LUIS | “I want my mom to know I’m alright”

Photo by John Docter.

When homeless men and women come to chapel at The Salvation Army in Las Vegas, they see Luis — who goes by J — and have a spark of recognition.

J teaches the Bible study and preaches in addition to his regular role as the groundskeeper at The Salvation Army’s social service campus on Owens Avenue.

Photos by John Docter.

The homeless guests know J from somewhere, but they’re not quite sure where.

Usually, they see him on the campus in his groundskeeper uniform. They’re not expecting him to stand behind the altar with a Bible in his hand and give the message.

“It took a minute for me to come to grips with people referring to me as ‘pastor,’ because I’m not a really a pastor,” says J. “But I am to them.”

No matter what role J plays, he’s doing God’s work for the people He loves. Photo by John Docter.
“A lot of bad choices have lead me to the person I am today,” says J.

At one time, he was living in a 5 by 5 foot storage unit, struggling with depression and the fallout from a failed marriage. And he was in and out of prison for drug crimes.

He was referred to The Salvation Army by a Veterans Administration program but he walked away, not ready and not wanting to “live with homeless people” and get the help he needed.

Then, a mix up with the authorities who thought he’d broken parole in Texas put him back in jail for a few weeks. He lost his job and apartment because of that mix up so he came back to The Salvation Army.

J cares for God’s creation on the Owens Avenue Salvation Army campus. Photo by John Docter.

The Army’s program helped him sort out his life but it was the spiritual awakening that changed J the most. His faith in God’s promises helped him see things differently.

He still hasn’t spoken to his mom in 16 years. He’s talked to his dad recently but his mom won’t speak to him. “They have no idea who I am today,” says J.

More than anything, he wants his mom to know that he’s a different man and that he’s finally okay.

“In the past, I would have asked for God’s help, then gone my own way,” says J. “I’m just letting God lead me from now on.”

J and Nancy in front of the cross at The Salvation Army’s Owens Avenue campus. Photo by John Docter.

J met a lady on the bus and invited her to come to his Bible study. She brought her neighbor Nancy who is a 25-year member of The Salvation Army church.

He and Nancy married in February of this year but not before J called her daughters to let them know. That was Nancy’s idea.

Now he stays busy serving God and The Salvation Army, offering those homeless men and women — who he couldn’t identify with at first — the kind of hope that saved him and gave him new life.

PHOTOS by John Docter

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1 Peter 2: 9 —

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
New International Version (NIV)