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The 700 Club

The Power of a Second Chance

ON A MISSION
In July of 1997, Bruce was asked to relocate to inner-city Atlanta to assist with the closing of The Mission Church. His intention was to serve for a few months and return to his nice suburban life. A few weeks into the process, he realized something miraculous was happening. Instead of the congregation dwindling, it was growing -with people desperately in need of spiritual nurturing as well as basic life necessities. One night a young woman approached him after the service she said, “I’ve been hooking and stripping for 14 years. Can you help me?” Bruce prayed with her and helped her a few days later find a safe place to stay, purchased her some clothes and gave her money for food and a bus ticket. The next Sunday she came back with one of her former clients. This pattern continued for several months. Bruce felt as if something important had begun and he decided to resign from the church he previously had served at for five years. He became the pastor of The Mission Church and began to reach out to the community by providing meals. This allowed him to get to know the people who lived on the streets.

ATLANTA’S 30314
There are communities who exist in a constant state of crisis. Crime, drug abuse and homelessness exist at the highest levels in these communities. On Atlanta’s Westside, in zip code 30314, decades of neglect and disinvestment have gradually taken their toll on this neighborhood. Crime is rampant, prostitution and drug deals occur in an open- air market and the majority of housing is abandoned. In the past efforts to help those abandoned in communities have resulted in quick efforts that are not sustainable which results in a loss of dignity, culture and place. Most of the people the The Mission Church served lived in the 30314-zip code.

To better serve the community, Bruce and his wife, Rhonda decided to move into The Mission Church with their children which presented some unique challenges which included: homeless guys on the front porch smoking crack,  their van being hot-wired, and multiple break ins. Life in the church was an adventure. Bruce’s daughters bathed in a metal washtub with a water hose since there was not a bathtub in the church. The girls used the sanctuary as their playroom and even swam in the baptistry. His girls could look out their window into the parking lot and see backseat romance or even criminal acts taking place.

CITY OF REFUGE
Once they settled into their new home Bruce and Rhonda began inviting folks over to the church for food and fellowship. The people who sat around the table included homeless folks, college students, alcoholics, and drug addicts. Slowly they began to build trust with these people. As their guests grew so did their list of volunteers.  In an effort to meet the needs of those in the neighborhood, Bruce founded the City of Refuge an organization rooted in the principal of radical trust. Other nonprofits usually require a drug test before offering housing, but not Bruce. He believes that the best way to improve outcomes for the marginalized and impoverished was to extend them trust, even if the trust was violated multiple times.

In 2003, after months of searching for a facility, City of Refuge was donated a large warehouse complex in the heart of 30314 and opened its doors to the community. The community began to seek more than food and shelter. They asked City of Refuge for help getting into recovery centers, to serve as advocates in court, and for job training and vocational skills. Today the organization has a 200,000 square foot campus in the 30314-zip code. Bruce and City of Refuge focus on bringing someone out of the cycle of poverty by treating all their needs simultaneously. It is a one-stop shop for transitional housing, on-site medical, childcare, and vocational training. Over 20,000 people have been helped since it was formed more than twenty years ago.  Bruce says at City of Refuge they believe, “As light and hope continue to grow communities can be transformed.”

CHANGING LIVES
Bruce shares a couple of stories from people who have come through the City of Refuge:

  • Jake – Bruce knew Jake for over a decade, but during that time he continued to struggle with addiction and mental illness. Sometimes they would lose track of Jake and discover later that he had been in the hospital or jail. He might be gone for long periods of time, but would always come back to City of Refuge where he knew he was loved and accepted. Once Jake disappeared for about six months before being released from jail. By this time, he was seventy-one and his physical and mental health had deteriorated. Instead of sleeping in a guest room at the center, Jake asked if he could sleep in Bruce’s truck with his golf clubs. Some nights he would sleep in the truck and other nights he would not show up. Then one morning Bruce was notified someone was sleeping in his truck. The person was Jake; he had died in his sleep in the truck. Bruce cared deeply for Jake. He had eaten with him and worshipped with Jake for years. His girls loved Jake. Bruce grieved the loss of his friend and could not bear to attend his funeral. Jake’s golf clubs still sit in Bruce’s closet today. He wanted things to turn out differently for Jake, but takes comfort in knowing that Jake knew he was loved and accepted at the City of Refuge.  
  • Stephanie – She was born into a family that was part of a cult that thought it was acceptable to traffic their daughters to make money. Stephanie had been raped multiple times by the time she finally escaped and came to live in the City of Refuge’s safe house. At first, she didn’t make eye contact and would have violent outbursts. Slowly she became more cooperative and started showing up for times of worship and responding to prayer invitations. Stephanie was eventually able to embrace a new life and new identity.

Since the inception of the human trafficking component of City of Refuge which began five years ago, they have been a part of the restoration process for more than seven hundred women.

 

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Guest Info

Guests
Credits

Author, Trust First: A True Story About the Power of Giving People Second Chances, (Optimism Press, 2019)

Founder and CEO of City of Refuge, an organization that has helped over 20,000 people in Atlanta and beyond by equipping them with job training, housing, etc.

Senior Pastor of the Mission Church

Graduated from Lee University in Cleveland, TN

Speaker and Consultant to nonprofits around the country

Married to Rhonda

Five daughters

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