"Somebody Cares. Call 24 hours a day." It is printed on his business card. And Doug Stringer really means it. He cares about the hurting because he has been there. The founder and director of Somebody Cares America and Turning Point International has lived a life that most only see on the screen. But the pain has turned to passion ... for the Lord and for the less fortunate. Read on as Stringer shares his story.
Janet: What is it about you and your life that caused your passion for this type of work?
Doug Stringer: Probably a combination of things. I was born in Japan, and when I was 3 years old, we moved to San Diego. My real father was with the Navy SEALS. He was in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In San Diego, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, he and my mother divorced and he left. My mother married my stepfather, who also was in the Navy. When I was 15 we moved back to Japan for three years and I went to a military high school out there.
In this whole process, I thought there were some missing pieces in my life. I thought I needed to find my real father. When I was 18 years old, I ended up living on a freight train - up and down the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. So I was kind of living homeless in search of something, an identity, and I thought it was in looking for my real father's love. So when I was 21, I found out that he was in Houston and I went. That's what got me there in the first place. Although it was great to see him, I realized that wasn't what I was looking for.
In the process of all those years, I had gotten involved with drugs, with cocaine. My best friend was killed over a cocaine drug deal, which really woke me up. I went to my knees and I said, "God, I can't take it anymore." And the Lord began to speak into my heart, not audibly but speaking in my heart. I realized I didn't have a real relationship with Christ; I had a knowledge of Him. At that moment I made myself available to him, and for him, to do whatever it took to change my life.
As a result, I began to see things differently, people differently. I began to look around and see the hurts in people's lives. I started picking up hitchhikers, runaways, drug addicts, prostitutes. I didn't know where to put them, so I put them in my apartment. Soon a widow lady opened up a home, and I put people there. A businessman gave me an apartment; I put six more there. Another person gave me a three-bedroom house in the suburbs, and I didn't know about deed restrictions, so I put 12 more people there. That was how it fell together. I had an exercise business at the time, but I realized God was changing my career.
Janet: Some people fear that, in reaching out to the homeless or former criminals, they could be taken advantage of. How would you respond to that line of thinking?
Doug Stringer: I think that we have to be very careful when we've been burned in one way, that we don't start to think we're going to be taken advantage of in every way. The Lord really challenged me and my staff on this over the last 20 years. Yes, I have been taken advantage of, but withdrawal isn't the answer.
One of the scriptures that comes to mind is the scripture that says, "Guard your heart, for out of it flows the issues of life." Normally, we think about protecting our heart. But the Lord has shown me that I need to make sure I don't let my heart become calloused and hard as a result of being taken advantage of in the past. If we harden our hearts, we might miss helping someone who really needs it.
Let me give you an example. There was a man who had nothing; he lost everything. I let him stay on my beanbag, on the floor of my apartment. He was pretty much destitute, bankrupt. Today he's the vice president of an oil company. I have story after story. Another man who was hitchhiking through Houston -- I picked him up. Turned out he was from Australia. I led him to the Lord. Today he's a senior pastor of one of the fastest-growing Baptist churches in the state of Victoria, Australia. He's also the chancellor of a Bible college.
So you never know the people you're helping, what the results are going to be. It may have been their choices that got them there. But God doesn't ask us about the choices we made before we came to take of His grace. He left the 99 to go to the one - the prodigal son who made the wrong choice. The father ran to him and gave him a party. So I think you never know who you're going to be able to reach.
Janet: You obviously love what you are doing.
Doug Stringer: Absolutely. Let me give you an example of something I'm really excited about. A while back I took in two children from some prostitutes on the street. They were not able to take care of their children. Now one of the families that works in our ministry has 17 children - 10 of their own, 7 adopted. And two of the seven adopted ones turned out to be the two babies that lived in my apartment. Unbeknownst to me, the act of kindness all those years ago would allow those children to become part of our ministry.
And the father who adopted the seven children? He came to me and said, "Doug, as you know we have adopted seven. And there are 800 children in Houston that are wards of the state. If you don't help me, my wife will adopt all 800." So we started what's called Open Houston. That's an awareness campaign to go out and challenge churches to redeem those 800 children instead of letting them become part of the system, or end up in jail or dead. We said, "Let's do what we can to reach them now, to bring them into the body of Christ."
In the last few weeks we've already had 50 families go through training, and now they are getting ready to adopt. That's just one of the things we're doing to touch people with the love of God and open the hearts of those who normally would be unwilling to hear the gospel. Just think of how many Esthers or Abrahams or Josephs or Jameses can come out of that 800.