Joe: ‘I’m here to change my life’

Joe remembers when he was 8 years old, and for a couple of years after, learning about becoming a deacon. “I was a Christian and I’d go with my uncle and study,” he said. “I planned on being a deacon in the church.”

But when he was 12, his parents divorced. “Neither of them really wanted us so we went to our grandparents,” he said. “My dad was in jail, my mom was running the streets. I took care of my brothers and sisters. That’s why I got involved with drugs. It’s all I knew and I wanted to take of care of them.”

Joe grew up in Barstow most of his life and got involved in criminal activity at 12; that’s also when he started drinking and doing drugs.

When he was 16, he had his first daughter. After he had a second daughter, he said he noticed a change. “Slowly I noticed God calling me back,” Joe said. “I never had any sort of hatred for God. I knew he was looking out for me, but I didn’t want anything to do with him. But I knew people were praying for me, and I started seeing prayer answered.”

Joe and his girlfriend had their third daughter, and Joe wanted a different life. “We were both doing drugs really badly,” he said. “I wanted to stop, get cleaned up, and go to church. But a month later, she kicked me out. She still wanted to live that life. We separated.”

Shortly after, Joe was charged with a serious crime and was facing two life sentences. “I went to jail under false allegations,” he said. “I thought that was it. But I felt God calling to me. I was out in four months (when the charges were dropped). It was my first and only time in jail—I’ve never been back. I think the Lord was showing me, ‘This is where you could end up.’ I told some friends, ‘Sometimes hard-headed people need the hardest wake up.’ That was mine.”

Two years ago, Joe’s mom died, and five months after that, his girlfriend died. “I was mad. I (told God), ‘I’m here, following you, and you took away my mom and my girlfriend.’ I stopped caring about myself and whether I lived or died. I lost my job and the house me and my girlfriend had together. I was in a year-and-a-half downward spiral. I did more drugs and alcohol during that time than I’ve done in my whole life combined.”

Joe was on the streets and was burned out. He found the Victor Valley Rescue Mission, a sister mission, and sought help. After six months, Joe left after meeting a girl. Their relationship only lasted a month before he was back on the streets, but Joe stayed sober through it all. He reached back out to the mission, and they led him to Renewed Hope. “It’s been a blessing,” he said. “There is no other word to describe it.”

Joe recently helped out with the pop-up pantry the Mission put together in response to the COVID-19 crisis. “It was so amazing to be a part of something so big,” he said. “I was blown away. All my brothers, we put in our best effort. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life—be of service. I was selfish for so long.”

Joe wants to go back to school, and is interested in culinary management. “I want to do ministry with that,” he said. “Cooking is my passion, and it’s my greatest hobby. When I feed people, it makes me feel good about myself. It’s just a blessing knowing people are fed. When my parents got divorced, I started cooking. It was therapeutic.”

Joe’s been at the mission for nearly eight months. “I like how they keep us busy but not too overwhelmed. Sometimes you don’t want to go to class, but I just remember, ‘I’m here to change my life.’ I was so selfish with my time for so long. I’m now giving my all to getting this new life that I want. I’m doing the work, volunteering, getting out of my comfort zone. It’s awesome. I’m giving it up to God, because that’s truly where my strength comes from.”