The guests at the local rescue mission who hear Paraclete associate Bill Sturdivant preach a sermon call him “Pastor Bill.” They come up and ask for prayer, sometimes a hug. They’re experiencing homelessness and sometimes hopelessness, but Pastor Bill is not so different from them.
“When I look out at them, I know who they are,” he said. “I know what they’re feeling in the depth of their souls. I know the despair, the hopelessness, the loss, the confusion. I know it because I’ve experienced it.”
Bill Sturdivant grew up with two alcoholic parents and all the dysfunction, rage and despair that came with that environment. He joined the Navy at 21, but soon, also, fell into addiction. The Navy sent him to treatment. And Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program helped him recover from his addiction. He met his wife, Marty at AA. A few months after they were married, she reconnected with her faith in a way that brought her Christianity alive. At first, her change caused friction in their marriage. But then one day, he started reading.
“I’ve always loved to read,” he said. “
I ran out of reading material, had the day off of work, and I saw the four spiritual laws tract. I read it and I intuitively knew that what I was reading was the absolute truth. I got down on my knees in my house—I had never opened a Bible in my life—and said, ‘God, this is Bill speaking. I believe that your son, Jesus, died on the cross for my sins, please forgive me all my sins. Come into my life.’”
The experience changed his life. He went to seminary and now he loves to bring people “out of darkness into light.”
His ministry moved them to Europe, where they worked with refugees, who experience their own sort of homelessness, abuse and hopelessness. They need a lot of practical help, and many responded to the hope that can come with knowing a loving God.
“(We have) passion for these hurting people who are needing to begin a new life,” he said. “How can we come alongside a refugee from the Middle East, practically? ‘We’ll take you and help you get your kids situated in school. You need to learn English? There are classes right now that we offer. A doctor, dentist? Oh, you need housing? Let’s help you find housing.’”
He and Marty moved to Oregon 20 years ago, where he pastored a church and she worked as a chaplain for a women’s shelter. He’d help out there sometimes, too, trying to be an example of a safe man for women who rarely experienced that. Since then, he’s also preached at the Portland Rescue Mission and has made connections at the Union Gospel Mission of Salem. He’s also helped local churches develop and implement outreach programs to serve those experiencing homelessness.
COVID has hit the community hard, as most rescue missions and shelters won’t let them meet in large numbers. That means gatherings for chapel services haven’t been an option. That hasn’t stopped Pastor Bill’s advocate heart for them.
“If you can get them to see how much God loves them, and communicate that, and hearts are open just a little bit, then they can see tremendous change,” he said.
For those with major mental illness struggles who are unlikely to see major change, he says his work mostly focuses on loving them, showing them honor and being present in their brokenness.
“You’re coming in every day, and showing them: ‘God loves you and we love you,’” he said. “’Here’s another meal and a blanket. You need a place to stay tonight? You need a bathroom? You need to take a shower?’”
Scripture is never far from his mind. He and Marty’s life verse—through 44 years of sobriety, by the way—is 2 Timothy 4:5.
“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Learn more about or donate to Bill and Marty Sturdivant’s ministry: https://www.paraclete.net/associate/bill-marty-sturdivant/