“God is the one who will guide you!” These words from Jose Ortiz echo throughout his story, a narrative riddled with challenges and changes that shaped his life. When you sit down with him, you learn about his life as a young boy born in a poor community of Puerto Rico. By the time he entered his 20s, Jose had experienced and witnessed abuse, and had fled to a new home in California with his mom and sister. In the states, through family connections and the influences around him, Jose entered a life of drugs, gangs, trading and selling cars, and activities that eventually caught up with him – leading to two terms in prison. During his second visit, on a multi-year sentence, Jose says, “God got his attention.” He began listening in to a preacher who visited and shared God’s truth with inmates. This pastor continued to reach out, eventually asking Jose a life-transforming question, “Do you want to keep coming to prison or do you want a better life?” Jose’s answer: “Of course I want a better life.” Over the course of months and years, God became his guide. He read the Bible, even though he says he didn’t understand it. While changing habits was hard, and often up and down, Jose continued to trust Jesus.
Fast forward a few years, and Jose came to Springfield, Missouri. Here, he began searching for a church that would welcome him even with a complicated backstory. After he visited the Flourish Food Pantry, Schweitzer became this place.
As he met with the volunteers in the pantry, he asked if there were church services here. “Of course! And you should come!” was the quick answer from Karen Breithaupt, a faithful pantry volunteer. It was a joyous Sunday morning when Karen spotted Jose sitting in the back pew attending his first service at Schweitzer. God continued to guide the way.
“I started coming more and more and listening to the pastor and it just clicked. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is my church!’” Jose leaned into learning more about God and took steps to earn his GED. He met with spiritual leaders including Pastor Spencer and shared his story. Through this process, Jose realized he had never been baptized. “God was working on my heart, and I knew before I did anything else, I had to be baptized.” On Sunday, January 8, 2023 Jose was baptized. “When I came out of that water I felt like a weight was lifted and I knew I could start making a difference.”
The next week, Jose began serving in the same food pantry where he first came to get food. He is now a regular weekly volunteer, helping stock shelves with a team of people he already considers family. “The volunteers are so great to work with; we worship while we are working and I fellowship with the guys in the back. It is amazing; I can’t get enough of it!”
Jose also knows his experiences help him to relate with food pantry guests needing extra encouragement. “I try to encourage the people I meet because I’ve been there. I tell them, ‘You are not alone, there’s always someone there to help you.’”
Jose’s story is one of transformation, discipleship, and hope happening at Schweitzer and through the ministries of Flourish.
Following Jesus, Flourish STANDS with neighbors in need, pursues HEALING through relationships of reconciliation, and INVESTS in economic and leadership development.