t call for help. He didn’t leave a note. His Mom found him in a pool of blood in the bathroom, and took him to the hospital. There they fixed him up, gave him a psych evaluation and sent him back home. As soon as got home, he ran away again. This time he wouldn’t let them send him back. And he was gone for good.
His father once told Jon when he had tried to refuse him, “You’d betted do as I say. I paid more than $10,000 for you.” Years later he saw his sister, and she asked him, "You know why you were adopted, don’t you?“ Jon was confused and answered, “Because they loved me and wanted to give me a home.“ His sister laughed and replied, “Don’t be stupid. You were adopted to be Glenn’s playtoy - so he wouldn’t touch us.” Jon had been his mother’s way of protecting her natural children.
Jon stayed in institutions until he was eighteen. He was doing drugs heavily, and dropped out of high school. He would get jobs here and there, but after a couple of paychecks, he would be so drunk or high, wouldn’t be able to make it back to work. He spent time in prison and in a motorcycle gang. He had two unsuccessful marriages, but one beautiful daughter that he adores. His drug use progressed to a daily heroin habit for years. Things began to spiral downward, and he lost his job and ended up homeless and living on the river.
Throughout it all, he could never believe that there was a God that would allow these things to happen to him. When he began coming to church, initially it was to meet people to find some handyman jobs or work on their cars. But eventually conversations would turn to God, and he would express his confusion. How could such a loving God allow such cruelty? Where was God when he had called out for Him?
But Jon saw that there was another side of life… that people could be sincerely loving and giving. That’s what he had craved all his life. So he is searching for the truth now… and gradually turning to a new way of thinking. He’s been off drugs for months and doesn’t want to go back. He doesn’t allow his past to be an excuse or think of himself as a victim. He’s letting go of past resentments he had against church and bitterness toward God. He’s working on forgiveness for his father. He realizes that love is possible for his life and he’s determined to see his life turn around. He's learned to love others and to reach out to those in need worse than his own. Jon is a transformation in process.

Friday, October 16, 2009


God’s will for us is joy. But the majority of the world seems hopeless and depressed. I see few Christians that are consistently joyful. But God has revealed to us just what it takes for us to be joyful. It involves a way of thinking, an attitude about everything – a turning of the mind. So why don’t we have that peace and joy? Here are a few of the things that I have discovered block the peace and joy that we all should be experiencing.

1. Lack of Faith – We need to make up our minds once and for all – do we believe the promises in the bible or not? If we really believe, then it should be the foundation of our life. It should be our very basis for living every day – not just when we come to church. We have to choose – are we going to live for the things of this world? Or are we going to live for God. We can’t serve two masters. Are we followers of Christ or not? It’s all or nothing..

2. Fear – This world is full of fear - Fear of physical harm; fear of being rejected, fear of people thinking we are weak, fear of losing something, fear of being wrong, etc. etc. etc. God knows what fear does to us – how it binds us and paralyzes us - so the most frequent command in the bible? Fear Not.
And God knows the power of the mind that he has given us. He tells us “as a man thinketh, so he is.” Not as a man doeth – as he thinketh! What you concentrate on, you draw to yourself. If we continually allow fear to enter our mind, we attract the very things we are afraid of. Like Job says in 3:25: “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.” Fear not. Fear is the opposite of trust.

3. Guilt – the greatest tool of the enemy. The bible calls him the “accuser” who tempts you with the things of this world and then brings you guilt and shame when you give in. You think, “I’ve done too much – I’m too far gone for God to use me. And I’m too weak to say that I’m not going to do it again.” But how many times have you been told that the Holy Spirit will change you from the inside if you let him. But the Holy Spirit, being perfect love, won’t ever force himself on you – He comes only where he’s invited. Then he’ll tell you that not only is the past gone and forgiven, but that, unlike us, God has completely forgotten about it, and it’s gone. Now we need to learn to let it go and forgive yourself.

4. Anger – Anger is an intense form of fear. The body changes that happen when we get angry, the increased hormone and enzyme changes, blood pressure, etc. are the same responses we have in a panic mode of fear. Anger is the fear of losing control. We want people to act a certain way or treat us a certain way, and when it doesn’t happen our way, we get angry. We know we are supposed to let it go, but we refuse. We want to hang on to our anger. In church we pray “Thy will be done” but then we say “I hate that guy” or “I will never forgive him for what he did,” We are in effect saying “my will be done. I don’t want to let it go.”

5. Worry – aka fear of the future. God lives in eternity but we live in time. The closest thing in this world to eternity is NOW. That’s why he wants us to let go of the past – yours and your brothers – and don’t worry about the future. Otherwise you are not fully present in NOW.
Last weekend one of the richest men in the world was sitting in front of the TV, watching a football game, drinking Kool Aid, and cussing out the other team. Even though he has billions of dollars in the bank, the money didn’t make any difference during that moment. He had everything he needed right there in the room with him. So did you.
When we start living in the NOW and appreciating that God’s looking out for us -when we stop worrying about tomorrow, then we discover we do have everything we need in this moment. God talks to us in the NOW. He wants us living in the NOW so He can communicate with us. … Worry is the opposite of faith.

6. Selfishness – The world teaches us that we’ve got to look out for #1 - We have to look out for ourselves and get what we can get. But that is a LIE from this world! We find no joy in that. The truth is – the more selfish you are – the more you lose! We can end up losing our family and loved ones, our friends, our peace of mind and any chance at true love. A wise man once said “If you seek happiness for yourself, it will always elude you. “If you seek happiness for others, yours comes automatically.” Our way has not worked. When we stop trying to “get over” and start thinking how we can serve God and our brothers, amazing things start to happen. Jesus said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” He tells us that, not so we can suffer, but so we can find true joy and happiness. Selfishness is the opposite of love.

