I am so excited to share with you all my friendship with Sally and tell you how I met her, and how she has blessed my life. This past Winter, a man named John came to my church, Northbridge Church, and spoke about the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission. He spoke about the different volunteer opportunities that were there, and how they really needed mentors to come in and work with the men and women going through the Rehab Program at the Mission. As I listened to him, I could feel God was laying this desire in my heart to go and be a mentor.
You see….I have been at my photography studio in Downtown Kalamazoo, for six years now. I am located in the Rose Street Market Building just one block away and across the street is the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission. I honestly did not know much about what the mission did or does. I have always witnessed the homeless people walking the streets around my building and my heart goes out to them, and I wanted to help…but just didn’t know how. So when John came to our church, I decided to chat with him and take the next step to be a mentor.
Being a mentor means….you are just a friend….you sit down with the person they assign you and be a listening ear, and encourager….a friend. So for the last six months, I would go in every other week and eat dinner with her at the Mission for one hour. She would share her experiences at the Mission, she shared her “story” with me, she would talk about how difficult it is to live with many other people there and all the issues that can come along with that…..but the thing that impressed me the most about Sally is she would talk about what she is learning, and the people she was getting to know and I could see her love for people, and how much she was learning living at a homeless shelter about how she is truly blessed. I saw her grow in her faith in God, and her confidence in herself as she overcame her addiction to alcohol. One thing she said to me was that she now has to learn how to “do things” sober….how to go to activities and interact sober. It really struck me how tight an addiction can be….her whole being and outlook on life has changed….she no longer lives for the next “drink”.
Sally is a very compassionate person, I see how she cares for others and is so well liked at the Mission. I am so proud to have gotten to know her through the mentorship. I can honestly say, I did not provide many words of great wisdom…she was already getting that through the amazing Rehab Program they have at the Mission. I went in there to listen and just have a great time conversing and letting her have someone outside of the Mission, outside of the Rehab Program to talk to, vent to, and just listen to her.
I want to say that I have such a huge HUGE respect for the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission now. I am so grateful I had this opportunity to meet Sally and just to learn so much more about the Mission. During that dinner hour, I saw moms with children being fed a good meal, Sally would tell me about how any people come in and out of the shelter everyday and how the Mission never turns anyone for a meal. They provide three meals a day with no questions asked. The Rehab Program they provide is a one year in house program to help people overcome addictions….they teach them and show them the love of Christ. They provide them with training, counseling, education, job training, housing and of course food….free of charge. This Mission is amazing folks. We are blessed to have them helping so many people in our community.
If you are looking for ways to help the homeless population in our downtown Kalamazoo, I highly suggest you contact the Mission. The need is always there for donations. They have a store, Rescued Treasures, where you can donate clothing and household items that the people at the shelter use and distribute to the men, women and children who are staying at the Shelter. Those that stay there long term can “shop” free of charge at this store for needed items as well. It is also opened to the public and of course all proceeds go towards the operations at the Mission. The cost is very very high to run this amazing ministry. The Women’s Shelter is great need of upgrades. They are in the process of raising funds to be used to improve the facilities there for the women and children. Food is another area that is always gratefully appreciated at the Mission. Right now, I see they are in desperate need of canned goods. I do not know the numbers, but they serve well over a hundred women and children when I am there visiting Sally….that is just one meal….they still have the men to feed, and breakfast and lunch. So please consider contacting this Mission and asking how you can help with something as easy as donating any unused items or clothing in your home, or food items, toiletries, or money to go towards the renovation of the Women’s Shelter. One thing I plan to do is take my girls shopping and purchase some needed items for the Mission and make it a great learning lesson for them on how we are so blessed to have what we have….good jobs, a home, a car, clothing, and a meal a couple times a day. I want to teach my girls how to be givers, and this is one easy tangible way to do so by simply going to the grocery store and buying canned goods for the Mission.
I know this blog post is long with lots to read and I thank you for reading my story….now comes the fun part….you get to read Sally’s story…her testimony. Here is her words…..
Hi, my name is Sally;
Before I came to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission I was homeless. My friends and family, I have five sisters and two adult children, and six grandchildren. They were done trying to get me to take care of myself. I was addicted to alcohol. I ruined relationships, lying to them, avoiding them and taking advantage of them all. I was broke. I always had to make sure I had alcohol though. I was drinking up to a fifth a day, every day. At first it was whisky, but I switched to vodka because I thought it sounded more feminine when I ordered it or bought it.
My health had deteriorated. I wasn’t eating very much at all. I was hospitalized a few times due to dehydration and malnourishment. I’ve broken bones; my wrist, my foot, and I have two vertebrae cemented due to falling. I thought I was real professional telling people lies as to how I injured myself. It was a full time job remembering which lie I told someone so I wouldn’t get my story mixed up. The other full time job was making a plan to purchase alcohol. I couldn’t let anyone see me. I also had to go to different liquor stores so the employees would not see me every day.
I don’t have any stories to tell about being stopped by the cops or getting in trouble, because I never got caught. Yes, I drove drunk many times. It really does work if you put your hand over one eye. You don’t see double anymore. I finally thought I was really smart when I drank at home after I made sure I had all my business out of the way, so I could just relax, watch TV, and be by myself. That was a lot of planning too! I was tired.
So about a year ago I made up my mind to stop all the drama. One June 12, 2015 it was a year without alcohol. I knew I couldn’t do it by myself, so I asked God to help me. At this time in my life I wanted to do it for myself, not to impress other people. I’ve tried four or five times before, but I wasn’t sincere with God about it.
So in August, 2014, I came to the Gospel Mission. I was scared to death. The first couple of months was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I didn’t know a soul here. I came from Grand Rapids. My freedom felt like it was taken away. I slept in a room that accommodated about twenty five women, some in bunk beds. We had a shower room that was used by everyone. It showered up to nine women at a time. No private dressing area and a locker that was 18” by 18”. All my daily needs had to be in there. Toiletries, clothes and homework books.
That is where I learned humility, the true meaning of trust, graciousness, obedience, respect and love on top of it all. I felt I could always feel the love of God if the hearts of staff. As tough as they have to be, I give them respect for what they do for all of us.
I work in day care now. It is something I can do to help others too. I pray every night for the children that are here. It’s not a choice for them. I try to let the Holy Spirit help me use this time to praise God for these kids and to be with them always.
I’ve also learned so much more than I thought I would at my age. I’m learning how to read the Bible. Learning what God wants to tell me. I find more and more scriptures that are written just for me. God put me here for a reason, so I’m trying to obey and do the right thing. I want to take these blessings with me. I thank God for the strength and gratitude I have now.
Her words are so simple and to the point. God has really worked in her heart. So so grateful for her, and I pray she will continue to follow him as she is graduating from the program next week and will be going to a new apartment in Grand Rapids and starting her life over….following and trusting God to help her as she has been given a second chance.