JOSEPH BURKE—A FORMER FOOTBALL PLAYER FINDS A NEW LIFE AT THE OGDEN RESCUE MISSION
From the time I was a child I was great at sports. My ability took me places I didn’t think I could go and people respected me because I was a good football player. I received a football scholarship at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga and I believe I still hold the single-season record in college football for yards-per-reception at 28.1. In 1990 I was inducted into the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Hall of Fame.
Professionally, I played a bit with the Oakland Raiders in the NFL (this was in the early 1980s) and then a few years in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Canadians, before a knee injury ended my football career. When my football career was suddenly finished, I didn’t know what to do so I joined the Army for four years. I did well in the Army and it reinforced the work ethic and discipline that my parents and athletics had taught me.
Turning to Drugs
After my four years in the Army, I moved back home. It was the late 1980s and a street drug called Crack had recently become popular as a cheap alternative to cocaine. Because I was still viewed as a famous football player, people wanted to be with me. They invited me to parties and they introduced me to Crack. For a while, because I was well known, people would give me drugs for free. But after a while, people started asking me to pay. Since then, I have struggled with addiction and its consequences.
For most of the past 30 years I have abused drugs and struggled. My life of addiction and pain came to a head in 2021. I had lost everything and was living on the streets homeless. As a homeless person I started traveling across the country and ended up in Utah. Someone told me about the Ogden Rescue Mission and how they had a program that helps people get off the streets and into faith, sobriety, employment, and housing. I was hopeless and needed help so I figured I would give the Ogden Rescue Mission a shot.
Finding the help I needed
At the Ogden Rescue Mission I found faith in God. There are regular counseling sessions where we talk about how God and His Son Jesus can help a person out of addiction. When I began a relationship with Jesus my life changed 100 percent. I asked God for forgiveness and He forgave me. When God’s forgiveness came into my life I quit having nightmares about doing drugs.
As my life changed, I have been able to reconnect with my daughter who lives in Dallas. I was not a good father to her because I was stuck in my addiction. But by accepting God’s forgiveness, I have been able to reconnect with her and am happy to have a relationship with her again. I also praise God that she had a great mother and stepfather who helped shape her into the awesome woman she is today.
I have a tight church family at Emmanuel Church, which is across the street from the Rescue Mission. It’s a small church and they accepted me and offer one-on-one support when I need it.
When I entered the employment phase of the New Life Program, I was able to work with Easter Seals, which hires older Americans so they can do work at charities. I chose to do my Easter Seals service at the Ogden Rescue Mission as a way to give back to the Mission and our homeless community. At the Ogden Rescue Mission I serve as the evening desk man. In that position, I see people who come through the door who were in the same position I was. When I walked into the Ogden Rescue Mission I had no shoes, no money, and no hope. Now I see people who were just like me walk through the door and I have compassion for them.
I talk to them about the services the Rescue Mission offers and share about how God changed my life at the Ogden Rescue Mission. I explain that without God, I would still be out on the street, chained to my addiction. If God can change my life, He can change yours, I say.
Now I have great support from my brother, who is a retired police officer and currently works for the Sheriff’s Office in my home county. Additionally, my longtime girlfriend has been my biggest supporter, encouraging me in my journey to faith, sobriety, and employment. As I serve at the Ogden Rescue Mission through Easter Seals, I am saving up money so I can return home where I will have the support of my brother and my girlfriend.
At age 62, I realize now that it would honor God if I married my girlfriend. So marriage is one of my top priorities after I graduate from the New Life Program. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, so I want to be there for her in whatever ways I can.
I also have the goal of maintaining a close relationship with God, finding a good local church to attend, staying sober, and finding employment. I know that being connected to a church family and helping people through employment are things that God will use to help protect me from temptation.
I want to thank all you supporters of the Ogden Rescue Mission. This place took me in when I was desperate, wandering, and broken. They loved me and gave me everything I needed to be mentally and physically strong in my recovery. Your support and God’s enabling power has helped me towards my greatest accomplishment—faith, sobriety, and a new life.