It was a different time. Post war, the baby boom was in full swing. With a surplus of babies, both planned and unplanned, illegal selling of children on the black market to parents unable to conceive, became a dark and hidden stain on America’s timeline. If this surprises you, imagine how John’s parents felt when a doctor who was brokering these shady deals, actually sought them out and offered them $500 to part with their new son. Of course, they said no. Despite rejecting the doctor’s offer though, John’s mother had a lot on her plate on top of a newborn.
A mother of eight, she did her best to be the disciplinarian in place of her often-overseas merchant marine husband, on top of all her regular duties as “mom.” Again, it was a different time, and expectations of a mother were much different than today. Having a seven year old daughter who was fascinated by the sight of her little brother, their mom gave her John as a birthday present. Big sis started caring for John like he was her own personal doll to feed, change, rock to sleep, and to care for. From that point forward, his sister became the nurturing “mother,” while his mother took the harder authoritarian role of “father,” driving fear into the hearts of her children when it came time for punishments.
At the age of six, John experienced something that in 2020 would warrant a child services call, but again, these were different times. It was Christmas morning, and his dad was able to be home for Christmas that year. John and his brothers and sisters had woken at 3am with their mother and started opening their presents, while their dad still slept. Pulling out a wind up choo choo train, he was so delighted, he just had to show it off to his brother. But his excitement woke his father, causing him to send six-year-old John to sleep out in the outhouse—in December. His mother quickly brought him a blanket, and she said that everything would be alright in the morning. It’s a wonder he didn’t freeze to death that night. It was then that he realized the most powerful thing he’d ever learned. God alone was his Father, and his “pop” was just the man who sired him. At that point, he developed a true father-son relationship with Jesus. He devoted every waking moment to learning more about the man who died on Calvary and about God who promises to always be there to hold us, even in our darkest moments. That passion for the Lord never failed him, and it continues to this day. In fact, his legal name is incredibly John Saint Divine.
While John’s dad was away working on oil tankers, his mother started losing her grasp on reality. It started with small things, but eventually it escalated to the point where the older kids couldn’t keep her reality in check anymore. One day, their mother started saying that she would hurt the children. John’s oldest brother heard her deranged rantings, as she was asking for a shot gun so she could kill them all. He cleverly deceived her into thinking that he was looking for the gun, while another sibling worked to get all the other children to safety and alert the authorities. He was still a very young child when he and all his siblings were removed from the home and scattered among various family members. Ultimately most of the children landed in an orphanage with authorities unable to reach their father and having sent their mother to an institution. Again, it was different times back then.
Within a year, John’s father returned, and reclaimed the children. The damage had been done though. Being shuffled around, suffering mental and physical abuse, plus the children’s mental state to have their own mother try to kill them, and then be sent into an orphanage, must’ve weighed heavy on them all.
At age 17, John joined the Navy where he served for two years before being honorably discharged. After leaving the Navy, he felt no real course for his life other than his passion for God. Feeling called to a greater purpose, rather than work till he died and achieve no great thing, he preferred life on the streets, where his time was his, and he could spend all his time learning and growing in his faith and witnessing to the other homeless people that he surrounded himself with. Despite being on the streets for most of his adult life, he did have a home from time to time, and during one of these times, God gave him a vision. In his vision, God told him, “If you follow me, you will play as good as the masters.” John became a musician and talented pianist. So in between studying the Bible and spreading the message of the Gospel, he also studied and practiced music.
In spite of his relationship with God, he came out of the Navy with a drinking problem. While he had periods of sobriety, he fell back into his addiction in 1988 when a trauma hit him very hard, and he ended up back on the streets again. He moved from Oregon to Oklahoma, back to Oregon, and places in between. In 2017, he was able to get off the streets through a veterans program while he was in Oregon. It was during this time that he learned that his youngest sister had terminal cancer. He invited her to visit, but she stayed, living out the rest of her days with him. He cared for her all the way up until she passed. And then he was back on the streets again.
The homeless in Corvallis, Oregon had changed though since his last experience with homelessness. They were somehow meaner, and it was more dangerous to be on the streets. It was recently when another homeless person came up from behind him and hit him in the back of the head, inadvertently breaking his neck. All his things were stolen, and he was left for dead, but thanks to the grace of God, he pulled through. He moved back to Idabel to be near family and friends, sensing that the end was near because of his injury. He drank for 3 days straight and no longer wished to live. Concerned for him, the Idabel police department brought him to Saint Francis in Muskogee, the nearest facility providing psychiatric help. After he became stable, they referred him to us, here at Gospel Rescue Mission.
Being a faith-based facility, we are the perfect place for John. It gives him an opportunity to spend time with God in a safe environment that encourages a relationship with the Lord. Our guests might currently be without a home, but that’s not who they are. That is just their current situation. It may have felt to John at times during his 35 years living on the street, that being homeless was a permanent status. But, these are different times.
A final thought he left us with as the interview concluded is that “there is a blessing in everything.” There is a blessing in sleeping in the cold because it can inspire you to better yourself. There is a blessing in going hungry because it drives you to make changes in your behavior so that you don’t go through that again. And there is a blessing when you find a place to lay your head at night, even if it’s a temporary bed at the Gospel Rescue Mission, because instead of just finding food, clothing, and shelter, you’ve found hope, peace, and the love of Christ.