Love Conquers Violence: Shawn’s Story

Shawn was the priest of a warlike religion, Asatru, for 15 years, committing acts of violence in the name of the Norse gods.

But what happens when a priest of Odin and Thor has an encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

In a word? Transformation.

Ever since he was little, Shawn’s life has been ruled by violence.

“My stepfather used to beat me up a lot,” says Shawn. “Then I found out he was hurting my sister. At fourteen, I attacked him.”

It was an act that got Shawn sent to juvenile prison. But instead of rehabilitation, the years he spent there only confirmed violence was the answer to life’s problems. That belief sent Shawn back to prison time and time again. As an adult, he found a religion to justify his worldview — one that not only accepted violence, but actively encouraged it.

“Prisons are run by gangs. I cliqued up with the Aryan Brotherhood, the Skinheads, basically the white supremacists, most of whom are Asatru. I became a priest of a religion that shouldn’t even be called a religion, really. It’s more of a license to hurt people. It teaches that everyone else is the enemy, the only people who matter are your own and to take what you want through violence. It’s horribly self-serving.”

That all came to an end when an encounter with God brought this priest to his knees.

“I have a daughter and when I got out of prison the last time, in 2017, I found out she was pregnant. Being a grandfather made me want to change but, instead, I went back to drugs. That sent me to Valley Hospital where they gave me a list of the halfway houses and recovery programs in Phoenix.”

Scanning the list, one in particular caught his eye.

“It was Phoenix Rescue Mission. My mother is Christian. When I read that they offered a year-long, Christian-based recovery program, I thought that would be the best way to reconnect with my family.”

He never imagined what would happen next.

“I was here maybe two weeks. We were in the chapel and they were playing Christian videos. The song Oceans came on and I flashed back to the last time I had heard it. It was in the car with my mom."

"Suddenly I had this epiphany of how my mom has always prayed for me and what it means to be Christian, and I started bawling. I hadn’t cried in twenty years!”

But God wasn’t done.

"All of a sudden, everything made sense. I hit my knees. Through the tears I saw a picture of Jesus up on the wall. In my head I told Him, 'Okay God, you got me.'

Then this was crazy. Right after that, a voice in my head responded with, 'I've always had you.'" He laughs.

In an instant, God was able to reach into Shawn’s life and shatter the worldview that had held him captive for decades.

“From that moment on, I got baptized and I started taking recovery seriously. Ever since then, my resolve has become stronger and stronger. All I’ve done most of my adult life is hurt people. I want to spend the rest of the time God gives me helping people.

Your support not only made that transformational moment possible, it’s giving Shawn the tools he needs to follow his new direction.
“I applied for the Ministry Training course because I want to follow a career path that helps people. To that end, Phoenix Rescue Mission also helped me earn my Microsoft certification and enrolled me in the peer support specialist course which I graduated from as well. I’m 46 years old. I never thought I would start out on a new career path, but God has made that possible for me.”

No longer a man of violence, Shawn’s worldview had been turned upside down. Today he’s focused on rebuilding his life, the lives of others, and his relationship with his family.

“My mom and dad live up in Prescott. So do my brother and his kids, and I go up to visit them whenever I can get passes. Every time I talk to my mom she yells, ‘Praise Jesus!’ She’s just so happy. Unfortunately, I influenced my daughter to be pagan and she hasn’t come to Christ yet. But I’m working on that.” He laughs.

“Who knew that there was this oasis of God’s love sitting right next to a jail in Phoenix? It saved my life!”

Recovered 5 Years Ago: Where Are They Now?

It seemed like Lance and Dawn had been running from their problems all of their lives.

“We knew we had a problem with alcohol,” says Lance. “It got to the point where I was making sure we had vodka in the morning to avoid the shakes and the withdrawals. When it got too bad, we’d move somewhere else, thinking we’d be able to stop drinking.” It was an idea that they tried over and over again.

“We lived in Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, California… but the whole time, we were the problem. You can’t move away from yourself!” Lance laughs.

It was during a move to Oregon that they reached the end of the road. Their car broke down. Reaching out to friends and family, they formed a plan to head to Phoenix. But only one of them would get there.

“We got as far as Vegas where we got into a fight and separated. I called my sister, who got me a plane ticket to Texas, and Lance continued on,” says Dawn. “I didn’t know it at the time, but he ended up at the Mission.”

I got in and it was just what I needed,” Lance remembers. “I was able to put the world on pause and study the Bible. The great pastors here helped me through. The whole time I was praying that my wife was okay. One day, out of the blue, Pastor Gabe found me and said, ‘God put this on my heart. We need to find your wife.’” Working together, they found Dawn through an old email account.

“When we got to talk on the phone, I told her, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I found what we were searching for. I found the answer.’ And she took her last paycheck, flew to Phoenix and we got her into the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center.”

But that was five years ago. Did the transformation take? Or was Phoenix just another stop on a long road of addiction?

