A very devastating event just happened in my life. I recently lost my father. With my sorrow, I took comfort in knowing that he gained heaven. Even though I have the incredible privilege to run the River of Life Mission, like all of you, I face real life on a daily basis.
Losing my father has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever faced. I am sure many of you are no stranger to loss and can understand the anguish. As it dawned on me that Father’s Day is approaching this month, I had to contend with the fact that I’ve lost my best friend. In fact, he was the best man in my wedding. We talked every day for the last 15 years, and one of the hardest things has been to not hear his voice each day. My dad impacted thousands of lives, not only as a missionary, but he served alongside me for the past 30 years of my ministry as well.
My parents moved to Oahu with to support us in the ministry at the mission. I would come home every day and my father would ask, “So what happened at the mission today?” Each and every day they prayed for our ministry, for the leadership, and they even prayed for each of you as friends and fans of the mission. So, I decided to write this month’s letter in loving memory of my dad, Don Gates, and answer again his daily question “So what happened at the mission today?”.
It all starts on my first day back into the office after some time away to mourn with my family. I came back on Monday, but I was still quite sad. But I heard my dad’s voice saying, “Paul, it’s okay, go back and join the work of the Lord at the mission”. So off I went, not knowing what God had in store. My head was lower than normal as I sat at my desk, but about half way through the day, Aleni, one of our amazing staff members, walked in to tell me he’d been connecting with a gentleman for the last 5 days and he was downstairs and interested in turning his life around. Ethan had been on the streets for over 10 years, which is classified as “chronically homeless”, with typically very little chance given by most organizations and people to ever turn his life around and make positive changes. Aleni and I stood with Ethan on the street and I asked him to tell me a bit of his story.
Ethan had an amazing life. He had married his high school sweethearts. They did everything together and ended up moving to Hawaii. It was a dream come true for both of them. But one day Ethan’s wife just up and left. Ethan was devastated! He lost his way and the loss was just too great. Through tragic turns of events and self-admitted, poor choices, Ethan ended up on the streets. Crippled by a lack of hope, driven deeper by the despair of drug use. This went on for over 10 years, until Ethan met Aleni at the River of Life Mission.
Ethan is now at a 1 year, live in, discipleship program where he will grow in his walk with Jesus and be mentored into a life of significance and positive influence. And as if my first day back couldn’t get any better, I received a text message from a staff member that one of our volunteers had just made a decision to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior for the first time.
The reason I tell you this story, is because it is exactly why we have implemented changes at the Mission. We knew we had to do things differently. We had a long history of providing meals for people in need, with the hope that a simple meal would lead to greater conversations of faith in Jesus and life transition. And in the blessing of growing so big, we realized that the small simple conversations were becoming more challenging. So we decided to go mobile, to meet more people where they are at, and to provide care and meals in smaller contexts and smaller groups of people – so we could have deeper conversations. You see, we have realized that on average it takes 4-5 days to gain trust, and build a relationship, that then leads to Jesus and the potential for transition. As you know, people living on the streets are facing much greater challenges, and much greater emotional trauma, than most people living in a more stable environment. So it just takes time. And our new vision for mobile ministry + meals is giving us that space to have these life changing conversations.
Mission Update: as you are aware, many false reports of the Mission closing our doors in April are still circulating. But what we want to shout from the rooftops is that we are far from closing. In fact, the launch of our Mobile Meals + Ministry Program was so successful that our ramp up time from one distribution site to 4 distribution hub sites was complete in 1 week instead of the 3 we anticipated. Currently, we have networked to increase our sites by another 2 sites for a total of 6 hub spots.
But are we really reaching those in need? YES!!! Our numbers show it. During April at our hub spots, we served over 13,000 meals as well as distributed hundreds of hygiene kits and articles of clothing. Our staff actively provided referrals and placed 10 people into transitional housing and life skills programs. Even more miraculous is that our ministry teams during that same first 4 weeks of our Mobile Meals + Ministry program helped lead 7 people in accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Honestly, we wish we had implemented this program years ago to witness this spurt of new fruit.
So to my father, I end with this, “Dad, I did go back to the Mission and join the Lord’s work. And what is happening at the mission is exactly what you prayed for every day. God is moving, as He has promised. And the place God loves to move most, is in the lives of His people. And it is happening! So to truly answer your question, “What happened at the mission today?” was nothing short of miraculous!
Pastor Paul Gates