Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Rudy Experience: Unconventional Pastor Touches the Masses


By Carmen Woodruff, MMS Newswire reporter

Rudy Rasmus is not your typical, run-of-the-mill type of guy. He met his wife Juanita at a funeral; he hugs at least one homeless person a week. And he used to run a “borderline bordello” brothel-type business where ladies of the night would contract their services to men. His salt and pepper beard is separated into three braids, which meet with brightly colored beads that probably collide and “click” when he’s walking fast, wearing all of his hats as a husband, a father, founder of Bread of Life ministries. Rasmus currently pastors one of the most unique churches in the nation: St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston. At St. John’s, “Pastor Rudy” wears his baseball cap for Sunday service.

After discussions with his mentor and friend, Dr. Kirbyjohn Caldwell, Rudy and Juanita decided to explore the inner city Windsor Village United Methodist Church “plant” facility. They drove through the declining area, parked their car and carefully made their way to the door to greet the nine members who were mostly Caucasian and senior in age.

“We got to the property and literally had to step over people to get through the door…There were homeless people everywhere. I said ‘baby, this is the place.’ To know in a moment that your entire life has evolved for this purpose, that’s what I knew. As I looked around initially, I felt that I was there to really work through my redemption process. All of the people there were victims of the same societal ills I promoted through most of my business life.”

The Rasmus family never looked back and immediately made a commitment to St. John’s and the surrounding neighborhoods. They planned to rebuild the church and awaken the spirits of street dwellers who were otherwise forgotten, jobless, impoverished and addicted. Instead of shunning them away, Rudy and Juanita invited them inside, offering them a safe haven and a place of refuge. Many who suffered from mental illness, drug addictions and AIDS were offered hot showers and nourishing meals.

“The biggest misconception many people have about homeless people is that they’re lazy…There is no way you can be lazy and survive the streets. (The streets are) harsh, cold and brutal. Imagine this: You don’t have any money; you don’t have any resources; everything you own is with you and you’re literally moving your apartment every day. That is not a lazy person’s practice. A lazy person is a person who has resources and doesn’t use them.”

The downtrodden, once mistakenly identified as lollygaggers, found a friend in “Pastor Rudy” as he opened his heart and mind to them, listening attentively to their stories. He and Juanita soon founded Bread of Life, Inc., which currently feeds 7,000 men and women monthly. They eventually added Daybreak Community Health Facility, which provides rehabilitation for drug addicts and AIDS patients. St. John’s Academy for the inner city’s at-risk children and Touch 1 followed suit.

Today, the church’s congregation size totals 9,000 members. One third of those members are currently homeless or were homeless at one point. St. John’s continues to fit Rasmus like a glove. He greets his congregation in jeans on Sundays, baptizes new members in their street clothes and embraces people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, races and sexual orientations, just as Jesus once did. Congregation members often call and respond to each other, “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

On any given Sunday, a wealthy African American real estate professional may sit in between a Caucasian homeless person and an Asian college student. Or someone just might sit next to Beyonce Knowles, a music phenomenon who holds a special place in her heart for St. John’s. She and her parents are avid supporters and have funded the St. John’s Academy as well as housing developments for neighbors working to make their way back into the workforce.

“Beyonce has been extremely instrumental in us taking ‘Touch 1’ from the block we serve in downtown Houston to corners all over the world. We’ve reached millions of people with the information of food, insufficiency and hunger through her very extensive fan base.”

Rasmus joined Beyonce on her U.S. tour to address fans in Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. He led food drives and took center stage for at least 15 minutes between the opening act and Beyonce. Many audiences totaled 17,000.

“As a result of that success, she allowed us to extend our reach on her global tour. We visited Ethiopia, Istanbul and India global tour…We’re currently reaching out to 1,300 students from 20 African countries at African University in Zimbabwe. We (want to make sure) those students are empowered.”

The support from Beyonce and her family helped to kick off the “Touch 1” to fight the ongoing plagues of hunger, poverty and injustice. The powerful campaign spurred a Music World Entertainment compilation album and most recently the release of Rasmus’ highly anticipated book, Touch: Pressing Against the Wounds of a Broken World.

“It confronts our tendency to judge. It puts all of the subtle categories of human kind.”

The book details Rasmus’ transformation from a former “borderline bordello” co-owner to life today as a strong believer in Christ and His teachings. It also profiles his life story and those who’ve inspired him along the way, including Pastor Kirbyjohn Caldwell, his wife of 23 years, his business-savvy father and his “Auntie May May”, who taught him how to love at all times. Readers can expect to walk away from the book enriched, enlightened and motivated to start a ministry of their own. Touch was created for use as a workbook and small group study tool. Journaling space, a chapter by chapter reading guide and a homeless ministry birthing checklist can be found throughout the pages of Touch.

“Touch encourages people to touch people where they are in the same fashion Jesus did... He loved a person until they loved themselves.”

Sixteen years after the rebirth of St. John’s United Methodist Church, Rasmus is reaching into his closet for another hat as the subject of a new reality television show set to air in 2008. Producers will document his daily life in the office and on the streets as the man who relates to folks from all walks of life.

“When we extend beyond our own fears, boundaries and preconceptions to risk and love the people in front of us, we have done what Jesus has done and is doing 2000 years later.”
For more information go to: www.pastorrudy.net

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great!! Rudy is an old friend of mine from University of North Texas when it was North Texas State. We met in '75.
He and I were runnin' buddies and would have conversations form A to Z. He was always a great listener and had suggestions and solutions unlike alot of the other fellas whose main subject was always...well, fill in the blank.
I was partially inspired by my boy to do what I did: Gave up all my material possessions--for a time--and actually went into activism for the homeless in L.A. before any idea he had become a minister. (I'm the somewhat unorthodox/radical one--if you can believe that).
GreGory A. Powell(Love you brother in Christ!)


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