Read touching stories of lives transformed and be encouraged!
Thy Kheav (Tie Key-ev) has seen a lot of life most of us are shielded from. He’s Cambodian, but was born in Thailand. By the time he was two, his family was resettling in Providence, Rhode Island. They were escaping the Khmer Rouge and the infamous “Killing Fields.” At the age of four, Thy was hit by a car. He had a permanent loss of hearing in his left ear; he also injured his left leg to the degree that he will be dealing with the after effects for the rest of his life. After finishing high school, Thy found work in an embroidery company. He lost that job after wrecking his car and not letting his employer know where he was for a couple of days. So he went to Boston to be with his father who was dying a slow death from cancer. His mother started blaming him for not being attentive to his father. This led to alcohol abuse. “For nine years I drank morning, noon and night. I would work drunk, it didn’t matter. I was copying the alcoholic ways of my father, uncle and brother.”
Knowing he needed a new start, Thy saved enough money to come to Texas and ended up in Dallas. He was the manager of an IHOP restaurant, but got busted for public intoxication. At the same time, Thy and a friend started showing up at Bear Creek Community Church, where he met long-time UGM employee Lydia Webb, whose husband Dennis pastors the church. He learned about UGM.
“I spent one night at the shelter before applying for the Discipleship Program. That meant the end of three very precious things in my life, drinking, smoking and watching TV, but I was ready for a change. I had been raised as a Buddhist, gotten myself baptized at a Mormon church, but I was ready to learn about the real Jesus Christ. It was the Passion Week experiences of Christ that shook me to my soul.”
Thy is a servant to the Lord these days, and a graduate of the Discipleship Program. He wonders about the possibility of Seminary on down the line and started attending Eastfield College in the Spring of 2014. In the meantime, he’s handling security at the men’s shelter which right now means working full-time overseeing up to 14 Veterans participating in a new program to UGM, Healthcare for Homeless Veterans.
Thy has overcome a lot and accomplished a lot. With Christ as the center of his life he’ll accomplish a whole lot more.
It’s now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but Chantal Kaku refers to it as the Belgian Congo, which it was when she was born there 47 years ago. After graduating high school and working a few years learning Cosmetology, Chantal moved to Chad, where her uncle was the ambassador from the Congo. It was while working there that she met her husband, a Christian who led her to Christ and saw that she was baptized. They’ve been married for 21 years, they have six children, but Chantal has not seen her husband and four of her children since 2006.
She first came to Dallas in 2005. At the time she was expecting her sixth child, Sarah. Sarah wouldn’t wait until Chantal got back to Chad, and was born in Dallas so she’s an American citizen. Returning to Chad, Chantal and her family went through a six month span of political upheaval and violence in Chad, before it was decided that Chantal and the two youngest children should return to America. She couldn’t speak English, but taught herself by watching PBS Kids, a portion of KERA’s daily programming. Sarah and now 13-year-old Elizabeth also learned English the same way. A work permit allowed Chantal to keep her family afloat here, until it expired in 2009 and she couldn’t get it renewed. She did some babysitting and cutting hair, while her husband back in Chad sold off some of their assets to send her money to keep her and the kids afloat.
She ends up at the Center of Hope in the Fall of 2010. “My faith had been beaten down, it seemed like God was punishing me. But the moment I walked through the doors of the Center of Hope I knew I was where I needed to be. My own room, my own toilet, plus the Discipleship program has been so helpful. They took me back to the beginning, making me rebuild my basics. By coming to the COH, my relationship with God has been renewed. I’ve rediscovered God as the center of my life.”
Both Elizabeth and Sarah rode the bus everyday to the Focus Learning Center in Oak Cliff. Chantal graduated from the Discipleship program in the Fall of 2012. Her plans were to return to Chad with the kids, and after reacquainting herself with her family to assist her husband, Joel, who pastors a 200-member church there.
Daren Mitchell is local, raised in Oak Cliff, he spent a year in the UGM Discipleship Program in 2001 before leaving, in his words, “because I had become arrogant.” He stayed in Dallas, spent time in East Dallas off Gaston and Fitzhugh detailing cars. Yes, there were drugs and alcohol, there was depression after separating from his wife and not being able to spend as much time with his grand kids. Sometimes the things our Disciples have gone through before leaving the streets will astound you. Daren was on his way from a convenience store one night, heading around the corner to purchase drugs when he was held up by two men, who shot him in the head and stabbed him in the face multiple times. If you’ve experienced that, you’re not supposed to be around talking about it.