7. Depression and Loneliness – How many of you have said “I have so much love to give, but no one to receive it” Isn’t it ironic? – there are 6 billion people in this world, who are lonely and needing love. And there’s 6 billion people in this world who all have a lot of love to give, but just don’t know how. The secret is - If you want to be loved, you have to start giving it. The problem is not that you haven’t got anybody to love. The problem is that youre not behaving like a loving person. Don’t pray, “God send me someone to love.” Ask, “God send me to those who need love.” When you are truly loving another, you are no longer focusing on yourself, and your troubles begin to fade into nothing.

8. Unworthiness – We are told that we are children of God, who share in the inheritance of Christ. But we don’t believe it and think we’re nothing and can do nothing. But the bible tells us that with Christ we can do great things. But you have to believe it before God can use you to do those great things.
It doesn’t matter what’s in your past. Look at Moses, David and Paul in the bible. All of them were murderers before they came to know Christ. But with the Holy Spirit they became great warriors for God and accomplished great things. . The biggest sinners make the greatest saints. When you’ve lived in sin, you’ve tasted hell. When you truly find Christ, the difference is so dramatic, you became passionate followers and mighty warriors for Him. Then you can believe Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”.

9. Blame: We blame everything and everyone outside ourselves for our circumstances and our unhappiness. That’s the first thing Adam and Eve did after the fall - blame each other and blame God. But Luke 17:21 tells us the kingdom of God is within you. Only you can change the things that are going on in your mind. You can choose peace, love and happiness, even in the midst of chaos. Your mind is the kingdom that God has given you to rule. Until now, we have let chaos rule. It’s time to take over our lordship of this kingdom, and start being our own ruler. Only you have control over your thoughts. God has other kingdoms for us, but first we’ve got to learn to rule this one like he does, with love and mercy. No one else can do that for us, and no one else can be blamed for what we let into our mind.

10. Isolation. For whatever the reason, because we’ve been betrayed or hurt, or because we’re shy or self-conscious, we don’t connect with other people. But God wants us united with each other – that’s where the power is. We live in a world where we seem to be separate from God and separate from each other. But God tells us all things are connected. When one is hurting, the whole body is hurting. In order to heal the world, we’ve got to come together and encourage each other and lift each other up. That person sitting next to you may be the very one you will need when you are down and discouraged. Jesus’ commandment was to love God, and to love each other.

We serve a big God and nothing is impossible with Him if we are willing to do our part. Everyone has been called for a very lofty, holy purpose – to change the world. To change the world we have to first change ourselves, - change our way of thinking. The first step is to pay attention to what you are thinking. As the bible says, “Take every thought captive.” Watch how often those negative thoughts enter your mind. If you’re honest, you’ll find it is the majority of the time. We have been brainwashed with this kind of thinking, and the first step in eliminating these thoughts is to become aware of them.
Then practice positive thoughts. You have to make conscious effort to change your way of thinking and get into the habit of positive thinking. So if someone cuts in front of you in traffic, if they talk about you, if they give you a dirty look, or if they just irritate you, remember that this is another opportunity to practice changing your thoughts and learn to love your enemies. Heb 13:2 says “Many have entertained angels unawares.” The person that irritates you the most just may be an angel sent here to help you learn

Monday, October 5, 2009


Al was big in the drug business. He was a well known dealer and made plenty of money from it. He was respected and feared, known for his enforcement of drug collecting efforts. Nobody messed with him. His years in Viet Nam taught him to be treacherous and cool in the midst of horror. He had enough money to buy rich clothes, flashy cars, and all the girls he wanted. It was life on the edge, and he loved it. He was big. Everyone knew him, and no one dared to cross him…. Until a couple of young ‘hoods’ tried to make a name for themselves, and become ‘big’ in the drug business.
Al knew the boys and they laughed and hustled pool together. He knew their family and they knew his. They made a deal with Al for a large amount of heroin and arranged to meet in a secluded spot for the buy. In a rare moment of carelessness, Al went alone to meet them. They showed him the money, and Al brought out the stuff. As he was talking to one, the other crept around behind him and bashed Al on the back of the head with his gun. As he was going down they both started beating and kicking him. When he was unconscious, they took off with the dope and the money.
After recovering in the hospital, Al was soon back on the streets again dealing drugs. His military training taught him to be cool and remain patient. He knew those boys would be around and they’d make a mistake and leave themselves open. He never let on to anyone that he was intending to get his revenge. The day came that he spotted them in the local bar, laughing and unsuspecting. Al turned and walked casually to his car and pulled out his gun. He walked calmly into the bar, up to the boys and shot them both in the head, murdering them both.
Al’s mom told him she had been praying for him all during the trial. And now that it was over, she was continuing to pray. She told him confidently, “Nobody’s gonna kill my baby” even if it did look hopeless now that he had been sentenced to death. Although she had mortgaged the house to pay for the lawyer, she wasn’t going to stop fighting. She borrowed every penny she could, sold everything she had, and scavenged every penny she could find to keep the attorneys fighting for him. It took many years, but finally her prayers were answered. The death sentence was commuted on a technicality, and Al was now sentenced to life.
He spent 25 years in prison, and then was paroled. He got out, and tried to go straight and get a job. But with his record that was impossible. So he went back into the drug business. But this time he made the mistake of using it himself. Soon the drugs overtook him and he found himself an addict, broke, homeless and alone. He felt his life would never be worth anything, and he was ready to end it. He applied for rehab at the shelter, and finally got in. He still had his callous, heartless survival way of thinking, and everyone at the shelter knew once again, not to mess with Al.
While at the shelter, he saw some of the guys getting picked up for church. They seemed to come back happy and excited. That was a marked contrast to the complaining, angry men that he saw there most of the time. Since there wasn’t much around the shelter to keep him busy, out of sheer boredom he decided to go along one day. That was the day a whole new world opened up to Al.
Al continued going to the church. There he met happy, kind, giving people such as he had never known before. He was fascinated and wanted to learn more. He signed up for some of the classes at the church. He read his bible voraciously. He began joining in on some outreaches – going down to Washington Park and into the homeless camps, delivering food and clothing. He learned about something he had never known before – compassion. He continued on this journey for several years. He realized his life could amount to something, and his mind began to see life differently. He started helping some of the other homeless, directing them to resource agencies, giving them a dollar or two, listening to their stories. He attended NA meetings, and soon had enough years of sobriety to become a sponsor himself. He began advocating for the homeless for health care and housing. He was soon asked to speak at meetings and tell his story. Then he was asked to speak at churches and schools and social agencies. He became a facilitator and counselor at one of the rehab houses. Today he also serves on the board of a housing resource for the homeless, and is well known in the community as a great example of a life transformed.
He was sentenced to death, but God gave him life. He was sentenced to life in prison, but God released him. The old Al is dead and he’s been transformed into a loving, giving, soldier of Christ.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Two friends

