Third Disciple Street Rescue is a gutter-level intervention outreach to homeless women and Vietnam Veterans. According to founder and Covington resident, Jim Smith, there are more homeless Vietnam vets than servicemen who died in that conflict.
In naming the ministry, he took inspiration from the third disciple named in the Bible, James.
Smith was born and raised on a farm in Rensseiaer, Ind. A 1963 graduate of Rensseiaer Central High School, he entered the Army and served in Berlin, Germany and South Vietnam.
After returning to the states, he entered the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and became licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to work on anything that flew. For the next seven years, he worked with Delta Airlines.
In 1981, Smith opened a small business, Dynamow Lawn and Landscape Company. After doing most of the design, installation and maintenance for 20 years, he closed the business.
Smith worked for four years with Standridge Color Corporation in Social Circle in quality control. In November 2006, he was laid off and accepted a position as stable master for a local farm.
Smith has one daughter, Teresa Sherod and three grandchildren - Tyler, Wesley and Faith, who all live in Covington.
Seven years ago, Smith had a period of employment that took him into the rough parts of Atlanta on a regular basis.
He felt a need to connect and minister to the lost and homeless. He made up small bags of useful items such as crackers, sodas and socks that he could safely hand through his car window - basically anything that couldn't be converted to cash.
A member of the Christian Growth Cathedral in Conyers, Smith said he realized that God was calling and equipping him with a special gift to develop a hard core ministry that would take the church to those who will not come to the church with brick and mortar - such as prostitutes, drug addicts, ex-cons, drug dealers and abused and battered women.
Smith has kept a daily ministry journal along with before and after pictures of people who have accepted his help and are beginning to turn their lives around.
He found many of them on the very edge of existence, living under the outlying bridges around Atlanta or in wooded areas.
"They don't find me - I find them," he said of how his ministry began. "I go to the back streets, alley ways, gutters, bushes and under the bridges where they are, and I seek them out. I love them instantly as I meet them.
"They all have something good at the core."
Third Disciple Street Rescue provides practical help to the homeless which includes personal hygiene items, food, clothing, transportation, ID replacement, access and empowerment to medical detoxification, support and transitional housing, counseling, prayer and spiritual direction.
"We show the love of Jesus Christ by meeting each person right where they are," said Smith. "When I come in contact with these people, I have an immediate rapport with them.
"Part of that is being non-judgmental, with no condemnation and being kind and respectful of wherever they are and whatever they are involved in."
Smith says that he may not say anything about religion or address their spiritual condition for a while until he earns their trust or until he sees some indicator that they would be receptive.
He described the homeless as skeptical of church people because they often show up only to pray with them, give them a tract, hand them an orange, and they are never seen again.
Smith recruited a friend, Nzinga who helps with transportation, phone calls, visits and special requests.
"She is the first person I ran into out there that really has an interest in wanting to learn and go with me and see what I do," he said of Nzinga. "An alcoholic named "K" agreed to go to medical detoxification if we would help place his dog, and Nzinga was able to do that for him.
"That cleared the way for him to go get help."
When Smith found "K" living in a spot in the woods on a soiled, wet mattress surrounded by rubbish of his own making, he was suicidal, homicidal and acutely alcoholic with no family and no resources to help him.
He ate by begging and going to McDonald's at closing time to dig in the dumpster. He was unable to function beyond keeping alcohol in his system. Without any identification, "K" could not get a job, or go to an overnight shelter or emergency room.
During a period of three days, Smith had taken him to voter registration, the Social Security office and to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get an official photo ID. From there, Smith took him to the emergency room to get a medical certificate. "K" spent six days in medical detoxification and is now in a transitional apartment in Sandy Springs.
Smith is in the process of getting an original birth certificate sent to "K" to present for employment. According to Smith, "K" is actively looking for a job and is doing well.
"I make sure that they get into a 12-step program and connect with churches and support groups who will help them build clean lives," he said.
Smith met a man "T" a year ago who was an acute alcoholic and had been homeless for several years. For nine months, including the winter, Smith addressed his basic needs and took him clothing, blankets, pillows and food.
"One day in late fall, I was in the Krystal parking lot and he stopped, looked at me and said, 'there is something about you - you must be a preacher, but you never say anything about religion or church'," Smith said. "I told him that sometimes I don't verbally say much that way until I know the person is open to it. His response was 'can we pray right now?'
"It was soon after that, he admitted he was dying in that life style and wanted my help."
"T" spent six days in medical detoxification, is in transitional housing and his previous employer has given his job back to him. He has been clean for over 60 days.
His wife who had been living the same life style called Smith for help recently. Smith is encouraged that this family could be reunited.
Smith said that he does encounter a person from time to time who doesn't want to get off the street, but he continues to take them what they need and ministers to them the best way he can.
Smith added that if he talked about church soon after an introduction, street people would scatter like quail.
According to Smith, the churches often do not understand homelessness, addictions and street life and judge his approach to meeting their needs. He is told by others that people who wind up homeless, or become drug addicts, or are unemployed or penniless have done that by their own choice and some seem to think these people deserve it.
"If I was depending on compliments or someone to thank me, or if I was counting conversions or needed to see specific growth, I wouldn't do it," Smith said of his unpretentious intentions. "Without keeping score, God has been very bountiful with the fruit.
In areas and in times, I would be overwhelmed to find a piece of ground that would accept the tip of the plow."
A Vietnam vet "S", had been living under a bridge for 11 years when Smith found him.
He had not had a bath in over two years except for cleaning up occasionally at an out-of-view hydrant. He told Smith that he was unhappy with the man he had become. Gainfully employed in the past as a world-class machinist for Delta, "S" wants to work again.
Smith related the story of "J" who took care of her children by means of prostitution. He helped her for the past year and a half by taking her food and things for the children. One day, she told him there was something important she had to do as she handed him an envelope.
"I thought there might be cash in it, but according to street etiquette, I slipped it in my pocket," said Smith. "Later, I reached in and there was 100 dollar bills earned by brutal prostitution given to the ministry. In my journal in large letters it says 'salt of the earth, salt in the gutter!'
"That was the first donation I had ever received for this ministry and it came from someone that I had helped."
Another female, "D" who was using opiates is now in a methadone program, told Smith that nobody would have done what he did for her.
Smith said that sometimes the church automatically assumes that these people couldn't have any spiritual connection or spiritual insight.
He stated that the reality is that a person couldn't survive this without some type of connection or insight.
"The view from the gutter often surpasses that of people who are living in cloistered, gated, sheltered mansions," said Smith quoting from a passage in his journal.
Smith has developed several pages of resources that he uses for whatever the people need such as where to go to obtain a medical certificate, or for medical detoxification and has established a relationship with places that will give him food and clothing as a donation or for a small offering. The resources most difficult to obtain is transitional housing and dental services.
"The people I help need dental health," he said describing the condition of their teeth due to drug use. "How great it would be if they could have a new smile!"
The most urgent need of Third Disciple Street Rescue is inexpensive, economical means of transportation for the ministry and cash funds to support the transportation.
"If the curb experience is a microcosm of greater society, and I think it is, the help and support from this type of ministry will come from the poor and working class people and churches because they are closer to the problem and can better understand it," said Smith."
For more information or to make donations, write to Jim Smith, P.O. Box 24, Covington, GA 30015 or call (404) 556-7565.