“Lisa, you’re going to continue the work I started,”
Uttered my grandfather as I sat at his bedside during the last days of his life. He had been unresponsive for two days, but this day,
he sat up in bed, looked me in the eyes and said these words. I was stunned, too shocked to really understand or let the words sink in.
Over the next few months following his death, his words echoed in my mind and rooted deep within my heart. I honestly thought it meant I was following in his footsteps because I served the poor.
My grandfather, Ray Chastain, was a yardmaster for the railroad in the 1950s, which meant he watched the “hobos riding the rails” as they hopped from town to town. Though he wasn’t a Christian at the time, he had a lot of compassion toward these men and would bring them food and clothing whenever he could. When he did become a Christian, he felt God had placed that compassion for the poor in his heart for a reason; that led him to give up everything he had to serve the very men he desired to help.
He founded the Gospel Rescue Mission in 1953, and the whole family (especially my grandma Alice), spent the next 10 years cooking meals, cleaning, serving and loving everyone God brought to their door.
I grew up in an affluent home on Tucson’s eastside, and though Ray Chastain was my grandfather, our family was unchurched throughout most of my childhood. My identity was affixed to my last name and the success it represented: the wealth, the status, the things. When the family business succumbed to the economic recession of the 1980s, all that was stripped away.
I completely lost my sense of identity. My life became a complete mess. I hung around the wrong people and spent my time partying and making bad decisions.
My mom spent a year faithfully praying for me and my sisters and would beg us to come to church with her every Sunday. We finally gave in. The sermon that morning was as if the pastor knew the concerns and confusion of my heart. I discovered why my life felt so empty and meaningless – I needed Jesus.
God began His work in my heart, rebuilding my identity and stripping away all the bad relationships and habits I had developed. He showed me who I was in Him and who He created me to be. I felt so loved by Him, so grateful that I wanted to make a difference and began serving the poor through service projects at my church. Up to that point, I was completely ignorant to the poverty crisis in Tucson. I had no understanding people lived in such destitution, struggling daily just to survive.
God broke my heart showing me that pain, and placed a mission to serve the poor deep within.
Over the years, God has continually called me back to Tucson, placing me in positions I didn’t search for or even know I desired. In 2007 I was given the opportunity to lead HopeFest, a non-profit that devotes its energy to passionately serve the hungry, needy and under-represented members of our community. I loved this annual event but knew that one thing I wanted to change was the philosophy behind outreach. I believe deeply that when we live out our love for Jesus, that love is evident to everyone around us and, ultimately, that leads them to Christ.
I worked to make Hope Fest a community-wide event that welcomed everyone, even if they didn’t know or even want to know Jesus. We also worked to bring in both faith-based and secular organizations that could help make connections with the people we served, so they could continue to receive services throughout the year as needed.
In our first year, the event reached 7500 people. Every year it grew exponentially and, though I was thrilled by the success, I always longed to have a brick and mortar version of the event that could continue to meet people right where they were, help them stabilize and reintegrate into society; a “one-stop shop.”
In 2017, I met with Pastor Roy just after Gospel Rescue Mission had to reduce their beds at the men’s center. At the end of the meeting, he told me he thought I was supposed to be a part of his succession plan. The first thing that popped into my head were my grandfather’s words:
“Lisa, you’re going to continue the work I started.”
Two months after I took the job at Gospel Rescue Mission, Humberto Lopez reached out to us with the vision for a “one-stop shop” for the homeless. He used the words I had been using for years to describe my vision for our brick and mortar version of Hope Fest that would serve people right when they needed it, 365 days a year!
God orchestrates your path for an appointed time and this journey for me has come full circle. I see His hand in everything I have done, using the good and the bad to develop skills and talents to accomplish the dream He laid on my heart years ago. Every day, I see people enter the Center of Opportunity and receive services right then and there, and you can just see the light return to their eyes as they regain hope. It’s a place where we see every day the transformation only God can bring.