I was on my way downtown to pick up Bob, my friend who has 18 months clean. I first met Bob at Mt. Airy shelter, where he ended up homeless after years of using drugs and drinking. When I took him to church he said he felt like he was home, and started on his road to sobriety. After many false starts, he finally made it. But when I talked to him on the phone, he told me he was very frustrated trying to find a job. He had no money but was grateful that he had a place to stay and some food stamps to keep him from starving. He tries to help others as much as he can, but feels he doesn’t have much to give. His spirits are always lifted by going to church, so I told him I’d pick him up.
I was driving down Liberty Street on the way to pick Bob up, when an ambulance approached with its siren blaring. I pulled over to the side of the road. There I saw my friend Mario. Mario has lived all his life in OTR, and spent much of his life using drugs and robbing people to support his habit. With a lot of help from God, he’d begun to pull his life back together. He was able to get off drugs, he was helping the minister that came down there on weekends, he’d gotten a part time job, and he got his kids back. Life was tough, but God always gave him everything he needed for the day, and he made it through.
When I pulled over, Mario ran to the car and exclaimed how glad he was to see me and how God had just had perfect timing. He hopped in the car and explained how his job had cut back on his hours and he was desperate for help to feed his kids. Hearing this cut into my heart, as I was experiencing some major financial problems myself, so I didn’t know how I was going to help him. He moaned that he was doing everything he could but now he was getting desperate. He was starting to get some of the old thoughts into his head, and said he was about to do something stupid. I knew he meant he was headed to steal something or rob someone. We talked about how maybe he was relying on his own strength to get things done, and maybe he should rely on God. After all, God can arrange circumstances, and bring the right people into our lives. Mario admitted that he had been relying on himself, and said he was going to try to trust God to take care of the situation.
We pulled up to pick up Bob, and I introduced them to each other. Mario was too preoccupied with his situation to say much of anything to Bob. He kept talking to me about how helpless he felt trying to get some food to feed his kids. As we turned the corner, Bob said, “Pull into this Kroger’s here.” I was surprised, but did as he asked. We parked and Bob got out and told Mario to go with him into the store, and that he was going to get him some groceries. I was shocked, knowing how little Bob had, and Mario didn’t know what to say. I just followed them into the store. Bob grabbed a cart and started down the bread aisle. Mario asked if he could get a loaf of bread, and Bob said, “No let’s get a couple of loaves.” He asked him if he liked this or that, and Mario would sheepishly nod his head. Whenever I get people groceries, I usually get the bare minimum – ramen noodles, bread and bologna. Nothing expensive – just the basics to get them through. So I was flabbergasted when we got to the meat aisle, and Bob started suggesting some of this chicken, and how about some of those steaks? Bob ended up getting him a weeks worth of groceries and using a large part of his food stamps.
We dropped Mario off at his home, and Mario had tears in his eyes. Here was a man that he had never met before, doing all this for him - Someone that had almost nothing, but what little he had he shared. The two shook hands and gave each other a little side hug, both saying “God bless you.” Bob and I headed off to church, and I asked him what he was going to do for food now. He said he’d make it, but said it was worth it for the feeling he had now, having been able to help someone. He said it was what Jesus would have done.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Sometimes when I’m down at Washington Park, the people there are concerned about me, and warn me about reprobates that hang around that they consider dangerous. They’ll tell me, “Stay away from so-and-so. He’s bad news.” When I hear that, I may be a little cautious, but I realize that means that ‘so-and-so’ needs God even more than most. I learned that from Charles.
I was in the park with the church during the “Good Sam Run”. The others from the church were busy handing out sandwiches, so I just stood to the side and asked God to bring me someone that I could minister to. Then I noticed a man standing with his friends nearby. He was very rough looking, with a mean expression on his face. He had only one eye, without a patch on the ‘bad’ one, so it just hung in his socket like a white ball of mucous. He had not shaven and had a rough beard. His dingy pants were held up by ragged suspenders over his grimy t-shirt and his huge belly hung out over his pants.
He approached me and demanded roughly, “What are you doing down here?” I told him I was with the church, and that I was here to pray for him if he wanted me to. He grunted and walked away. After a moment he hesitated and then turned and walked back toward me. “Yeh- I guess I could use some prayer,” he said nonchalantly, almost as if he were mocking me. I smiled and took his hands, and asked if there was anything special he needed prayer for. “Nah” he replied. “Just some prayer I guess.”
I asked his name and he told me “Charles.” I closed my eyes and began to pray with Charles. At one point I felt compelled to say, “Jesus wants you to know that he loves you very much, Charles, and that all your sins are forgiven.” As I ended the prayer, I looked up. I was surprised to see tears rolling over his cheek. He had a look of surprise and gratitude. He told me he had been praying and praying for forgiveness the last few months, but had not felt it until now. He had prayed with ministers and had said the sinner’s prayer many times. “But,” he said, “this is the first time I have really felt forgiven.” He said it was a huge weight lifted off him, and then he began to tell me his story. He had been involved in almost every sin imaginable. He had killed people in drug deals, and he had people killed. He had been a pimp and produced porn movies. He had robbed and stolen and lied. He had lost his eye in one of the drug deals gone wrong. He was considered a big dealer, and always had plenty of money, so he could buy almost anything he wanted.
Then he found out he had stomach cancer, but it was so far advanced that the doctors couldn’t do anything for him. He knew he didn’t have much time left and for the first time in his life, he began to fear death. And for the first time, he began to regret the things he had done in his life. And the more he reviewed his life, the more he knew he could never be forgiven. He prayed, but God didn’t seem to be listening, and he felt he had probably been disowned by God. He didn’t blame him. And he was scared of what lay ahead for him. He had been praying almost constantly for the last few months since he found out, and he’d turned away from selling drugs, his income at the time. All of his ‘friends’ had deserted him when the money ran out. He began ‘flying a sign’ on the side of the road to support himself. And now here he was in the food line to get sandwiches, and sleeping on the side of a vacant building.
All that time, he knew that God wasn’t going to have anything to do with him….. until we prayed. He said he felt like love had consumed his heart. He knew Jesus was with him, finally. Everything was going to be ok, and he no longer had to be afraid of dying. I could see that his expression had changed from bitterness to joy.
I saw Charles a few times after that down at the park, but within about three weeks he died. But during those three weeks, he had been telling everyone he knew about this amazing Jesus. People came to tell me they were amazed at the change in Charles. He was happy, and was helping people and was always talking about Jesus. One of my friends at the park remarked, “I thought I told you to stay away from him.” He was one of those people they had considered dangerous and irredeemable. But God had nudged him to come pray, and God knew that was exactly what Charles needed at that moment.