We’re happy to report that both Lance and Dawn have been clean and sober for the past six years! After being baptized and graduating from our recovery program in 2015, they moved back to Texas for a bit, but are back in Phoenix and planning to stay.

“Coming here was the greatest decision we ever made,” they say. “We should be dead or in jail. I mean both of us have been hospitalized before because of alcohol, but here we are. It changed our lives! Sobriety is just a fringe benefit of the relationship with Christ that we found here. We’re doing great, our marriage is great, and it’s because of the Mission.

What didn’t kill Sergio pushes him to save others

“It was excruciatingly hot. I always did what I could to stay out of the sun.”

Sergio knows how dangerous it is to be caught on our sweltering summer streets. For five long years, he did what he could to keep cool, to keep hydrated – to stay alive.

“I would stay in abandoned trailers and sometimes hide out in the library. I’d only come out once the sun went down to search for businesses with spigots to get water.”

Thanks to God’s mercy and Sergio’s resourcefulness, he survived. But others haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, the heat claimed the lives of 197 individuals in Maricopa County* – the highest ever recorded – and this year is shaping up to be even more deadly.

Thankfully, the way out you provided Sergio didn’t just save his life. Today he’s back out on the streets with Code:Red and the Hope Coach on a new mission – to save others before it’s too late.

Sergio’s story begins in childhood. He’s been struggling with addiction ever since he was eight years old.

“I’ve been to numerous programs, but never experienced more than 3 months of sobriety. Just constantly relapsing and getting worse every time.”

His family tried their best to help, but found themselves at a loss.

“They didn’t know what to do with me. My brothers and sisters are all successful hard workers. Then you got me coming around with two kids, in the middle of a separation, drunk and addicted…”

Eventually, his family kicked him out and Sergio became homeless.

“I started smoking meth on a daily basis. When that happened, things got really crazy. I was hearing voices, thinking crazy stuff, having terrible episodes and believing they were true. I was hungry and digging out of dumpsters every day. The meth messed my mind up so bad, I thought people were making fun of me, that they were talking about me, that they were inside my head, listening to everything I was thinking.”

Thankfully, his family recommended he give Phoenix Rescue Mission a try.

“After five years, I was done. I could see I wasn’t able to stop my drinking and drug use on my own. I wanted out of the heat, away from the hunger and the shame. I was ready to walk though those gates.”

What he found inside changed everything.

“I’ve tried recovery so many times. But this time it’s different. Here I’m around brothers who really want to change, leaders who really care about me, and about everyone else’s well-being. If something was missed, it’s quickly dealt with. That’s different. I’m used to a lot of shadiness, manipulation, to the point where people are using drugs in the program and getting away with it. There’s none of that here.”

When asked what makes the Mission’s recovery program different from his attempts at recovery in the past, there’s no hesitation.

The main difference was where they pointed me to – they pointed me to Christ. They taught me to open up the Bible. Now, if I have a craving or a crazy thought, I give it to God. It’s encouraging seeing other guys doing the same thing and watching the Holy Spirit move them into success.”

Today, Sergio is a proud graduate of our recovery program. He’s sober, he’s completed our Servant Leadership Training and even our rigorous Ministry Training programs.

“My family came to the graduation and they’re all super proud of me, especially my mom and dad. I could see it in their faces. It’s always been a struggle between me and my parents. I thank God every day that they can finally see me going in the right direction.”

Now that he’s sober and safely off the streets, Sergio is making his return as the newest member of our Street Outreach team. Monday through Friday, you can find him out on the Hope Coach giving others a chance to find the help and hope he’s found at Phoenix Rescue Mission.

“I love it! We’re connecting with people out there, giving them water, hygiene supplies and right now, because of the coronavirus situation, we’re handing out sack lunches to anyone who is hungry. It’s building that relationship with these people who are struggling, and meeting them where they are: in parks, outside stores, and in washes all throughout the city.”

And not a moment too soon – things are already heating up.

April 26th through May 1st represented the second-longest streak of consecutive triple-digit days in April in Phoenix since 1896, and marks only the third time in recorded history we’ve experienced five or more 100-degree days in April. Summer is still four weeks away, but the deadly triple digits are already here.

But with the prayers and support of friends like you, despite the heat, despite the virus, hope is moving forward – for Sergio and for hundreds more just like him this summer.

“It’s a blessing. It’s definitely not something I would have ever envisioned for myself. I was just looking for sobriety, but recovery is so much more than that, it’s growing in seeking the Lord, depending on Him and being a vessel for Jesus Christ.”

*“Heat-Associated Deaths in Maricopa County, AZ Final Report for 2019.” Heat Reports | Maricopa County, AZ, Maricopa County Department of Public Health, 2019,

Where are they now? Tiffany 5 years later…

When Tiffany Sorenson graced the cover of our newsletter back in January of 2014, we told her story of repeated success and failure. Despite reinventing herself again and again, she could never get past the unhealed emotional wounds from her past or the alcoholism that always accompanied it.