About eight months ago, Daren took a personal inventory. Depressed from not seeing his grand kids, not going to church, into self. He remembered his time in UGM’s Discipleship program as a time of spiritual and emotional healthiness. He also realized that, “I left the Mission, the Mission didn’t leave me.” Friends he had made at UGM stayed in touch. Still, after realizing he needed to come back, it took Daren almost a full week to return. “Again it was my pride and arrogance.”
Once he came back, Daren Mitchell has realized his true vocational love is being around food. He worked hard as a kitchen assistant at UGM’s men shelter, and is now that he has graduated from the program, he is the cook at the Center of Hope. He wants very much to return to El Centro and finish a culinary program he had once started. He’s also taken the first steps toward healing relationships with his ex-wife, “we’re now friends,” his sister, his niece and, of course, his grandchildren.
This time around, Daren gave himself some time, enough time for him to see and understand that in Christ we become new creations.
You’ve probably seen the TV commercials where they say “cigarettes don’t always kill,” and they show a guy with one of those voice boxes because of cancer. Or they show a guy with a hole in his neck trying to communicate. Marlene Garner knows it too. 35 years of smoking two packs of Marlboros a day left her semi-paralyzed after a stroke caused by smoking. It also drove her to the RiverPointe single women’s ministry to rebuild her life.
Married and divorced four times, struggling to be able to write, unable to wash her own hair, Marlene needed help. She was paying the price for “living for pleasure and being involved in questionable events.”
But in the midst of the pain and bewilderment, Marlene found the grace and mercy of God. “I joined the Discipleship program at RiverPointe in November. God’s word has been brought to life as I progress through the phases. Understanding has come out of the study and meditation of God’s word. I truly love my chaplains for their guidance and compassion.”
God has and is continuing to change Marlene’s life. “I plan to go back to school for continuing Bible study. I have found my church home at Watermark, where I hope to serve with all my heart for many years.” Smoking can kill and will definitely damage our health. However, our God can reach down through the smoke and ashes of a shattered life and bring us back to Him.
To See James Pitts on his stage, cooking and directing others, keeping the kitchen at the Calvert Place Men’s Shelter running smoothly, you wouldn’t guess this man has recently found victory over a 22-year drug addiction. While he continues to advance through the Discipleship program, James is assistant to Jackson Zepeda in the Men’s Shelter kitchen. James has roots here at the Mission. His stepfather and brother have both gone through the Discipleship program before him. His stepdad, Reggie Thompson Sr., is currently working in a walk-in shelter in South Dallas. Reggie Jr. is working at a stone paneling business in Dallas, married and raising his three children.
In fact, it was Reggie Jr. writing Rodney while he was in prison that intrigued James enough that he came here after his release. “My spiritual walk with God has blossomed. After many years in darkness because of my addiction, it’s all about Him now.”
“Since coming to UGM, my diabetes is now under control. I’ve also repaired many fractured family ties.” James says his own life experiences and his one year at the Mission have changed the way he sees the people we serve. “I don’t see ‘homeless guys’ anymore. I see guys who need God’s direction.”
The next time you visit the Mission, as you can see, James will be glad to stir something up for you. He hopes to be in the UGM kitchens for a long time.
Born and raised in North Carolina, Joan King had a casual knowledge of God, but also had a fierce desire to live for herself. Getting pregnant at age 22 wasn’t part of her plan. After losing her mom two years later, Joan, who had two children by now, sought out her youngest son’s father. He was abusive but Joan stayed with him. They moved to Texas and Joan temporarily lost her kids when she was charged with negligence that was caused by the youngest child’s father. She did get both of her boys back, but more bad decisions eventually led to homelessness. Though Joan couldn’t see it, God was working to redeem her and give her a future brighter than she could ever imagine. While staying at the Salvation Army shelter on Harry Hines Boulevard, she heard about the Center of Hope. Joining the Discipleship Program allowed Joan to see God had special plans for her.
“Being in the Discipleship Program has helped me to learn and understand who God is and who I am. In phase 2, I’m learning how to observe and interpret and apply the Word in my life. And this is what I plan to continue to do when I graduate. I want to continue my education at a local Bible college, and from there enroll into Dallas Theological Seminary, to earn a Master’s in Youth Ministry. After finishing DTS, my biggest dream is to go to Jerusalem where my big brother, Jesus Christ, walked.
My two sons are in different places. The oldest is 23, living on his own in North Carolina with a job. My youngest is living with my sister in Michigan, getting ready to graduate high school. He’s 18. I realize now that if it wasn’t for Jesus, I wouldn’t be here at the Center of Hope. He led me here to fix my life the way it should have been.”