Friday, August 14, 2009


When I first met Drew, he was at the shelter recovering from a gunshot wound caused by the point blank firing of a pistol to the back of his neck. The shot should have killed him but he survived it. He was in a coma for several days, and when he woke up he couldn’t move his body from his neck down. The doctors told him there was too much damage to his spinal cord and he would never walk again. The bullet lodged in his cheek, but they were unable to remove it for fear that he would lose his eye. However, there was hope that with much therapy, he would be able to learn to talk and feed himself again. Drew was devastated and “cried like a baby for days” while fervently seeking God and praying for His intervention.
And God spoke to his spirit, Drew said. "He said very clearly, 'Surrender your life back to me and I'll show you who your true friends are. I will make your body better than it was before."
After spending many painful months in therapy, Drew eventually regained some of his living skills and was soon able to take care of himself. He kept working fanatically at recovery, and within months, he was able to stand on his own, despite the doctors predictions. Soon he was able to take a step while holding himself up on the therapy rails. Many more months of grueling therapy and he was eventually able to walk on his own. Today, Drew continues to work out every day, but now at the Lord’s Gym in downtown Cincinnati, where he freely shares his testimony and ministers to those that are trapped in the street life.
Not only has his body been restored, but his daily workouts have produced massive muscles in his arms, legs and chest. His determination paid off and today he serves as a personal trainer and an inspiration to others in ‘the hood’. His passion for keeping his body in great shape is only surpassed by his gratitude and praise for Christ for saving him.
Drew gladly shares his testimony with anyone who will listen. He tells of his roots in California where he was a member of the infamous Crips gang in Los Angeles. He admits he was a thug, selling drugs and committing robberies. He explains, "We called ourselves the Crips because when we get done with you, you would be crippled. We break bones."
Drew says he spent more than 15 years "hurting people." After serving two prison terms in California, he moved to Cincinnati. One day he was watching a boxing match on TV with some "friends" when he found out they had actually been plotting to rob and kill him. While they were watching the fight, Drew got up and leaned over to turn up the volume. As he did, his ‘friend’ walked behind him and shot him at point-blank range with a .22 in the back of the head."
The two robbed him and ran away leaving him for dead. But he was able to get to the phone to call 911. "It was divine intervention that the gun had only one bullet in it, so he shot me only one time, or I would be dead."
The bullet went through his neck and stopped in his cheek just below his right eye. And the bullet stays there as a constant reminder of the life he was living and the mercy God has shown him.
The Cincinnati Enquirer found out about his story and ran an article entitled “From Crip to Christ.” They describe him: “He's gone from gangbanger to working man, from homeless to his own apartment, from thug to anti-crime counselor, from Crip to Christ.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


