As long as Chris Ortega could remember, he’s always wanted to be a high school football coach. He loved the complexity of the game and had an innate passion for inspiring others to push themselves to their very best. But before he could take his first step towards that dream, he was blindsided by a decision at age 16 that would destroy his life.
If not for the support and prayers of friends like you, Chris would have been out of the game – forever.
Chris can trace the moment he lost his footing back to a party he went to when he was 16.
Chris remembers, “Someone was passing out pain killers at the party and I figured ‘why not? I’ll just try a couple.’ But it wasn’t a one-time thing… I didn’t know it yet but I was hooked. After that night my life changed… I lived two separate lives. There was the football group I hung out with at school and there was a completely different group of friends that I did drugs with in secret.”
Chris maintained his image as a drug-free football player for a while, but soon pain killers weren’t enough. At 18 years old, he switched to heroin to boost his high. It wasn’t long after that he lost everything.
“I got behind the wheel one night to go on a joy ride. I was drunk and high when a cop flashed his lights behind me. I panicked… and I ran. I ended up crashing my parent’s car and went to jail. Since it was my first offense I was out the next day… but I couldn’t go home after that… and I didn’t.”
Chris couldn’t hide his addiction anymore and because of it, he couldn’t face his friends and family. For the next 3 years, Chris lived off the generosity of his druggie friends, moving from couch to couch.
“20 to 23 was a blur. Every day I would wake up, get stoned, get high, and then wake up to start it all over again. I hated it… I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
So he made a decision to try and start over. He left Phoenix for Tucson to put distance between him and the source of his drug habit. But when he got there, he found work wasn’t as easy to get as he thought. After a few weeks of job hunting, Chris ran out of funds and ended up homeless and sleeping in a park.
“There was nothing good about my life at that point… I knew I had screwed up and I wanted to die. But then one day a married couple walked by my spot in the park. I asked them for the time and we started talking. They told me about Jesus and how he had a plan for me. Then they asked me point blank, ‘Would I accept Him as my Lord and Savior?’ I thought ‘Why not?’ and told them yes. As soon as I said it, I suddenly I had a weird urge to get up and walk.”
Chris walked out of the park. Then he walked a few more blocks. Then he walked all the way across town to the only person he knew in Tucson who directed him to the Phoenix Rescue Mission. Chris knew he had been led to the Mission for a reason but he didn’t have a way to Phoenix. Trembling, he picked up the phone and, for the first time in years, called his parents to ask for a ride. The next day, he was outside our doors.
“Right away you can feel it when you walk through the gates – there’s definitely the presence of God at the Phoenix Rescue Mission. They gave me a Bible right away, taught me how to read it and you know what? It made sense! Pretty soon I could understand it on my own and I couldn’t put it down!”
Because of friends like you, Chris had a full year to study his Bible, work with our counselors, serve alongside our staff and grow in his newfound relationship with Jesus Christ. Today Chris is a graduate of our recovery program. He’s free from his addictions, employed, living on his own, and best of all, back to working towards his dream! His goal is to become a math teacher and football coach at Central High School and is currently working on a major in math with a minor in education to qualify.
“Trust me, I was the biggest skeptic before I came here. God stuff? That’s all make-believe! But I found out that’s not true. God is very real. It’s because of Him I’m still here, I have hope, and I’m a brand new person today!”
The Gift of a Smile!
Homelessness and addiction does damage to a person’s body in a lot of different ways. Fortunately, much of it tends to fade away during recovery thanks to ongoing counseling and a steady diet of nutritious food. But one area of the body doesn’t repair itself so easily.
Missing and fractured teeth, severe decay and chronic mouth pain are a common occurrence in the women we serve. Long after recovery is over, the damage done to the teeth remains – and becomes a daily hindrance to our graduates looking to move forward with their new lives.
Fortunately, all that’s about to change for our women at the Changing Lives Center!
A few weeks ago, our women in recovery were asked to attend a presentation from Smiles Beyond The Bars, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated men and women receive sorely needed dental care.
Our women were told prior to the event that one of them had been selected to receive all the dental work they needed absolutely free. Anticipations were high; every woman was wondering who would be the lucky one to receive this once in a lifetime gift.
Then came the announcement that none of them expected – Linda Parker, the founder and president of Smiles Beyond The Bars, told them that every single one of them could look forward to receiving a new smile free of charge!
Shrieks of excitement echoed off the walls of the chapel, women hugged one another and tears started to flow. No longer would they live in constant pain, be self-conscious at interviews and be reminded of their past every time they looked in a mirror.
But that wasn’t the end of the surprises.
Francis Tesmer, a board member of Smiles Beyond The Bars and part owner of Rolf’s Salon, also announced that after their teeth were taken care of, she would be giving each one of them a full makeover at her salon! Again, the shrieks of excitement were deafening.
We want to thank Linda and Francis for blessing our women in this huge way and giving each one of them what they need to smile with confidence and shine to God’s glory!
We serve a God who loves a long shot.
Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the heroes of Scripture. Moses, Joshua, David, Gideon, Nehemiah, Peter – each one of them nobodies, until God got a hold of them and used their lives to turn the world upside down.
The good news is He’s still doing it today.
Chris is a prime example. A year ago he was miserable, sleeping in a park and ready to die. There was nothing inspiring about him, no one would have figured him for a leader – until God reached out and gave him a reason to live. Today Chris is coaching students in his free time and is well on his way to reaching hundreds more as a living witness to the power and love of Jesus Christ.
What we do here is more than feed the hungry; we produce those who God has selected to change the world. I want to take this moment to thank you for your partnership that makes this vital work possible.
Together, we’re making our world a better place, one life at a time!