When God Uses a Burrito [Alex’s Story]

A quick bite changed Alex’s life when nothing else would

Over the last eight years, Alex has survived severe car accidents, the wrath of the cartel, and multiple overdoses. His friends and family all cut ties. He’s lost job after job, and he even spent six months on the streets. None of it served as a wake-up call for Alex.

“The last time I overdosed, I was at a Circle K. These random people picked me up. I was smoking fentanyl powder when it happened. Luckily, they pushed me out of the car in front of the hospital. When I woke up, the doctors said I was lucky it was cold that night, and the nurse found me when she did. I guess my heart stopped. I called somebody to come pick me up and started getting high again on the way back home.

In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Dude, this is the third time, and I’m still not dead. Nothing can stop me. Obviously, I’m not meant to die, so I’m going to keep doing it.’”

Despite the setback, God wasn’t ready to give up on Alex. He had something special in mind to finally get his attention.

It was a burrito.

“I was walking home at like 1:00 in the morning. Well, not home, but to one of the abandoned houses I was staying at. A group of people I know would hang out by this office complex and they always had food. So I stopped there, grabbed a burrito, and as I was walking away the cops pulled up and said we were trespassing. They pulled my name, found I had a warrant, and I got arrested. If I hadn’t stopped for that burrito, I would have been high and overdosing again in no time.”

In jail, Alex reached out to everyone he could think of for help.

“I tried calling my son’s mom, and she said she couldn’t help me anymore. That she was done. I called my mom but she wasn’t interested in talking with me. My dad said he wanted nothing to do with me ever again. Then mom said, ‘We love you, but obviously we’re not helping you. You’ve just got to be in jail.’”

Then help came from an unexpected place – you.

“My public defender told me he knew of some program that I could get in, and I’d probably get early release if I was willing to do it. In my head, I’m like, ‘You’re just a public defender. You’re not going to do anything.’ He gave me the number to Jussane [Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Director of Community Engagement].”

Alex’s plan was to show up at the Mission and then leave.

“When I got here, I wanted nothing to do with this place. I was like, ‘These are some weirdo people. This has to be a cult or something. They’re happy for no reason. Everyone keeps asking me what I want, or if they can get me something.’ I was sure they wanted something from me.”

Despite the culture shock, Alex found himself sticking around – and God went to work.

While in Phoenix Rescue Mission's recovery program, Alex "gave that whole God thing a chance" and joy began to return to his life.
As his life was transformed, Alex was reunited with his son, and he’s been in his life ever since.

“I just remember one night I was sitting in chapel, and they were playing this song. And I don’t know why, but I just started crying. It was the first time I cried in, I think, three years. I was like, ‘God, if this is you trying to tell me something, I don’t understand. I don’t get it.’ Then I got this weird feeling. Everything felt like it was gone. Like a weight was gone. It was easier to breathe… I don’t know how to explain it. Everything just felt different.”

That’s when Alex’s life took a different direction.

“I don’t know, it’s like I just finally caught myself being one of those weird people. I started getting happy. I actually wanted to be here. I started giving that whole God thing a chance and things started changing right away. Like everything started working out.”

But it wasn’t just Alex. While God was hard at work on his heart through peer counseling sessions and classes in our recovery program, He was also mending the hearts of those who cared for Alex.

“I ended up talking to my son’s mom, which was a surprise, because she wanted nothing to do with me. She sent me pictures of my son and things just started working out. When I was able to start making phone calls in Inner Healing [the second phase of Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Recovery Program] I was able to call my son and talk to him for the first time in about a year and a half. Then she let me see him again. I’ve been in my son’s life ever since then.”

And as Alex continued to improve, he saw his relationships with his mom and dad heal, court charges were easier to pay back or were dismissed entirely through Homeless Court, and he started to make friends with the weirdos who helped him through it all.

“I’ve always heard so much stuff about rehabs, and that’s why I was like, “I’m never going. They don’t care.” But the staff actually cares here, like Richard Heitz [Lead Street Outreach Case Manager], he’s the one that picked me up from jail. Jussane, she didn’t even know me, and we spent a week on the phone, talking. And she talked to my mom for me, while I was in jail. She’s the reason why I got in here. And then, Richard Jones [Recovery Coach], he’s been amazing.”

Today, Alex is transformed. He’s sober, a graduate of our recovery program, and soon to be married to the mother of his son, Zander. He’s got a great job that he loves, he’s working on earning his CDL and has just bought the first car he’s ever owned. For the first time in a long time, Alex has a bright future ahead of him.

“I was nervous about being on my own again. But I realized, maybe like a weekend into it, that I’m set. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know how I’m supposed to be. And I know what I need to do if I need help. It’s kind of like school, everything they taught you there [at the Mission], was for a reason. You don’t realize how much you need it until you leave. The leadership stuff, the parenting classes – it helped me a lot, especially in having patience with this little guy,” Alex says, hugging Zander.

