Meet James Pope, Vice President of Evangelism & Discipleship at San Diego Rescue Mission.
Originally hired as a part-time residential manager over a decade ago, he then rose to director of the Men’s Center. Doing God’s work of helping homeless and addicted men complete the 12-Month Residential Recovery Program was one of his driving passions while in that position.
James has worked in and around drug and alcohol rehabs for twenty years. “I know family members, friends, people in church and at various job assignments who’ve been affected negatively by various addictions to substances, and mental illness because of substance abuse,” he explains. James experienced the negative effects of drugs first-hand in 7th grade when a friend asked him to smoke a joint. James refused because he was on his way to his favorite class (Television Production).
“If it weren’t for the grace of God in my life, I would have died in my classroom. I chose not to smoke a joint this one day with my friend. He chose to smoke. His brain was erased that day because whomever he purchased his marijuana from had laced it with powerful PCP (it almost took his life). I never saw my old Pop-Warner football buddy and classmate again.”
This story has become one of many in James’s life in which he felt the interventions of God. Interventions like those, and later spiritual and physical transformations he witnessed, have become among his favorite aspects of working for San Diego Rescue Mission.
After his time at the Men’s Center, he moved into his current position as VP of Evangelism & Discipleship. CEO Donnie Dee created the position to help ensure the Spiritual Training of clients and staff at the Rescue Mission. “If we’re a Christian Ministry, then our culture should reflect that,” James says. Central to his role is helping clients reach several life-affirming goals. For example, to “Encounter God”—whether through discipleship, classes, visiting Churches or any number of multiple intentional paths at the Mission. “Everyone has an opportunity to encounter God at some point in his or her time here,” he says. Another goal is to Experience Recovery. “God is in the restoration, rehabilitation and recovery business,” James adds. “God can use many tools to achieve those goals, whether Church Partnerships, Volunteers, Job Training, Christian Therapy or many others,” to heal challenges ranging from addictions to mental illness to trauma and psychological abuse.
While much is new in his job as VP of Evangelism & Discipleship, like focusing more on people than processes, much has stayed the same. “For some reason, I’ve always had residents and staff at my door asking for assistance on some level,” he says. “I’ve tried my best to take the time to love and minister to whatever the need or opportunity that comes.”
James’s especially loves two aspects of his job. The first is that, every day, he gets to see God transform the lives of those experiencing homelessness. “I witness the light bulb go off and people understand their need for the Lord and they yield to Him and then their life takes off in an awesome way.” The second is that, “just knowing I’m one player in the midst of a team that God uses to bring about transformation is very humbling.” As a result, he gets to see “the invisible hand of God moving in all of these areas and through people.”
Asked to reflect on how his new position has helped Rescue Mission clients, he shared two areas that stand out: Client and Staff Devotions, and Discipleship. He recalls one gentleman who became free because a staff member shared their struggle with childhood trauma and how they had worked it out with God. “This gentleman was then able to share and receive counsel and left the past behind to move and walk forward in Christ.” Clients realize the staff members are real people who come from experience, care and empathy and who have issues (and who work them out with God). This gives them a tangible goal toward which they can work. “Some think it’s not wise for us to be transparent and vulnerable but given the right context, it’s liberating for all involved.”
Discipleship has also played a major role in helping Rescue Mission clients. With over 60 residents in the Discipleship program, the retention rate is a high 85%. “As a result of Discipleship, they’re willingly and lovingly participating and serving in Church activities and opportunities.” Many clients have built support groups and joined retreats, which offer new relationships where they can experience healthy interactions instead of being treated as a label (like addict or homeless person). Those relationships help them stay out of the destructive behaviors that brought them to SDRM, “because bad company corrupts good morals.”
James adds that the Churches helping with Discipleship are doing a marvelous job; however, “we need more Churches because more people are signing up to be disciples! My prayer is that if you’ve taken the time to read to this point, you’ll join us by working as a mentor or prayer partner. See for yourself how God transforms the lives of those experiencing homelessness, impacting San Diego one life at a time. I promise you’ll never be the same as a result!”
In reflection, James says, “My life and career is testimony of God’s greatness—not my own. I would like to think that Spiritual Training has had a huge impact in all of this—but again, it’s the combined holistic efforts of the entire San Diego Rescue Mission team under the guidance and leadership of Almighty God. That, in my humble opinion, makes it all work!”