LEFTIST PUNK BECOMES MISSIONARY
I was a member of the radical underground. While few Americans remember the tumultuous 60s era in our history, I was right in the middle of it. The hippie movement was at its height, and I fit right in doing drugs and participating in protests and demonstrations in Washington D.C. and elsewhere during the Vietnam War.
Woodstock took place not far from my home on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Terrible arguments with my parents caused me to run away when I was a teenager.I ended up in Europe, where a strange thing began to happen. I was confronted by people who shared the Gospel with me many times. I had seen the Jesus movement in America but thought it was bizarre. One day I could buy drugs, but the next week my drug dealer told me that he didn't sell drugs anymore because he had Jesus. People's lives seemed to change overnight. What was the source of this power?
While traveling in Holland, I read Matthew 6, where Jesus talked about not worrying about food, drink, or clothes because God takes care of the birds, flowers, and the grass, even though they never work for it. How much more does He take care of us? At that moment, I realized I was precious to God, and He wanted to provide for me. I prayed and asked God to take care of me. I didn't know it then, but that was the last time I ever did drugs. I began to see a huge change in myself. I was thinking about heaven a lot, and songs that I had sung in Sunday School constantly flooded my mind. I found myself thinking about God all the time. I could not understand what was going on inside, but it seemed like Jesus was drawing me to Him.
I prayed for and received God's marvelous provision everywhere I went. People who spoke perfect English would invite me into their homes, and I knew that was God. I prayed for jobs and worked picking olives and apples. I helped run a youth hostel in France. I saw that God would never fail to provide for my needs, and I wanted to follow His direction.
I returned to America, and the first thing I heard was a man preaching in front of the Port Authority bus station in New York. I was mesmerized by the message. I wanted to preach too. Instantly, I heard the Lord whisper in my heart, "That's what you will do."
God also told me to go home and make things right. All the years of bitterness, arguing, and strife came to an end. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. I said I was wrong and asked forgiveness for my harsh words. My family warmly received me.
I held on to the word God had given me about preaching the Gospel. I began traveling with an evangelist and received much-needed discipleship. It was then that I heard about YWAM. I enrolled in a DTS, and my life changed even more. God challenged my thinking, especially about what I had embraced during my day of radical politics.
I learned that the most radical, transforming power was through Christ and that the only way to change the world was by being a missionary, not a radical Marxist that I once desired to be. God continued to change my life. I experienced many liberating times when God would speak and continue to give me direction for my future.
My first mission trip was to Jamaica. Then I went to the former Soviet Union with a group of fifty YWAMers from other nations. We all smuggled thousands of Gospels of John into the country, and we distributed them in Red Square on Mayday, 1973. We were all arrested and escorted from the country. Experiences like these increased my vision and desire to reach the nations of the world.
I met my wife, Bronwen, in YWAM, and we have always shared a common vision for missionary work and a desire to work with broken, needy people. We worked in Germany for two years, starting coffee houses on military bases. We reached hundreds of young military people that we discipled and had fellowship with each week. God helped us begin our first Kids' Club, and we reached the children of many high-ranking officers in the U.S. Army. God used our small team to touch the military community.
Our next step was working at Hope House, a YWAM drug rehabilitation program. We saw prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics transformed by the power of God. Many graduated from the program and became leaders God continues to use around the world.
A burden for North American cities grew in our hearts, and God led us to join the YWAM team in New Orleans. We started Kids' Clubs in the city’s most violent, drug-infested housing projects. It was horrifying to see some of the young men we knew murdered in these places. Many children and teens professed faith in Jesus, and we watched them grow up in different ways. One teenager graduated from high school and came back to the housing project one day to thank us for Kids' Club, saying it was the highlight of her childhood.
We started a drug rehab in a poor African American neighborhood, and clients came from our city and others. We took in hundreds of people. One girl was a prostitute and drug addict who lived on our street. After some of our residents told her about Jesus, she came to our program. She shared with all of her family, who lived in our neighborhood, how Jesus had transformed her life. This neighborhood became proud to have us as neighbors. They called us "the mission" and loved to see our work on the streets. Many of these neighbors came to Christ and are still great friends.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of our city. The amount of damage to the buildings that our YWAM base owned was overwhelming. It was a major setback, and we didn't know how we would ever recover. But God. All ten of our properties were restored in record-breaking time because He sent such a tidal wave of help. We launched disaster relief into the hardest hit areas of New Orleans. Over the next five years, hundreds of people who had no insurance saw their homes rebuilt. Over 7,000 Christians came and helped. Hope came alive as we prayed and ministered to people who had lost everything.
Bronwen and I have watched over the last three decades as teams come here to do evangelism. Our city is known for its round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant music, hipster communities, Mardi Gras venues, and spicy cuisine. God has sent messengers from around the world to declare the good news of Jesus, even in the places tourists avoid at all costs.
God has caused us to be a lighthouse to the city.
-Steve Niles, YWAM NOLA
Our URBAN Discipleship Training School (UDTS) is a great place to get your feet wet in the ocean of urban missions. The ministries to the cities YWAM Tyler has created are ready for your participation. Find out more about this amazing training.