Loving where you are: Mark’s story
Mark was born in Chicago, the third of five children, and grew up on the West Side. His mom was loving, but she was mentally disabled and had trouble taking care of her kids. Mark’s grandmother really raised him and his siblings.
Growing up, Mark was determined to do what no one in his family had done: finish high school. He did it, but not for lack of distractions.
When Mark was 10, his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. By the time he was 12, she was too far gone to be the stabilizing force for the family that she’d always been. Mark’s mother wasn’t able to really take care of her children, and she was taken advantage of by a number of men. Mark and his family were eventually evicted, and lived on the streets for a while. Eventually, the family was split up and the kids went to different foster homes.
Mark had trouble with his foster families, and ran away repeatedly.
“When you’re poor, you don’t really have options,” he says. “I didn’t grow up in church, and so I didn’t have church people to talk to or to help me with my problems. I’ve seen other people who did, and it made a big difference.”
His family break up led him to start hustling at 14. It was easy money for him, and it gave him options that his dysfunctional foster families didn’t.
Mark was hustling for over ten years before he met Emmaus outreach ministers on the streets. He appreciated their presence, but at first he wasn’t inclined to come down to the Ministry Center. “I knew Emmaus wasn’t going to pay my rent,” he said, so he stayed out on the streets.
About six months later, he finally came down to the Center. He was intrigued by what he found.
“Emmaus wasn’t like a shelter or other places I was used to,” he said. “The people there just cared about you. They definitely wanted you to change, and they’d help you change, but they loved you whether you did or didn’t. It was different.”
Mark continued to come down to Emmaus off-and-on for the next 10 years before he was finally ready to change.
“I got tired of the same old thing,” he said. “Hustling on the streets at night is no way to live. The things I was doing, all the time I was taking to do it, there were so many other ways to live. Better ways. Some guys start looking for love in that lifestyle. They do it for so long, it’s all they know, and they want to love someone and be loved too. But that just ain’t the way it is, man. Your tricks, they just want to use you. They don’t want to love you. I just got tired of all that.”
With Emmaus’s help, he stopped hustling, but he still struggles with it. “Physically, I’ve stopped, but mentally and emotionally—that’s a different story.” But he prays for help to continue living a healthy life.
A few years ago, Mark got really sick. He was in the hospital and the doctors basically told him that he was going to die. “I was ready for it, too,” he said. “I was ready to check out. I didn’t want to live. I wanted to die. But God wouldn’t let me die.” Mark made a full recovery, and today is completely healthy.
“I’m not still here because I wanted to be. I’m here because He wanted me to be. So I know He’s got a reason for me to live, something for me to do.”
Mark’s been talking with Emmaus staff and other spiritual mentors about that that “something” is. One option is starting a group to help people who struggle with sexual issues, to bring them together and let them help each other deal with the baggage they carry. Maybe that’s it; maybe not. He’s still not sure about it, but his life has renewed purpose now that he knows God has a job for him to do.