Joan graduated from the Center of Hope in January of 2012. She is now rebuilding her life on the firm foundation she learned about while a disciple.
Ronald Murray has seen recovery programs before. Some were faith-based, some were secular, but Ron’s experience was always the same – he left before finishing the program because of his addiction to drugs. Always he would return to the streets looking for a high, looking for a binge. But this was after Ron Murray graduated college in Louisiana and started on a successful career as a pharmacist. Ron Murray is from New Orleans, raised by a great aunt who stepped in for absent parents.
Because of leaving many programs, Ron was reluctant to share his story. However, he’s decided not “to let my past influence my present.” So, what’s different? As an addict the desire for the high still occurs. However now Ron runs to the Word of God, specifically the Bible verses he’s memorized, to escape giving in when the temptation hits. This is part of Ron’s process of “renewing his mind.”
He came to UGM in 2010 as a client accessing our emergency services. He got arrested, spent a week in jail, came back and entered the Discipleship Program. After spending 30 days in the Prospect Phase of the program, Ron went out and got loaded. But this time he came back the next day asking to be reinstated, and he was. After ten months. Ron felt God wanted him here. Ron has met God here and seen God work in his life. Ron says he’s starting to hate his lusts and temptations. He feels free to not have to give in to his addiction. He desperately wants to love God and desires God’s will for his life.
While in the basic program, Ron cleaned offices and managed the clothing room at the men’s shelter. During that time, he was grateful for his ten months of sobriety, but realizes it is only the beginning of his new life in Christ. Unlike many, he is in no hurry to finish the Discipleship Program. He’s okay with that. He’s learning to surrender his life to God here at the Mission. He knows his recovery from addiction is a daily process. So Ron takes his steps slowly, relying on God’s word, open to a future discovering God’s will for his life.
In phase three of his program, Ron was hired part-time as the Learning Center coordinator at the Center of Hope. Ron graduated from the program and now works full-time at the Center of Hope Women and Children’s shelter overseeing the Learning Center and as a chaplain’s helper in the evenings.
Disciple Reggie Thompson
If you ask Reggie Thompson what he likes most about being in the UGM Discipleship program he will tell you it’s getting to see his son every day. He and 24-year-old Reggie Jr. both came here to get free from drug addiction.
Reggie, Sr. was born in Dallas, attended Hillcrest High School, and worked for the City of Dallas’ Sanitation Department for 18 years. Reggie’s wife of 17 years passed away in 2002, but he loves her still. As he says, he loves her more now. Reggie developed a drug habit, after undergoing back surgery in 2007. When he found out his son was also using drugs, the two decided to come to UGM and break the habit together. Reggie says his son is his inspiration as they work the program together. Dad is quick to admit that the son has a deeper faith walk at this time than he does. He also knows Reggie, Jr. is counting on him to finish the program. After finishing the program, Reggie envisions he and his son getting a place together and making a home for his young granddaughter with them. (She’s seven.)
Reggie says that some others in the program are envious that he gets to see his son so often while many of them are struggling to rebuild relationships with their children. That’s one hurdle Reggie doesn’t have to deal with. While he’s growing in his relationship with God, Reggie feels privileged to get to view first-hand his son’s deepening commitment to following Jesus Christ.
Cassandra Curtis is from Orange, Texas near Houston. She doesn’t have good memories of it. Raised in a very abusive household, she had suffered physically and emotionally to the point that, at age 13, doctors told her there was so much internal damage that she should have a hysterectomy. Cassandra refused. Doctors told her she could get pregnant but she could never carry a baby to term.
She had escaped her home by age 18, moved in with a man who abused her and threw her out of a car going 60 miles an hour in an attempt to kill her. Between the ages of 18 and 26 Cassandra got pregnant and suffered miscarriages five times.
Jump ahead ten years; Cassandra has four healthy children, ages 2 thru 11. There are three fathers. She and the children moved in with the father of the youngest two after she lost her job two years ago. Another relationship where the man called all the shots and had all the power. She left after hearing about the Center of Hope. She has been there a little over a year and is in the second phase of the Discipleship Program. Her kids are healthy and being taken care of. The two youngest spend a lot of time in the Center of Hope’s state-approved Child Development Center. Cassandra has three goals upon graduation: serve God, be independent, and always lean on God. From the rubble of our lives God brings forth another miracle.
When I got to UGM last May I was broken beyond repair. I stank because I was filthy. I had gone from wearing tailor-made suits to wearing the same clothes for many days.
