“I was 10 years old.”
Randy’s grinning as he tells the story. He’s clearly getting a kick out of this childhood memory.
“Sunday mornings, my mom always grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to church. And after I got there, I was kind of forced into the choir. I had to stand up there, with a choir robe on and all. I didn’t want to be there, in front of all those people.”
But years go by—and in Randy’s case, decades—and a person can change. These days, Randy can’t wait to get “up there, in front of all those people.”
He’s not wearing a choir robe. But he is wearing a big smile. And he’s leading the worship at the chapel services of The Union Mission’s Bashford Men’s Shelter. There’s no spotlight, but Randy is very much in the light. He’s come out of the darkness of some troubling times, embracing the faith of his youth, leading the Mission’s shelter guests in his favorite hymns, like Amazing Grace, I Surrender All, and Just a Closer Walk with Thee.
Come to think of it, those three titles could very well be the chapters of Randy’s life . . .
Randy’s been through his share of dangers, toils, and snares, including a season in which he thought about ending it all. His first marriage ended after he says his wife cheated on him. Then in his early 30s, Randy fell into a deep depression, and became suicidal. But he had just enough wits about him to go see a pastor, who prayed with him and helped him find hope.
“God brought me through that,” says Randy. “There’s a reason I’m still here.”
A grace that’s amazing is certainly part of that reason.
Randy’s second marriage also ended in divorce. It was another dark time. In more recent years, another relationship fell apart when Randy’s partner became abusive. He says she would kick him out of the apartment, then beg him to return—a cycle that kept repeating. “Then I’d go back like a little dog with his head hanging low and his tail between his legs,” Randy says. “It’d happen again, and I’d just go right back again…and again.”
Finally, Randy had had enough, and he left.
With no place to go, he spent one night on the streets, sleeping on a downtown Norfolk corner, at the intersection of Brambleton and Church Streets. Before dozing off, he looked up at the 83-foot granite monument towering over the area—a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King. Having just broken away from an abusive situation, Randy felt like he’d gotten a word from Rev. King himself: Free at last.
A police officer roused Randy in the middle of the night and asked if he was okay.
“I’ll be fine. As a matter of fact, I’m going to head down to The Union Mission.”
Once lost, Randy was about to be found.
When he walked through our doors, Randy didn’t realize he was stepping into a new chapter that would define the rest of his life. He quickly connected with Rev. Raymond Evans, one of our case managers, who took Randy under his wing and helped build him up. “He’s been a mentor to me,” Randy says. “I thank God for him, and for the Mission. They’ve been an inspiration in my life.”
Randy started volunteering in the kitchen. When staff saw his work ethic, they asked if he’d like a paid position. For Randy, it was a no-brainer. He ended up on the serving line, a job that brings this jolly man much joy.
“I love to minister to the gentlemen as they come through,” he says. “I love to see their smiling faces when they get a meal…”
“Everyone there has been through something, or they’re going through something right now, so I try to lift them up.”
Randy’s life at the Mission was going well—so well, that he became comfortable with it. While we certainly want our shelter guests to feel safe, secure, and loved, we don’t want them to become too comfortable. Though Randy had joined the RECLAIM transitional program, which gives participants a longer timeline to achieve independence, the goal is always to find sustainable housing, to get them out on their own again, living their best lives.
Rev. Evans works with a HUD program called Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, and he’s had a lot of success getting our men into affordable, sustainable housing in Norfolk. He has cultivated relationships with many local landlords, recommending tenants who have been through the Mission’s programs. For those who are approved, TBRA’s grant money covers a large portion of each month’s rent; the tenant picks up the smaller part, and must pay for his or her own utilities.
So when Randy’s time approached to make this move, he was reluctant. He’d become a little too settled at the Mission, and he feared he couldn’t make it on his own. After all, he was 62 years old…and he had never lived alone. Rev. Evans sat Randy down for a heart-to-heart, telling him that people at the Mission who love him and care for him go home every night to their own place. Evans encouraged Randy, giving him the courage and the confidence that he was ready to make the transition. Randy listened, and eventually agreed. He decided to surrender all, after all. And he started packing for his move.
Randy has been in his new place—a 2-bedroom apartment not far from the Mission—for a few months now, and he’s thrilled!. All those fears about independent living have fallen away.
“I was scared to step out on my own,” he says now. “But then I realized that people at the Mission were just trying to help me. The Lord placed it on their hearts to help. Now I see that.
“I love it here,” Randy continues, looking around at his new digs.
“I love the Mission, but it’s nothing like coming home to your own place.”
Randy points to a new widescreen TV—a gift from a friend at the Mission—and says he’s eager to have some men over for pizza and watch some football. Though Randy loves the San Francisco 49ers, Rev. Evans, an L.A. Rams fan, is at the top of his list.
Randy’s also looking forward to connecting—and reconnecting—with members of his family. He has remained close to one daughter and her children who live in the area, but he doesn’t have a relationship with his other daughter. She lives in Atlanta, and he hasn’t seen her “in a long time. I’ve never even met her husband.”
Till then, his 8-year-old granddaughter has stolen his heart. She showers him with love like only a little girl can. “She jumps on me and hugs me,” Randy says, “saying, ‘Pop Randy! Pop Randy!’” He can’t get enough of it.
He hopes for a family reunion someday—“I’ve never been to one,” he says—but knows it may not happen any time soon. “I’m trusting God for something like that,” he says. Randy also dreams of traveling, naming Hawaii and Italy as his top destinations. How about that: Here’s a man who just a few months ago was nervous about leaving the Mission. Now he’s talking about getting on a plane and flying halfway around the world. “I didn’t know what I was missing before I started living on my own,” he says. “But I’m glad God steered me this way.”
“If you listen, He’ll lead you to the right place. Just let Him guide you.”
Randy then cites his favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
For Randy now, it’s just a closer walk with Jesus. Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
— Mark Moring for The Union Mission
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