Over the years, her addiction had cost her peace, a college degree, employment and eventually, her hope for the future.

“At one point I needed two 99-proof shots in the morning just to even out,” she admitted. “Peace was missing inside me and I stopped trying to figure out how to get it back.”

That is, until she connected with the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center. With the support of our counselors and staff, Tiffany was able to confront and overcome the root of her addiction for the first time in her life! But that was five years ago. Where is Tiffany now?

The simple answer is: busy!

Even before leaving the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Tiffany was busy giving back. In her final months, she worked for Safe Haven, a shelter for mentally ill homeless adults, and went back to school to finish the double major of psychology in criminal justice her addiction had forced her to give up on.

She graduated soon after, with honors and a 3.8 GPA, in 2015. Bachelor’s degree in hand, she earned a position as a case manager at Terros Health where, eight short months later, she was promoted to team leader as a clinical coordinator, leading one of the best performing teams in her clinic. While she worked at Terros Health, she also interned at Catholic Charities as a domestic violence counselor, and later at Chicanos Por La Causa Corozon as a substance abuse counselor.

At the same time, Tiffany started down the path of earning her Master’s degree in Social Work from ASU, adding an additional 20 hours of classes and study time to her already busy schedule, and graduated in 2017. Whew!

Today she serves as a therapist for Terros Health and is still hard at work improving herself and her ability to help others around her. She and her fiancé bought their first home 18 months ago and have set a date to get married in May!

But through all her success, Tiffany hasn’t forgotten where her life turned a corner or the friends she made while she was here. She keeps connected with other alumni through Facebook and the occasional lunch to catch up.

Tiffany’s is more than a life changed. Throughout her career, she will go on to touch and change more lives than we could ever have imagined. God’s mercy, your support and Tiffany’s hard work made that happen. We’re so proud of Tiffany! And we’re thankful for your support that gave her the chance to shine.

The Thankful Give Back


This Thanksgiving season is a time to remember what God has done in and through our lives and to count our blessings.

You might think that would be hard to do for someone in Lesa’s position. She lost her eyesight in one eye due to a stray bullet fired downtown. She lost her daughter to a bullet fired by her daughter’s friend. Now she lives on disability, and funds and food are tight. But amazingly, Lesa is still smiling.


Because of a little place you make possible, called Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Hope for Hunger Food Bank.

“I was at a nightclub one night and some people started fighting,” remembers Lesa. “I left to get a taxi and that’s when I heard some shooting. I started running, but then I blanked out. My friend said I went down grabbing my face. I’m not sure, but think something ricocheted and hit my right eye. I lost half my eyesight.”

Ever since that day, Lesa’s gotten by with the help of disability. But even with disability pay, sometimes the ends just don’t meet.

“A couple months ago I was getting low on food and I was looking for a job. A neighbor of mine knew about Hope for Hunger and he brought me up here. I heard they gave out food boxes, but when I got here, there was even more.”
Expecting to find help filling her pantry, she also found friendship, and a hand up.

“Ruben [Hope for Hunger Case Manager] helped me out with getting my state ID. He even helped me get this job with the convention center. I couldn’t see the application form on the computer, the type was too small, so Ruben sat and filled it out for me. I got an interview the next day!”

The whole process made a huge impact on Lesa. Now, every morning, Monday through Friday, Lesa walks 45 minutes from her home to serve as a volunteer at Hope for Hunger from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

“I help make the food boxes, pass the food out, and work the parking lot waving people in. I also help greet people and load the food in their car. This food bank is a good thing. People coming in can get help just like I did. Just sit down and talk with them, tell them what you’re going through and they can help you get through a lot of things.”

Lesa speaks from experience. After losing her eyesight and her daughter, she was in a dark place. Thanks to God’s love and the support of friends like you, she didn’t stay there for long.

“I saw it all cave in on me after I lost my daughter. But you can’t let it knock you down. You’ve got to keep going, because there’s a God and he’ll show you a better way. You don’t know what God has planned for you. That’s how you meet people like Ruben, very good people who put a smile on my face. As long as they let me keep coming here to get that smile, I can make it.”

Through your support, Hope for Hunger helps hundreds of families every month make ends meet, enabling them to stay safe and off the streets. But as the holidays approach and the numbers looking for hope this holiday season begin to swell, we need your support all the more.

If you’ve never had the privilege of handing a box of nutritious food to a hungry family, or help someone like Lesa connect with resources that can change a life, visit to sign up today!

Of course, we don’t all have the time or the ability to lend a physical hand. A financial gift works just as well to keep families safe this Thanksgiving!

No matter how you partner with us, you’ll know that, this Thanksgiving, when Lesa and hundreds of families like hers sit down to enjoy dinner, they’ll have a new reason to be thankful…