Alex still can’t believe God started it all with a burrito. And of course, he’s grateful to you for making everything, post-burrito, possible.

“Because of you, you gave me a chance at a life that everybody gave up on me for. Because of you, I have my kid. Because of you, I know how to be a man now. And because of you and this place, I’m alive. If I hadn’t come here, I probably would have been dead. It’s just crazy because I wouldn’t have all this if it wasn’t for the Mission and for God and you. I’m grateful for everything.

As a graduate of our recovery program, Alex now has the tools to navigate life successfully. He has a job he loves and will soon be married to his son’s mother.

A Heavy Blessing [Sam’s Story]

Literally held hostage by his addiction, Sam knew he had to run if he was going to find lasting transformation

His second time through our recovery program, Sam couldn’t help but feel like he was missing something.

At 23, he had an addiction to heroin and methamphetamine that rivaled most of the older guys on campus. But even though he was going through the same motions, attending the same meetings, studying the same verses – he wasn’t making the same progress.

“I thought, ‘Why can’t God just take away this addiction so I can get back on track?’ There are people who get sober in 30 days and never look back. My friends from high school were getting their degrees, getting married and having kids. Why was I here again sharing a room with 40 other guys?”

God had two words for Sam: heavy blessing.

“Some blessings come without a cost. But intensive recovery, that’s a heavy blessing. God does a miracle, but He expects you to put in the work.”

Sam admits that’s not where his heart was on the first two attempts.

“The full surrender wasn’t there. I grew up in the church, so I knew all the right things to say, but I put up boundaries. I was saying, ‘Help me out in this area, but these areas of my life, those are none of your business.’”

Sam left the Mission the second time because his heart told him he was ready. But he wasn’t prepared for what his addiction had in store for him.

“I let people live in my townhouse that I shouldn’t have to keep my habit supplied. It became a complete drug den. I sat there and watched it all happen. Near the end there were between 60 and 80 people a day cycling through to buy drugs or guns or other things. People were getting hurt. My own habit was skyrocketing.”

Dangerous people moved in. Men with guns kept a close eye on the house at night. Sam was limited on when he could leave, where he could go and how long he could be gone.

“They let me know that if I was away for too long, they would assume I was snitching on them. If that happened, it wasn’t just me who would have a problem — they would go after my family, too.”

Sam had become a prisoner in his own home. Worse, he had become an addict with access to unlimited amounts of drugs.

“My body was starting to shut down. I was on a $300 to $400 a day heroin habit in addition to a lot of meth. I was extremely sick; I didn’t have control over my own thoughts.”

Then God gave Sam a nudge that may have saved his life.

“I had this feeling that something big was about to happen. It wasn’t paranoia, I feel like God was throwing me a bone. It was a now or never deal. I didn’t want to go back to the Mission after where I’d been, but I knew it was either that or die here.”

At 2 a.m., Sam quickly packed a backpack, slipped out of the house, and ran for his life.

Your support gave Sam a place to run to.

After finally surrendering to God's plan, Sam has become a peer support specialist, a certified chaplain and is currently pursuing a degree in Substance Abuse Counseling at Grand Canyon University.

“I knew there were people at the Mission who cared about me. I decided, even if I don’t like what they tell me to do, this time I’m going to do it. I wanted to find out who God is.”

Just as Jesus has done for us countless times, we welcomed Sam back with open arms and helped him start on the long road ahead.

“In detox, I was awake for 37 days. I don’t remember most of it. I know it was hard to walk, they [Phoenix Rescue Mission staff] would pick me up and move me from one bunk to another when I got sick. I remember that as I started to get my strength back, they would make me get up and walk with me out back. God used them to help heal me.”

When the drugs finally left Sam’s body, something amazing happened. He headed into recovery with a hunger we had never seen in him before.

“We were skeptical of any changes this time,” says Sam’s mother, Shannon. “Because of Covid, there was much less interaction, but we would get a 2-hour visitation pass every now and then. I don’t remember if it was the second or third time, but my husband and I both walked away thinking, ‘He’s definitely different.’ There was a maturity and a humility there that he didn’t have before. When he told us that he was leading worship, we couldn’t believe it.”

“This time I had a real moment of honesty with the Lord,” says Sam. “I told Him, ‘I don’t know you the way I thought I did. I’ve had a taste, but I’m still thirsty.’” Sam has never been the same since.

Today, he’s clean and sober once again. But he’s more than that – he’s transformed. Beyond becoming a graduate, he’s become a peer support specialist, a certified chaplain, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling at GCU, all by God’s leading.

“I didn’t want to go back to school,” Sam admits, “but I wanted to do something for people and my resume is extremely thin. I want to be able to say I’ve got life experience, but I’ve also got credentials. So, this is where God is leading me. Again, it’s a heavy blessing. I’m trying to trust and obey… to love people the way Jesus does.”

