Former Guests

Roy Watson

My Story as a Missionary to the Homeless

There are still times that I wonder how it came to be that I am the missionary to the homeless for Berkley Community Church. Yet, at almost 70 years of age I can look back over my life and see how it came to be. At the age of 20 I had plans to become a department store manager by the age of 50. Yet instead, I became the executive director of the Welcome Inn Day Center for the Homeless at the age of 48. On the first day that we opened the Inn I thought to myself “what am I doing here, I don’t know anything about helping the homeless.”
However, completely unknown to me, at the time, my plans changed at the age of 21 when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior! Interestingly it was on Christmas Day of that year. I was reading about the Nativity Story in Matthew and John when I experienced God and accepted Christ, in my heart! Not long after that my mother and I moved to Australia where, eventually found myself in the outback of Australia, operating a retail store in a remote community, teaching Aboriginal natives how to operate a retail store. The area I was in was called Ramingining, Arnhem Land. The people of this area are called Yolngu. I was learning how to speak their language so as to be better able to communicate with them.
This teaching program was through a government sponsored program. During this time my goal, instead of profit, was teaching retail operations so that when some of the young people went into the cities they would be able to get retail jobs, Then, a change of government and the program abruptly ended. I found myself with my mother in the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory, homeless and without a job. My solution (or God’s) was to get a job selling houses and so be able to buy one. During all these years I was a very practicing maintenance alcoholic.
I always thought that as a Christian I really couldn’t be an alcoholic. Well, reality set in as I began to realized I was and that it was a problem. I soon realized that if I got sober God would bring me back to all the things I had been doing but do it without alcohol. Of course, he did that in a great many ways. I went into rehab while I was in Darwin.
Eventually we moved back to America, living in Maryland and Virginia. Then, after my mother died I moved back to Michigan where I was able to combine my hobby, reading, with my work, retail sales and managed bookstores. Eventually as general manager for Dickson’s Bible Bookstore.
For various reasons I decided to leave Dickson’s and a long time friend asked me to join him in the financial services business. Which I did with my goal being that after meeting people they would be in a better position for meeting me. After 30 years of retail management when I could only celebrate Christmas from about 7:00 pm on Christmas Eve until the day after Christmas at 8:00am when I had to be back in the store for all the refunds. Business was moderately good and one of the benefits of the business was that between Thanksgiving and tax time people didn’t want to see me to find out “how to make and save money.” I really enjoyed this aspect. I had also been thinking that I had been reading and studying the bible for 30 years and it was really about time I started to live it rather than just study God’s word.
So, with essentially, all this time off during the winter, our former pastor Peter Carlson asked me if I would like to be the Executive Director of the Welcome Inn Day Center for the Homeless. I thought Executive . . . Director . . . . go in, make sure everything’s running well and go home. Boy was I wrong! After I met the board chair for South Oakland Citizens for the Homeless (S.O.C.H.) and found out that it wasn’t really a program, just a concept and I would have to create the entire program from just that concept. I left the chairman’s office drove to the church building, went into Pastor Pete’s office, sat down and told him “I don’t want to do this, it’s too much like work and I think I’m past putting in this much effort.” (Uhmm Jonah maybe?)
Well, needless to say, Pastor Pete wouldn’t let me back out. Thank God! Several years later I had to thank him for not letting me back out, because I had discovered my life’s work! I had gradually backed off from my business, to spend more time at the Inn. When the recession hit on 2008 my business completely collapsed. Perhaps, had I not been so focused on the homeless folks at the Inn I might have saved it but I simply let it go.
Then, during the summer of 2010 I started to become very ill. After numerous tests by October of that year I was diagnosed with liver and kidney failure, due to alcoholism! 20 years after having stopped. Fortunately (God’s Will?) Beaumont Hospital was in the process of developing a new procedure of doing simultaneous liver/kidney transplants. In order to be able to get certified in this new procedure Beaumont had to pay for the first 10 transplants as insurance companies and Medicare would not pay until they were certified.
In order to get the liver and kidney I would need to get both from the same donor, deceased. I can recall a volunteer at the Welcome Inn asking me about not being able to wait for the transplant. My response rather mystified him when I said, “yes and no.” I explained that in order for me to live, which I wanted to do, someone had to die. As it turned out it was a 14 year old girl, that died of head trauma in a car accident that God had decided to take to be with him. We were not able to meet the young girls parents, to thank them, but my wife was able to sent a brief note. She stated, essentially, “I would like to express to you, on behalf of my husband and myself,  our extreme gratitude at your gift of life that you have given to my husband. We also want you to know your gift will not end with my husband but go far beyond him because he helps between 300 to 400 homeless folks each year and your gift will also help them as well.”
It was about this time that Pastor Adam asked me if I would like to become the missionary to the homeless for BCC. It didn’t take much persuasion for me to say yes. While I had a renewed dedication to continue doing what I do I couldn’t continue putting in 60 plus hours each week during the winter program so I chose to step aside as the executive director and go on the board of directors for SOCH. This would still allow me to be at the Inn and be with the homeless guests without all the administration work to operate the Inn. During my years at the Inn the folks would not only respect me but would listen to me having been temporarily homeless and even more so a recovering alcoholic. With the financial support of BCC, I was able to assist the folks with monetary needs that the Inn didn’t have the funds to cover. Also, I wouldn’t “preach” to the folks, I would prefer to be know by my acts. My goal was to have them see Christ in me. Not only by what I said but what I did.
Since God chose to take my wife, 2 years ago, who gave me unwavering support in what I do, even though she would have much preferred to have me home with her, especially, during the overnight programs, she understood why I had to do it. Although, while I have lost my wife’s support, I definitely continue to have God’s support! I see it, feel and believe it every day! Since my wife’s death I no longer occasionally have to pay for someone to stay in a motel for a few days, in an emergency situation, I have let them stay in my home instead. Much cheaper. Can I say I have brought people to Christ, no I can’t. I like to believe it’s like John 4:37. If I can plant the seed of Christ, help it grow God will have someone to harvest. In the last 20 years God has granted me the most fulfilling experiences of my life!
Now, as I said at almost 70 years of age, in retrospect, God “trained” me to be a missionary to the homeless. Saving my physical life, at least 3 times, my spiritual life, taking me to the outback of Australia, with a communication difficulty, making me an alcoholic, homeless and I think, having God’s word in my heart, always wanting to help people improve their situation. All these experiences help me do what I do. Also, in memory of that young girl and that I believe that God kept me alive to continue to continue in helping the least of these. So, for these reasons, I will to the best of my ability, continue help the least of these and I as I do God continues to be with me and help me each and every day.
Roy Watson