In August 2018, a decorated Air Force veteran and a former drug addict named Bill moved into the House of Hope, a transitional housing program for formerly homeless veterans and a Matthew 25 Initiative ministry. His life was changed forever.
Twenty-five years ago, while he was a student at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, the Rev. Michael Wurschmidt, “Pastor Mike,” and his wife, Tina, founded Shepherd’s Heart Anglican Church in Pittsburgh. Their mission is to “share the heart of Jesus our Shepherd on the streets of Pittsburgh and to the ends of the earth.” Pastor Mike is also a federal chaplain with Veteran Affairs.
In addition to traditional worship services on Sunday evenings, Shepherd’s Heart parish includes “Shepherd’s Place,” a drop-in center for homeless men and women; a food pantry; a shuttle bus to transport homeless individuals to medical and other important appointments; a resource center filled with clothing, shoes, boots and more; and Shepherd’s Heart Veteran’s Home (“the House of Hope”), a transitional housing program for formerly homeless veterans.
In August 2018, a decorated Air Force veteran and a former drug addict named Bill moved into the House of Hope. Through the ministry, Bill has now – at 43 years old - committed his life and work to Jesus Christ. He will never be the same and praises God for healing and transformation! God is leading him to help other homeless veterans in the future. He is now healthy - physically, emotionally, and spiritually – and will soon move into his own apartment.
Pastor Mike interviewed Bill for this story.
Pastor Mike: Tell me about your childhood.
Bill: I grew up in Toronto, Ohio, a small town near Steubenville. I was a good student and loved history immensely. I am a huge World War II buff and I also like to read about the Civil War. My parents took me to many battlefields (Gettysburg, Bull Run, Richmond) while traveling around with our family bluegrass band called “The Ohio River Band.” In school, I was in the band, choir, glee club, show choir, jazz band, and musicals. I had a wonderful childhood and a loving family.
At what age did you go to the Air Force? What was your specialty? What year were you discharged?
I went to the Air Force in 1994 at the age of 18. In basic training, I chose Space Systems Operations. I received my technical training at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California as well as Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I was a Satellite Data Systems Supervisor stationed at Buckley Air Force Base and was responsible for the detection of missiles and other threats to the United States and our allies. I really enjoyed what I did. I was a crew instructor as well as the crew evaluator, certifying new crew members for mission ready status. I also won Guardian Challenge 1996 [an annual Air Force competition for the space warfighter wings]. I was discharged in 1998 and returned to Toronto, Ohio to live.
What did you do after the Air Force?
I worked as a Union Insulator (Local Union 2) out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I worked in steel mills and power plants insulating boiler walls and steam pipes.
What year did you turn to drugs? Was there a particular event or situation that contributed to your turning to this temptation?
I started dabbling with drugs around 2003. I was married in 1994 and my wife and I were having frequent arguments. I was playing guitar in bars and hanging with a whole new group of friends.
What was your lowest point?
In 2008, a former girlfriend committed suicide. We had a son who was five. He was present with her when she died. I had many regrets and much anger at that time. I blamed myself because I was doing drugs and was not more supportive of them both. I also used that event as a reason to relapse and to go deeper into drugs. I was financially broken, defeated, and spiritually broken.
How has your life changed since you came to SH?
Shepherd’s Heart changed me immediately. The staff and volunteers here made me feel that I could have a future again and a fresh start was possible. In turn, I started believing in myself again. Before I knew it, I was being productive and asked to perform small tasks at Shepherd’s Heart. I marveled because just a few short months before, I was in active addiction. With counseling, I was enabled and empowered to give attention to many areas in my life that needed change.
How have you come closer to God?
The most important fact is that God has transformed me. I now have a desire to be closer to Him. I don’t need the drugs. I’m in the praise and worship band at Shepherd’s Heart. I volunteer for everything I can, I try to help all my fellow veterans, and I share the Word of God with them as well. I am also writing gospel music and plan to make a CD in His praise in the future,
Where is God leading you next?
I feel the Lord is leading me to work with homeless veterans. I would like to get a degree in social work focusing on those with substance abuse/addiction. I also want to work with homeless men and women. I am thankful to God for Shepherd’s Heart. The love here is truly the best blessing I could ever have received.
What are your plans, hopes, and goals for the future?
I want to praise God forever. I plan to keep giving back, praising and worshipping God through my music, and being a positive role model for others who are homeless.