One day in Washington Park, I saw a dark-skin husky black man with dreds, sitting on a bench with his friends. He had his brown paper bag beside him and he looked over at me, as if he wanted to ask me something. So I walked over and we started a conversation, and as it turns out, a long friendship. James was drunk when I met him, and later told me he hadn’t been sober in over thirty years. He woke up in the mornings with a pint or two and downed those for breakfast. He kept a pint with him throughout the day. Since he couldn’t hold a job in that condition, he made his living “hustling”, selling items in the park. He was a very quiet man, but everyone in the park knew him from over the years. He stayed in abandoned buildings, or on a bench, or wherever he could find a spot.
We would get together for coffee once in a while, and the conversation would usually turn to spiritual things. He would nod and smile and agree with me, and say what he thought I wanted to hear. But he told me later, that was just because he wanted company, and he really didn’t believe in all that stuff. He had always thought that all that religious stuff was just a way to control the masses. Many of his friends believed but he thought it was only “because they got nothin’ else.” Life was so oppressive that they had to believe there would be something better some day, or else there was no hope at all.
After we began talking, he had been trying to find out the truth and started reading his bible. His motive had actually been so that he could argue with me and show me where I was wrong. But the Holy Spirit was working, and one day he said to me, “It’s true! It’s really true!” He was shocked and excited. I’m not sure why he had such a revelation, but I was excited for him, too. After that, he had a sincere hunger for more truth, and I brought him spiritual books and tapes for him to study.
James was still drinking steadily, but one day he approached me and asked me to get him into a rehab. I agreed, but then he said, “Not today. In a couple of days.” I told him “Whenever you’re ready.” A few days later, he said he was ready, and we headed to a local detox/rehab. On the way there, he asked me to stop at the store. When he came back out, whatever he had purchased he had slipped into his backpack. I was wary of his chances for success, since I suspected he had just bought another pint. But I took him there anyway, and promised I would visit often.
A couple days later I went to visit, prepared for the possibility that he hadn’t made it, and was back on the streets somewhere. But he was there. And he was sober - First time he’d been sober in many years. He told me that he had bought a pint on the way in there, and was intending to sneak a drink once in a while in order to make it through. He had gone into the large dormitory-style restroom and brought the pint out of his backpack, lifted it up to his lips and was about to take a sip, when he glanced over to the wall. There was a portrait of Jesus, staring him in the face. It appeared Jesus was looking right at him and James felt as if he was about to betray Jesus by taking the drink. He felt guilt and sorrow for being so selfish, and he just couldn't drink it. He took the pint and poured the whole thing down the sink, promising Jesus he would try his best to quit. And with God's help, he did quit. That was over five years ago, and he hasn't had a drink since.
Once he got out of the rehab, he got an apartment at one of the most seedy disreputable places downtown. I was afraid with the drugs, prostitutes, crime, alcohol and depravity in that place, that he might relapse into his old life style. But our pastor had bought him a CD player and the bible on tape, and he played it in his room daily.
One day, he noticed a prostitute outside his door, and when he asked what she was doing, she said she was listening to the tapes he was playing. So he began to leave his apartment door open a crack so she could listen. After a while he would go into the hallway and find several people had brought chairs and were sitting in the hall listening. Eventually, they began having a study group in the basement, with drug dealers, prostitutes, and felons with convictions of everything from robbery to murder, all listening to the tapes and having a discussion on the bible.
James has held down a full time maintenance job for four years. I don’t see him as often as I did, since he works on Saturdays when I’d usually be at the park. But he is still my good friend and I know God has a special calling for him.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The day I met Corey was the day he gave his testimony. He's given me a copy to post here:
My story begins as a small town Catholic in northeastern Ohio. By my mid twenties I had successfully become a fun loving, guilt ridden young adult. Drugs, alcohol, and the quest for money had overtaken me to a point I choose not to describe. If life was meant to be enjoyed, I had found a very unhealthy way of enjoying it! I am grateful that my religious upbringing helped to educate me on Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Although I rarely thought about this divinity at the time, my heart always knew who I had become was not who I wanted to be. In my late twenties, God sent me an angel in the form of the most perfect human being I have ever met (now my wife).
As I grew, the drug and alcohol ambitions morphed into a modern day “Corporate America” quest for success. You see, I never went to College as a traditional student right out of high school. During the 90’s there was plenty of prosperity for a young aggressive salesperson willing to work the system. Luckily for me, working a system had always been my specialty!
In July 2000 we moved to Cincinnati. Both with a job & what appeared to be a bright future. Everything seemed to be moving forward just as planned. Then 9-11 struck and for the first time in a very short career I experienced being laid off. This was not a good situation for an ego driven, money hungry, young salesman with little more than the ability to convince other people that I really am everything I say!
So I decided to attend UC and got an accounting degree. Why accounting? Years later I realized that decisions in Corporate America are based in “economic” theory. I thought, if I could understand this aspect of business, perhaps my ability to sell myself would improve! Through all of this selling I had spent 15 years building an image that wasn’t really me at all. Many times I questioned this fact and tried to change these patterns, but I always seemed to steer myself back into the hierarchy of success. Success as I had defined it…more money!
The years between 2005 & 2008 had been a very prosperous time for me and my family. Although I was employed by a proclaimed Christian company, ethics and decisions that were made were far from Christian. The money was good; but I asked myself at what cost? Pastor Tim has said, “God wants your heart. Doesn’t it stand to reason that he will use money to get it?”
Last October, things began to get bad in the economy. In fact, many people had expected the worst economic downturn since the great depression. Having been laid off before, I was intent this wasn’t going to happen to me! So I began to work harder. The more I worked and the more I gave and the more I took from my family, the more I continued to be unfulfilled. I felt stepped on by those working beside me; within my own company! This was a major disappointment to me.
The image that I had spent so many years building didn’t amount to anything. Work became an environment of deception and perception. It became an environment of fear and lies. It was no longer about what people brought to the organization. I saw many good people losing their jobs as superiors painted fraudulent pictures to save themselves. Through the first quarter of this year, I began to be moved to do what was right. Not from a spiritual motivator, but because there were so many people in the world doing so much wrong. I thought, if I could successfully do what was right, I could make more money. Obviously, I was still driven by the dollar!
The layoffs continued and I seemed to be able to keep producing and avoid being included on the latest list. But I wasn’t happy with any of it…and most unhappy with myself. Then it happened. One Thursday in April, while consulting a fellow co-worker my boss overheard me say referring to him “we will never be on the same page as long as he is leading us.” How could I continue to navigate this unhealthy environment? Something took over inside me. There I was…a non religious man…a sinner; saying: “God, it’s in your hands now!”
From Thursday to Sunday was like a rebirth. My wife and daughter had attended Vineyard Westside the weekend before for the first time, and loved it. My wife had a vision a couple of weeks earlier about this little church we passed on our way around town. In her search to “know God” she had come across this wonderful community of people we now call family. Of course, the services are WAY different than those of a traditional Catholic mass so she thought I probably wouldn’t like it. I told her; hey if you both like it I will go with an open mind. I am grateful I did, it changed my life. For the first time, I heard God speaking to me!
As I sat in the pew and listened to the words coming out of Tim’s mouth, it became clear what I needed to do. I needed to resign my position and move my life in a direction that was healthier. As I looked at my wife, she knew something had struck a chord in me. As the service ended, I approached Tim and thanked him for helping put some clarity on a major issue weighing on me. Tim said, “It wasn’t me, it was God.” He was right!
Then he asked, what is it? Perhaps I can pray to help you. I explained that I was going to quit my job the next day because I didn’t like the way my boss treated people. I don’t clearly remember his reaction but I am fairly certain both he and my wife had to pick their jaws up off the floor. What I do clearly remember is the light I saw in my 6 year old daughter’s eyes as she said “you’re quitting your job! Does this mean you can pick me up early from school?” Tim & Traci, I apologize…Cali, Thank you!
The last three months have truly been the best summer of my life. I have enjoyed being in my world with all the gifts God has given me. I have turned my life over to God and he has made an amazing change in me. I have a thirst to understand the word. I have spent the entire summer with the two people who are most important to me. On our eighth wedding anniversary, Ryan was able to accommodate a rare request to renew our wedding vows. Rare because we asked him on Sunday for a Tuesday evening affair. As we listened to the words of God spoken through Ryan we began to internalize Ecclesiastes 4:9, two are better off than one…a rope made of three cords is hard to break. Thank you Ryan. And the best part of the summer happened two weeks ago as I publically pronounced the acceptance of Christ as my savior through baptism.
Although the search for my purpose has just begun, I am much more content waiting for God to show me the way. And he has. Two weeks ago I interviewed with a company that appeared to be everything I was looking for. The company is a small manufacturing business in a specialized industry. There was one problem; the position was originally presented as a job that would involve a lot of travel. I am no longer interested in taking any more time away from my family for money and my career. God did his magic, last week I received a call stating they redesigned the position and it will be based here in Cincinnati…NO TRAVEL! I start Monday August 10!
I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us next; I wait patiently. I look forward to building my relationship with him and his son, Jesus Christ. Recently I read something that stuck with me. The past is history, the future is a mystery, but the present is a gift. Thank you Lord for all the gifts you have given me. God is good!