Sam’s parents are still shocked by the change, but grateful for your support that made it possible.

“The Mission took care of our son when we had no clue what to do,” says Shannon, “and they did it with grace. There are a lot of rehab places, but for us, the faith-based part has to be there. Because that’s where the difference is. Behavior modification is great, but if at the end you have the same heart, it’s not real change. They restore the person on the inside and we feel privileged to give and support that.”

The change she’s seen in her son has also inspired her to get more involved. Shannon serves at our Hope for Hunger Food Bank and is a mentor for one of the women at our Changing Lives Center.

“God is good and He’s got a good plan,” says Sam. “He didn’t give me an easy blessing. It was hard and it still is today. But it’s been the best one. Life keeps getting better.”

Sam's mother, Shannon, and his father are both grateful for your support of Phoenix Rescue Mission, which allowed Sam to find the love and help he needed for a transformed life. 

A New Way to Food Bank

A New Way to Food Bank

We cannot wait for families to come to us. We must go to them.

By Nathan Smith, Chief Program Officer

The pandemic has shown us just how important it is to be flexible. It’s changed how we work, how we order food, and even how we get our groceries. Our Hope for Hunger Food Bank adapted as well, reformatting to serve drive-up lines and provide contactless forms.

But it’s not enough.

In my work at Phoenix Rescue Mission, I’ve seen the impact that barriers like a lack of transportation or the inability to afford healthy foods have on disadvantaged communities. I’ve seen children set up for lifelong battles with chronic health issues because their bodies are starving. The experience has made one truth abundantly clear: we can’t continue to wait for families to come to us.

We need to go to them.

It’s a truth I confirmed through a year-long research fellowship with Arizona State University’s Knowledge Exchange for Resilience.

After nine months of collecting data from nearly 10,000 individuals served at both our Hope for Hunger Food Bank and our current mobile food pantries, we found that minority and immigrant families are nearly 200% more likely to go to a mobile food pantry versus a brick-and-mortar pantry.

The results were clear: traditional food banks will always be essential, but to significantly reduce food insecurity, we needed to invest more in mobile outreach.

To that end, we’ve already begun bringing new mobile food pantries to underserved regions of the Valley known as “food deserts.” Every week, we’re serving up hope in new areas that lack fresh food, produce and other essentials.

It’s exciting! But this new outreach is dependent on financial support as well as donations of non-perishable food and hygiene items. In other words – hope like this doesn’t happen without friends like you!

Serving these areas will do more than fight hunger – it will open up opportunities to connect families to services aimed at ending poverty, like vocational development, job placement, emotional or mental health services, and addiction recovery services.

Our neighbors need our help. Let’s break down the barriers that prevent people from seeking help!

Where Are They Now: Brianna 6 Years Later

Back in 2007, Brianna was young, overworked, and the victim of some pretty awful advice.

“I was working 16 hours days, I had my son’s father’s family with me and I was just exhausted. I was a pharmacy tech at the time. Someone gave me some heroin and told me it would help me sleep, and it did. I was clueless about how you can get addicted and how it can ruin your life.”

Brianna quickly found out first-hand. Over the next five years, her heroin addiction cost her everything – her job, her home, her freedom, even the custody of her son.

“I had really burned some bridges. I was lying and cheating and stealing from everybody. I was in jail multiple times. We were homeless for about a year; it was bad.”

It was her stepfather who convinced Brianna she needed help and pointed her to Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center (CLC). Here she found the relationship and the recovery she needed to break her addiction, earn back the custody of her son, and learn how to become the best mother she could be.

“When I first went to the CLC, I wasn’t really a religious person. I didn’t believe God could do anything for me because He wasn’t real, it was just hope. But I found God here and He gave me the strength to move forward.”

Brianna graduated from our recovery program in 2014, but that was six years ago. Is she still moving forward? The answer is a resounding, Yes!

After leaving the Mission, she found a job at Forever 21, followed by a position in the billing section of a medical office, where she’s been employed for the past 5 years. She found the love of her life in 2017, got married and nine months later, had a beautiful baby girl on her birthday! Her son is also doing great; he just made the all-star hockey team.

"Back then, I thought that I was a good mother, but I wasn’t. I’m still making up for lost time. My son’s a great kid, he plays hockey, he’s great in school, he loves his new father, who thankfully has no sort of addiction in his life. We finally get to live how we’re supposed to live.

Brianna is another great example of the lasting change you make happen here at the Phoenix Rescue Mission – not just for individuals, but for their kids and families alike!

“It was life-changing being at the CLC. What I’ve gone through, I hope it gives others hope. Things can get better. YOU can get better!”

Mission Possible Cafe Grand Re-Opening