Don't Just Walk the Line

A few months ago, my family and I were pulling up to our home and saw a woman sitting on the curb across the street. She was bloody and crying. While I took our kids inside, my wife walked over to check on her, then came back to get her some clothes. After the police came, her side of the story quickly felt like only half of the story: Men living around the corner accused her of stealing a cell phone, knocked her off her bike (which they then stole) and proceeded to physically attack her. Their side of the story: This woman is crazy.

As in many situations, the truth was somewhere in the middle. This woman, barely more than a teenager, had attempted to steal drugs from these men, who then attacked her in broad daylight. The whole situation ended with the woman unwilling to press charges and refused to go to the hospital. We watched her walk away, hearts broken for her — mentally wrestling with broader issues playing out in this one situation. 

I get to join conversations often about the causes and solutions for homelessness. I continually hear more funding, more housing, but personally, my mind wanders back to the underlying cause of these issues being, at their core, the human condition. This is how I’ve come to define it: the habitual inability to make mutually beneficial decisions for oneself and the community in which one resides

At Visalia Rescue Mission, our ultimate goal is not drawing a line for our guests and Life Change Academy residents to learn to walk (be kind, be moral, don’t do drugs, go to church), but instead, we begin to lay a new foundation where they can stand, fall, crawl and run through life’s many obstacles making beneficial decisions as productive members of their community and as whole (not perfect) human beings. This foundation is only possible with God’s grace and presence in our lives. A true cure for the human condition. 

In 2016, Greg graduated from our Academy and his story is a perfect example of someone learning to address why they are broken, not just what needs to be fixed. 

I had this idea that if I could get through this life without hurting myself, killing myself, or killing someone else, then I’d be okay. I woke up one morning and realized I was an addict. It wasn’t about getting my life back, it was about how I was going to live my life moving forward.”

On February 20, we are hosting one of our favorite events, Empty Bowls. Now in its ninth year, Empty Bowls consists of gourmet soup catered by The Vintage Press, live music, a live bowl thrower, and unique handmade bowls guests take home as a reminder of the need in our community and how we can meet that need together. Attendees will also get to hear a live update from Greg, now two years into life with this new foundation. When he was graduating, Greg told me, “To be able to go into life now without an addiction, to know I have an identity in Jesus Christ, and to say that I’m a responsible man that God wants me to be…thank you, Jesus.”


Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.