Monday, July 27, 2009


I've known George for several years. We first met when he was at Mt. Airy shelter. He came to church a few times, and got his own apartment, but then started drinking again. A couple times since I'd seen him with black eyes and bruises and stitches from being beat up. He's called me several times threatening suicide, and the last time I called the police. Then I told George to call if he wants to talk, but I wasn't responding to any more suicide threats. He continued to drink and get into trouble and still called once in a while to talk. I know God doesn't give up on people, but I'm human, and I have to admit, I was writing George off as hopeless.

I encountered George at Washington Park, and we talked for a bit. He said he was too messed up to be of any use to God. I told him about Moses, David and Paul, all mighty men of God, but also all murderers. And I told him that since he was aware of how messed up he really is, he was a lot more use to God than someone that thinks they have it all together and doesn't need God. I lectured (witnessed??) him on his stubbornness and how the more he sat around feeling sorry for himself, the less he was able to help anyone else. We talked about fear and pride and anger and bitterness and depression, all things that keep us from being close to God and being used by him. We had talked about these things several times before, but nothing had changed. I left him with a prayer and a hug, and as I was walking away, he tipped up the brown paper bag to take a drink of his beer.

A few hours later he called me. He was very excited - maybe overwhelmed is a better word. He had been praying since I left him, and then while in the park, he felt compelled to get down on his knees and pray for a woman there. Compelled, he said. He HAD to do it. And then he said he felt the power of God flowing through him. He said he had never done anything like that before in his life, but it was awesome. He felt so wonderful. He didn't even care about everyone in the park staring at him. He said when they finished praying, she was smiling and she had hope again.

And when he finished praying for her, someone else in the park wanted some prayer. And then another. Each time, he said he felt even better than before. He said, "This is what they NEED down here!" He felt like crying he was so happy! He said he knew that "God's got my back", and that he had nothing to fear down there.

God is so awesome!!!! I don't know why He chooses to take hold of those that I've given up on. I guess he doesn't want me getting a big head thinking that I am actually doing something, and reminding me it's always Him, and only Him.


This happened a while ago, but it crosses my mind often and I still feel joy whenever I think of it.

I stopped at the Kroger's downtown on Vine Street for a couple of items. Since that store is in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, it is generally the city's poor that frequent there.

As I was waiting in line, there was a young man of about 17 in front of me. He had a couple of gallons of milk and a large package of newborn diapers. He kept counting out his money and figuring and re-figuring how much he'd be able to purchase. (Obviously he was a new father, struggling to be able to buy what his new baby needed.) Finally, he motioned for me to go ahead of him, as he returned one of the gallons of milk back to the dairy case. He returned with the diapers and the remaining milk and stood behind me, still counting out his change. The clerk apparently knew of his situation, and looked at him impatiently and asked, "Are you ready now?"

I wasn't sure how to approach the subject, so I just blurted out to him, "Do you mind if I pay for those diapers?" Apparently thinking I was just making fun of his situation, he answered, "Yea, sure." I picked up the diapers and asked the clerk to add them to my bill. The young man almost fell over in disbelief, and exclaimed, "For real??" The clerk was just as shocked, and as she rang the diapers up kept exclaiming, "God is good!" I became aware of others behind us in line watching what was happening, and whispering to each other. (Now I was a little embarrassed over all the fuss, and wanted to be able to sneak out the door.) The clerk said she'd worked at that store for 20 years and had never seen anyone do anything like that. (Isn't that a shame?)

