After a week of reading, writing, reflecting and riding around the Daytona Beach area in search of something that really stands out as worth exploring, I was coming up empty.
Since I say I am trusting God to lead in this adventure, I decided there was no sense in feeling frustrated and figured I just needed to roll with it. I decided to look for some live music and just kick back for a Friday evening. Well, God leads in mysterious ways as they say. A Google search for “live music Daytona Beach” returned information about wild looking nightclubs, biker bars, dives and a coffee shop called Jakob’s Well. Hmmm, that looked promising, so I clicked and found myself at the website for Daytona Outreach Center, a ministry that provides rehab and housing for homeless addicts. Digging around, I found an interesting looking program that was no nonsense discipleship. I fired off a quick email to the founders but decided to pop on over to the coffee shop since it’s less than a mile from where I am staying.
While I was chatting with the man at the counter, Susan walked out of the backroom, overheard me and said she had just received my email. She then introduced me to Tim, the coffee shop manager and what a story he had to tell. It seems that he was a homeless addict just walking the streets a couple years ago when Susan’s husband, Ray, pulled him aside. Ray asked a simple question of Tim. “If I offered you a place to live with no strings attached accept that I would also teach you about Jesus would you like that?” Tim asked for a few minutes to think about it, went and smoked a cigarette and came back to Ray after about ten minutes and agreed to the simple terms. That was over two years ago and Tim never touched drugs again. He now follows the same simple discipleship process of watching the crowds at various gatherings, asking the same basic question of guys he feels the Lord leading him to speak with. Some look at him like he’s a bit crazy but others respond much as he did. Over the past several years hundreds of homeless addicts have found hope through this ministry and now both Jakob’s Well and The Daytona Outreach Center Thrift Store are managed and operated by men who have been through the discipleship program.
Later that evening I went back for the live music and Tim introduced me to Ray Kelley, the man who started it all. Ray sat and shared his story with me for the next two hours. He had been a successful businessman but hung with a rough biker crowd and got into methamphetamines. After their “chef” got busted, Ray became the new meth chef and set up a mobile lab, a la Breaking Bad. Susan was a good Christian wife who made sure her family got to church every Sunday but in a moment of weakness, she finally gave in to Ray’s invitation to try a taste of meth. One try was all it took and for the next five years Ray and Susan lost everything they had. Over one 18 month period Ray told me, they burned through $900,000 and didn’t buy a single home or car or motorcycle or any major tangible item. They became two homeless addicts who hated each other. They went their separate ways and continued to self-destruct. Eventually, Ray says, he was homeless, helpless and hopeless and he cried out to God, not for salvation but to take his life. As Ray put it, God’s answer to that prayer was, “No.” Instead of dying, Ray began to feel just a little bit of peace. Since God didn’t strike him dead Ray asked God to deliver him from his addiction and God did just that. From that day, nearly ten years ago, Ray never touched the drug that had ruined his life. He got in line with God’s plan and purpose and eventually he and Susan reunited and began ministering to others together.
One Friday night a few months later Ray had been asked to lead a Bible study at a homeless outreach program in Daytona Beach. Ray says instead of leading a Bible Study, he got to preaching to the small group of seven people and while he was preaching he sensed the Lord telling him to take them all home with him. He said he tried to ignore the voice and kept on preaching – louder to try to drown out the voice he was hearing. But he couldn’t quiet the voice. When he was through preaching he went to Susan and shared with her the sense he had, hoping that she would tell him it was ridiculous and out of the question. Instead she smiled and said, “Praise God!” Ray protested and knew it wasn’t a good idea but Susan said if it’s really God speaking to you, you can’t refuse, even if you think it doesn’t make sense.
Ray described these seven characters as, two men who were bi-vocational (pimps and drug dealers) three women who were “self-employed entrepreneurs”, a teenage runaway and one just plain homeless addict. Oh yes, Ray and Susan also had a 15 year old daughter still living with them at the time, so they called to prepare her for what they were bringing home. This family of three was suddenly ten living in a three-bedroom house. That first weekend the runaway and one of the pimps took off together, but the other five stayed and were discipled by Ray and Susan. For the rest of our time together Ray shared story after story of the adventure they have been on and God’s provision time-after-time (including a recent $10,000 award from CBS and USA Networks in their “Characters Unite” program.) Over the next several years, God provided more homes for little or no money and has lead Ray and Susan to begin these social enterprise programs to provide jobs and generate income for the ministry. Ray admits that what they do is unconventional and in some peoples minds, dangerous, but no one argues with the results. Hundreds of homeless addicts have been rescued, discipled and trained to reproduce. As Ray declared to me, “We’re just crazy enough to do what he tells us to do.”
As we ended our conversation Ray said, “if you want to see another cool ministry you won’t find publicized anywhere, you should check out the Sunday morning service at Sun Splash Park. Every Sunday at 7:00 am, there’s a great service for the homeless and the residents of an assisted living facility that’s right across the street.” Wait till I tell you that story – incredible!