Forty-five years of pastoral ministry have given Syd Brestel a deep and abiding love for the local church. When Syd retired from ministry, he wanted to continue serving, so he volunteered at Shepherd’s House Ministries. But decades of church ministry didn’t prepare him for what he found.
Syd says that at Shepherd’s House Ministries he discovered the kind of transformational community God always intended the church to be. “I tell the guys here at The Shepherd House, ‘You do everything a local church does plus one. You have a Bible study, you have teaching, you have baptisms, you have communion—but you share life 24/7. It amazes me that you don’t kill each other, crammed together in this place. But you come here and you learn to love one another and experience grace.’ ”
When Syd first began volunteering at Shepherd’s House Ministries, he thought he knew what he was getting into. While he was a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Syd would occasionally volunteer at local rescue missions. “There it’s all law — a guest speaker comes and preaches hellfire and brimstone and if you don’t stay for the meeting, you don’t get to eat.”
But Shepherd’s House Ministries is different. “What I see here is grace. You can have a place to sleep here tonight even if you don’t ‘belong here.’ If you mess up, you get another chance; we don’t just boot you out the door. We’re here to love you and help you learn to trust people.”
Opening yourself up to others—trusting other people—is a risk. Many of the men at Shepherd’s House Ministries have learned that letting other people into their lives may only lead to pain. Syd tells the story of Clinton. “Clinton’s not an alcoholic; he’s not done drugs. He was a plumber working near Las Vegas. The economy was down, so he came to Portland.
After he got a job, he sent for his wife to come join him. He’s waiting for a phone call from his wife that she’s arrived, but instead, he gets a call from the Highway Patrol, saying that she’s been killed down near Klamath Falls. And Clinton went into deep depression, lost his job, lost his home, lost everything, ended up on the streets of Portland. And he ended up coming here, where I’ve watched him blossom. Out of the depression, he’s learned that people can be trusted.”
Every Thursday Syd teaches from the Bible at Shepherd’s House Ministries, but his favorite part of volunteering is inviting men from the community into his life. “That’s what I really appreciate, building that one-on-one relationship with some of these guys, taking them out hiking, or taking them to the house and eating a meal with them. My family welcomes them—these guys, they’re my family.”
Just come two or three times . . .
Syd says that no matter what you have to offer, there’s a place for you to serve at Shepherd’s House Ministries.
“This place couldn’t work without volunteers. There are people who come here and man the desk, or come in and work in the kitchen. Our church used to come in and provide meals on Thursday nights. This place is run by volunteers. Without volunteers, it wouldn’t work.”
Syd understands that, at first, serving at a place like Shepherd’s House Ministries may seem daunting—or exhausting. But Syd’s expectations were flipped on their head when he started serving at Shepherd’s House Ministries. “I see these men bearing with one another, forgiving one another, the way they encourage each other. I always come away filled; I never come away from here drained. I leave saying, ‘Man, I’m glad I went. I wanna come back next week.’ They minister to me in ways that they never know.”
Stepping out and serving others—inviting other people into your life—always feels risky, but Syd has a message for anyone who is considering volunteering at Shepherd’s House Ministries. “I would say come and try it. I’ve told people, ‘Just come to two or three meetings, and if you don’t like it, fine. Don’t come back.’ But my bet is, if they come, they’ll wanna come back. Because when you come here and spend time with these men, it’s a special thing.”