“I am fifty-seven years old, and last August I had come to the point where I no longer wanted to live,” Curtis began. “I have two daughters from two different relationships, and since it had been over twenty years since I left them, I had lost all hope of reconciling. The emotional pain of separation from my children had been eating away at me for a long time—but I had no one to blame but myself. I guess if I’m being truthful, I’ve been pretty good at running away from just about everything except a life of substance abuse. That was a constant.
“I’ve done every kind of drug there is and suffered the consequences that followed, including five years in prison. Last August, after being hooked on meth and shooting heroine, my body basically said it’d had enough. With no one around and no way to get help, I went into a sugar seizure that lasted eight hours, and I eventually suffered a stroke.
“The pain in my body was excruciating, and the only relief was through the morphine and other painkillers the doctors gave me during my month stay at the hospital. I had tubes going in and out of my body everywhere, and I just wanted it all to be over. I told them to get me unplugged and take me to hospice. I just wanted to die. I was tired of being tired, and I made it very clear that if my body shut down, I did not want to be resuscitated.
“They transferred me to hospice at a facility across the street from your church, Gary. It’s interesting to me now because I actually knew you before I knew you. As you are aware, you, Randy, Dave, and Guy come over to that hospice once a month to minister to the residents with worship and prayer. That is where I first saw you. You probably don’t remember, but I wasn’t very engaged with what you were doing. In fact, I used to sit in the back and heckle you some. I had no idea your church was across the street.
“As my days and weeks passed in hospice, my body continued to weaken. The pain worsened, and my desire to die accelerated. I was to the point where funeral arrangements were being made, and I had even written a letter to each of my daughters as a last-ditch effort to ask their forgiveness for all the ways I’d let them down. It wasn’t how I wanted things to end, but I saw no other option. All that was left from my perspective was to ask God for mercy and wait for my body to stop breathing. I had many regrets.
“You see, years earlier, during my time in prison, I had developed a pretty good relationship with God. I used to spend hours walking around a cinder track there talking to Him and thinking about how my life would be different once I was released. But my good intentions disintegrated once I got out, and I turned back to my old ways of drugs and consequently to this state of sickness and despair in hospice. Now it was only a matter of time. Every day, I would tell God I was ready to die, and my life was in His hands. I expected and hoped to die soon, but for some reason, He wasn’t as interested in that plan as I was. My life lingered on.
“A few months ago, the pain became so unbearable I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was stuck in a wheelchair, but I came up with a way I thought I could hang myself. I went out in the middle of the night, crawled up on top of a short wall in front of our building, threw a rope over a pole, and put my head in the noose. But as God would have it, as I was trying to secure the rope, I lost my balance and fell out of it. He spared me.
“In the very next moment, I came to my senses, realized what a terrible thing I had tried to do and felt ashamed. I began to cry and asked God to forgive me for even thinking of such a thing. I looked up, and through my tears, I saw Shiloh Chapel—your church, Gary—and I sensed there was some connection between what God had just saved me from and that place.
“I’ll never forget the Sunday when I wheeled in the front door for my first service. I immediately felt something. I could sense the peace of God engulf me, and that confirmed everything. I knew Shiloh Chapel was supposed to be my church, and I knew God had something more for me to do. That Sunday, I rededicated my life to Him, and everything began to turn around. Since then, I have been able to reconnect with my daughters and have gotten to know my only grandchild. In fact, next month, I’m going to take a trip to see them all. I still deal with pain, but it is nothing compared to what it was. As you have probably noticed, I’m only in the wheelchair part-time, and I’m starting to get around more with a walker or a cane. More important than any of this is that I have started living again. I now look forward to church, and I believe God wants me here to help somebody else. I feel like He has given me hope, and I want to share that hope with others.
“Gary, I also believe God brought you and I together. I say that because a few weeks ago, you were speaking and sharing a little about your time in prison. The things you shared brought back memories of similar things that I experienced. You even talked about how you used to walk around a cinder track and talk to God. It made me smile, and I thought, ‘Yeah, there’s probably a cinder track in every prison that has been a place of refuge for guys like us to talk things over with God.’ Then you mentioned the name of the prison where you were incarcerated. I couldn’t believe my ears. That was the same prison I was in. That was the same track I had walked so many times.
“And the same God who answered your prayers, answered mine.”
In 2010, I was in a time of prayer, and I sensed the Lord tell me that He wanted me to start a church that would be a place of welcome for those who have a heart for prison ministry and especially those who had been incarcerated themselves. I told the Lord at the time that if He was really speaking to me, He needed to make it so obvious I couldn’t miss it. I did not want the financial pressure that usually accompanies the costs of renting or buying a facility to hold the services.
Within three months, through a series of what I believe were divine appointments, I became the pastor of Shiloh Chapel. It is a small church, but it is debt free, and more importantly, it has all the right people and is in the prefect location. How do I know it is the perfect location? I just figured it out when I met my new friend, Curtis, from across the street.