Proverbs is one of my favorite books of the Bible for it’s quick wit and wisdom. Here’s a good one: “Fools trust their own insight, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.” Have you ever read something like that and start thinking of someone you know? I do it all the time. But how often do you realize, and then consciously admit to yourself, “Oh…I’m the fool.” Perhaps I’m finally learning from past mistakes. Perhaps I’ve matured a little.
For the past three years, I have had the privilege to interview and film our Life Change Academy residents for their graduation ceremony. It’s their opportunity to share their story, in their words. As I rewatch old videos today, I can still remember my opinions of the men and women I sat with. I also remember feeling so grateful for my safe and sheltered childhood. I remember beginning to ask God, over and over, to teach me to love, as I was scared by the judgements I made as they shared the life events that contributed to their addictions and misfortunes.
As I continue to watch, I am reminded how far some of our graduates have come. Some are still employed with us or elsewhere in the community. Some have repaired marriages, or relationships with their parents, and others have custody of their children again. Telling their stories and watching them grow has been one of the greatest joys of my life.
On July 12, you should come to the next graduation ceremony, where eight residents will sit among their peers, friends and family as new creations. The old? Gone. The new? It’s here. As I sat and interviewed for the last time, I found myself asking more questions than usual, and feeling more emotional than usual. For the past twelve months, I have watched them grow and excel in a foreign environment away from friends and family. With our time together coming to a close, some of the guys and I exchange numbers. I’m not saying goodbye to VRM residents, but to friends.
If you attend the ceremony, you’ll hear stories of abandonment and abuse, relapse and recovery. But you’ll also hear stories of hope and restoration from guys like Tony who had been homeless for five years. “From the moment I got off the bus [at VRM], God intervened and saved my life. I consider the old me to be dead. I don’t really like to talk about it. I like to talk about all things becoming new. I’m a new creature, I know that. God has saved my life and redeemed me from a place so dark. I’m alive in Jesus Christ.”
After nearly five years of serving here at VRM, a quote I heard at a conference years ago succinctly summarizes how I have seen God move through each ministry and individual story. This elderly woman who grew up through adulthood in poverty, said, “I don’t want a god who keeps the lights on. I want a God who sits with me in the dark.” This is truly the God I have seen at work at Visalia Rescue Mission, and it’s that type of person I think we all want to be, too.
If you have even the faintest desire to help men and women with stories like Tony’s, we have the opportunity for you. Call us at 740-4178 or go to vrmhope.org/volunteer to learn more about becoming a High-Impact Ministry Volunteer, or sign-up to serve a meal at a day and time that fits your schedule.
By the time you read this, my family and I have relocated to Bend, Oregon, where I have accepted a position with a nonprofit organization serving victims of domestic violence. I can’t begin to convey my gratefulness to Visalia Rescue Mission for the many chances it took on me and everything they have taught me. They gave me the freedom to try, fail, and go again and again. For those who have enjoyed this monthly article, you can reread and share them all from here: vrmhope.org/news-stories. With so much going on around here, stay tuned for more stories and updates on new endeavors like Mission Motors and our expansion of Simply Chic Boutique in downtown Visalia.
Ryan Stillwater was the Director of Development for Visalia Rescue Mission. Connect with VRM at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media.