As I was leaving, the clerk and the young man both had huge smiles on their faces. They called out, "God Bless You"! As the door closed behind me, I assured them, "He already has."

What a small thing, yet it brought such joy! I receive my blessing over and over whenever I think of that young man.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


One Saturday, I went with some people from the Vineyard to hand out sandwiches at Washington Park. Afterwards, I hung around to talk to some of the people in the park. The park is known for drugs and violence, so everyone was pretty stern. Once in a while I’d hear someone cussing and yelling in anger. But for the most part, it was pretty quiet.
In my trunk I had an old badminton set that I’d been hauling around. I was sitting on a bench with some people, and I asked if anyone was interested in setting up the game. I received some blank looks and silence. I was going to give up the idea when someone from behind the bench said, “I’ll do it.” I looked around and saw a young man that I’d never met before. I rose and introduced myself. He smiled and said his name was Robert. I asked, “You really want to set this up?” “Sure, I’ll do it for you” he responded.
We walked over to the car and retrieved the set from the trunk. “How does this go?” he asked. I admitted I didn’t know, and he said he’d figure it out. We spread out the net and the poles and he started to piece it together. I wasn’t really expecting much, since I’d received such a cold response before. Most of the people there were addicts or alcoholics, and sports wasn't their thing. But Robert looked engrossed in the project, so I just let him go ahead. I sat on the bench talking, and most of the others in the park were eating their sandwiches and drinking their soda out of a brown paper bag.
I received a call on my cell phone, and had to run a quick errand. I asked Robert if he’d be in charge of the game, and I’d be back shortly. He agreed, so I left. I was only gone about 20 minutes, and wasn’t sure what to expect when I got back. I guessed the worst that could happen is that someone took the game and sold it. If Robert did get it set up, it was probably just sitting there not getting any use.
When I pulled up, I saw a crowd gathered over at one end of the park. As I approached I heard laughing and joking as if a big party was going on. Then I realized – they were playing the game! Those that weren’t playing were waiting their turn to play. As they raced around the net, they would fall and laugh if they missed the play. Some commented on their old bones not being used to this. Others were serious and tried to slam it every time, and hooted if they made it. No one was keeping score, because that didn’t matter. They were just having fun like they hadn’t had in a long time.
I got to know Robert better after that, and we talked as though we were old friends. Much later he told me that he’d been a drug addict and the day we met, he was depressed and intent on using. But he didn’t have any money. When I asked about setting up the game, he had actually been on his way to rob someone. But he had so much fun that day, he forgot all about it. He said he realized how messed up his mind was, and that day knocked him back to reality and he realized what he’d become.
That was the first step on his path to change his life. Last I knew, Robert was holding down three part-time jobs. He stopped smoking crack, but he still drinks heavily, and gets into fights. He reads his bible and prays every day. He said he’s never again thought about robbing anyone since that day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Donald is a dear friend who attends the Vineyard regularly, helps in serving coffee, helps in serving the homeless and helps drive others to church. A couple of years ago he wrote this letter, and has agreed to let me post it here.

About four years ago, I was homeless at the Mt. Airy shelter, struggling to overcome a drug addiction of about 30 years. I started using drugs when I was 14, which led to me being incarcerated by 16. The habit grew worse over the years, but I didn’t realize that it was out of control until I lost my job in 1987. I tried to stop using and for years I was in and out of rehabs, but nothing seemed to work.
I had been kicked out of my house and alienated from my family. But the only thing that mattered was drugs and alcohol. I did whatever I had to do to get more – lying – stealing – deceiving. I was depressed and hopeless and desperate for any hope. When my wife died, I began using even more heavily and could no longer take care of myself or my family. I lost the children and became homeless myself. Once in a while I would go to the soup kitchen to eat, but for the most part I didn’t take care of my health. But I didn’t care. I saw no way out and had lost my will to live any longer. There was no love or happiness in my life – only drugs.
Then while at the shelter in 2004, I prayed for God to deliver me from this life. While at the shelter, someone picked us up every weekend to go to the Vineyard. The church opened up new hope and possibilities for me. When I walked in the door, the people there embraced me from the start, and showed me unconditional love and support. They showed me how to love myself and they restored my self-respect. I began to see that GOD loved me and wanted to show me a new way of life. So I enrolled in Alpha, and took the class twice. I attended Growth and Healing classes on Mondays. I joined in outreaches with the church whenever the opportunity presented itself. I began listening to Joel Olsteen, Dr. Joyce Meyers, Dr. Charles Stanley and several others. I was truly hungry for the Word, and this new hope and strength I found in JESUS CHRIST. My mind became transformed – I was no longer thinking only of myself and the next hit. I began to care about others and found new joy in serving them.
For the past four years God has healed me of addiction to drugs, alcohol and nicotine. I have been a cook at a restaurant, and my relationship with my family and children has been restored. I have been always seeking God, always wanting to learn more. I have a deep love for Christ and a passionate caring for others who are still lost and cannot find their way. I thank GOD for the church and my friends there for their love and support. I also love how they have opened their hearts to me and my family. I will always be grateful that I am a new creature in Christ and God has delivered me from HELL.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Alan was 32 years old and had been a drug addict for twenty years already. (When I first heard someone tell me they had been addicted since they were a child, I was shocked. But by now I had already heard it many times. Children are introduced to drugs by their parents or siblings in an environment where drugs are an everyday way of life.) Alan had tried to overcome his addiction many times and had failed. He finally ended up in a homeless shelter, having lost everything he ever had. He was frustrated, hopeless and depressed. That is where I first met him, when I came around to pick up people for church.
When Alan felt the love of God and the church members for him, he was amazed. He quickly found a new way of life, devoting himself to God and involved deeply with the church. He was overwhelmed that people could actually love him regardless of his past. And he passed this on to others at the shelter, helping them get food and clothing and lending a compassionate ear when they wanted to talk. Before long, we celebrated Alan having 6 months of clean time. He was quick to thank God for doing for him what he could not do for himself.
Alan was ready to move on with his life, and had been looking for a job so he could get a place of his own. But his felony drug history kept blocking him from getting a job. Every week at church he asked us to pray for him to find a job. And though we prayed passionately, he continued to get doors slammed in his face. In his frustration, he cried, “I don’t understand it. I’m doing everything God asks. Why won’t He answer my prayers?”
We continued to pray with him every week, and every week he still had no job. He continued to reach out to others at the shelter, and watched as they all seemed to pull their lives together, finding jobs and apartments. But Alan was still at the shelter, still unable to get a job and move forward in his life.
When my uncle in Florida died, I thought since Alan wasn’t working, he could help me drive down to the funeral. He easily agreed and we headed out, driving the 12-hour trip straight through. When we got close to our destination, we saw the palm trees lining the streets and could smell the ocean air. Coming from the bleary winter skies of Cincinnati, the warm sunshine on our faces felt wonderful. Alan proclaimed, “This is it! This is where I belong!” I responded that I would love to be able to live in this warm climate, too. But he declared confidently, “No – I mean it. This is where God wants me!” His expression changed to excited anticipation.
When we arrived at my fathers place, Alan soon announced he had to go somewhere. I thought this strange, since he had never been here before. I protested that he didn’t know his way around and offered to drive him, but he insisted he had to go, and to go by himself.
The next day, shortly after the funeral, Alan called. He was so excited that he had found a job at a construction site just down the road. He had also gone into a church, and met the pastor. They had been talking through most of the night, and he now had a church where he felt he belonged. The pastor had hooked him up with a temporary apartment until he could get on his feet. Everything had fallen together. He declared, “I told you this is where God wants me! This is God’s will for me!” He knew that we had been praying for the wrong thing all this time. Instead of praying for a job for Alan, we should have been simply praying for God’s will to be done.
After I got back to Cincinnati, I heard from Alan a couple of months later. He was still working and had just moved into his own apartment. He was very active in the church, and was teaching them ways to outreach to the community, and especially to reach the hopeless and the outcasts. He was very upbeat and happy in his new-found life.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Daniel and I