Before that, I spent much time and energy trying to be successful. I completed a Bachelors and a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering. In 2005, I was a Sr. Executive with a 500 million dollar corporation. I sat in boardrooms where I made decisions on multi-million dollar projects and set strategies for corporate growth and acquisitions. I played the corporate political games. I published articles, spoke at conferences, obtained numerous certifications, and traveled internationally. I chased accomplishment and achievement, but was not fulfilled.
I also thought I was a Christian who dressed nice, had the look of having it all together, attended church periodically, and sounded good when talking about the Word of God. However, I did not have a clue. I did not know anything about a true walk with Christ. I spent the time and energy to make sure that I had the next plan and goal for corporate success, but did not have a plan to walk in Christ.
I had also been using crack cocaine since the mid 1980’s. I had been through rehab several times. I had tried programs, hypnosis, narco-therapy, scientology, behavior modification, psych wards, and retreats to no avail.
Four years ago my addiction took over my life. By last Spring, I needed a safe place to go, and UGM was the place that God provided to meet my needs while he nurtured me back to spiritual health. The program cuts straight to the point – to build a relationship with Christ, to make the Word of God my standard for living, and to allow the process of change to unfold with the help of the Holy Spirit.
When you are homeless and filthy, you ask some pointed questions about life. At UGM, I have the support I need to address these questions and to get some clarity about my condition, so that I can move forward and use this experience to glorify God.
I count it all joy that I had to be broken to get to the point where I choose to solely rely on God. I am leaning on Jesus to provide a vision for the rest of my life. I am glad to be plugged into a great ministry that provides fellowship with other Christians who assist with accountability to Christ.
Disciple Kananu Mpuria
I grew up attending church with my parents. I also learned about salvation at a Christian youth camp at age 12. Although, I made no profession of faith, I thought I was saved. My high school years were lived one foot in the world and one, I thought, in the Kingdom of God; drunk some Saturday nights and in church on Sunday.
My college years were filled with hard work, trying to gain approval and meet goals. I was very competitive! I wanted to be successful in real estate, athletics or as a runway model. I was looking for a fulfilled life while waiting for my knight in shining armor. The life I sought never came. The things I did failed to fill the void in me.
In January of 2005, while listening to a man on television talk about salvation, I surrendered my life totally to Jesus Christ. Change began immediately! I reconnected with family, moved to a new city, stopped drinking and night-clubbing, joined a local church and stopped waiting for the knight in shining armor. Isaiah 54:5 helped me see the Lord is my husband! (He is my provider.)
In 2007, I walked away from the protection of the Lord due to a church disagreement – lost my job, lost my car and faced eviction from my home. I contemplated taking my life until interrupted by the voice of God asking, “What are you doing?” I was calmed by God’s voice telling me not to take the pills I had. I flushed them down the toilet!
I am now assured of my salvation, reconciled to my church and have responded to a call to full-time ministry. In June 2009, I joined the UGM Center of Hope Discipleship Program. I am learning to rest in God’s love and walk in obedience to Jesus Christ and apply God’s word to my life.
In 1976 in East Dallas, Barry Roberts shot a man to death during a dispute involving a woman. After escaping to Los Angeles, Barry was caught and extradited back to Dallas. He got 50 years, served 10, got out, violated parole, served eight more. Off and on Barry used drugs, as he says, “off and on for 40 years.” He’s been married, has three daughters. He was on the streets for three years until 10 months ago. That’s when he came to UGM and joined the Discipleship Program.
At this point you would expect this story to slow down. It doesn’t. Last Fall Barry was diagnosed with an enlarged prostate. That diagnosis turned into prostate cancer. Barry had to wait four months between being told he had cancer and getting a surgery date. It might have been longer were it not for the tenacity of UGM Medical Director, Patti Pagels, and Clinic Coordinator, Dara Thomas, who pushed Parkland Hospital to give Barry a date.
During that time Barry “got closer to the Lord.” He knew God had brought him here for a reason. He knows if he were still on the street the cancer might have progressed beyond the doctor’s ability to control it. As it is the doctors told Barry “they got it all.” However, they later found a spot on his bladder that required a scan. This spot turned out to be nothing serious.
Through it all, Barry has progressed to the third phase of discipleship. God has let him know this is where he needs to be. He was in charge of supervising the Mission’s clients when they’re in the chapel. He says, “It’s humbling. I’m just like them.” Now he’s a graduate and driver for the Mission.
A convicted murderer. A long-time drug user. A homeless man. God reaches down and tells the seemingly unlovable, you are loved more than you can imagine.