Winter 2006:
Apparently the Drop Inn has had some trouble with people keeping food and trash in their lockers. So over the weekend they emptied out all the lockers, and told the guys they couldn't keep stuff there during the day. So I had some gym bags I took down there. While I was there, my friend Daniel told me he had lost all his stuff in the 'clean up', so I invited him to go with me to Goodwill. Since it was predicted that the weather was going to be cold, I wanted to pick up some blankets or sleeping bags.

We hit the mother load in blankets. I picked up all I could find, and we headed back downtown. I asked Daniel to come along to see if we could find anyone under the bridges that needed them.

It was raining hard, and we weren't able to find anyone in the usual places under the bridges. It was already dark, so I asked Daniel if he knew of any abandoned building where there might be people staying that could use the blankets. He said he did, so we headed up to around Republic and 15th St, the very pit of the drug culture. He said that the people in the building were very concerned about 'blowing their cover' and didn't want anyone to know they were staying in that building. So I parked about a half a block away. There was about a half a dozen drug dealers on the corner, and Daniel told me to stay in the car and lock the doors and not speak to anyone. He would go up in the building and find out how many people were there.

As he was getting out, one of the dealers approached the van, telling me about some good stuff he had. Daniel shouted from the other side of the van for him to get away - that wasn't what this was about. I looked at the dealer - he couldn't have been more than about 17 or 18 - I smiled and said that I wasn't here for that, but that I was here to pray for him. He backed away at first - and started to walk off. Then he came back to the van and said, yes - would I please pray for him. (Daniel was dumbfounded - and couldn't say a word.) I asked his name (Sean) and we held hands thru the window and began to pray. As we closed our eyes, I heard the other dealers approach the van and say to each other - "No, it's not a hit. - They're praying!!"

When we finished, Sean smiled and thanked me. Daniel regained his composure and headed for the building. He was only gone a few minutes when he came back and jumped in the back seat of the van. He was followed by several men and women. As he was getting the blankets out, the people came up to the windows and peered in, wondering what was going on. Daniel threw the bags of blankets over his shoulder like Santa Claus and headed back up to the building with the others following him. As he got out of the car, I heard the others shouting thanks and blessings my way.

Daniel was gone about twenty minutes, When he came back, he was on fire. He kept repeating to me that he had never experienced anything like this in his life. Apparently this building was the place where he always used to go when he wanted to get high. Any time he'd ever brought anyone there before, it was always for a drug deal, and that's what everyone thought this was, at first. When he told them about the blankets, they thought I was going to exchange the blankets for drugs. He shouted, "No - This is a God thing!!" - and then he said the Holy Spirit took over. He spoke things to them about God that he had never said in front of his drug friends. And they listened, apparently shocked to hear such things from him. He said there was an immediate transformation in the atmosphere, and in him. He said "Nothing like this has ever happened down here before!"

When we got back to the Drop Inn, we sat in the van while Daniel kept telling me how amazed he felt. We talked about the joy of giving, and now he understood. He had been part of the outreach at Music Hall, but he said it was nothing like this. He told me if he had thought beforehand about what he was about to do, he never would have gone up to that building. And when we had arrived there, he had been a little fearful at first, but when he saw the dealer praying with me, he knew the Holy Spirit had already gotten there before us. He said "I'm going to get a buzz off this for a week." As he started to go, I reminded him not to forget his blanket. He told me it had been given out too. He said in that building he was not even thinking of Daniel. He said 'Daniel was not even there. God took over and He was doing all that." Then he said, as packed as the Drop Inn was tonight, he was going to have to find a corner off by himself and talk with God about what had happened.