Jason Billester: Development VP With a Higher Purpose Article
Development vice president with a higher purpose
Cutline: Jason Billester is the vice president of development for Boise Rescue Mission Ministries.
By Gaye Bunderson
Jason Billester serves as the vice president of development for Boise Rescue Mission Ministries. Though it's a corporate-sounding title, VP of development takes a different spin in the nonprofit world — especially working for an organization that helps the homeless.
Billester's job requires him to raise both money and food for the Mission, as well as thank donors for their generosity. Asked how he does that, he replies, “I get to show how the love of Jesus Christ is offered to our guests every day.”
The guests he refers to are the people who find succor within the Mission's walls. “On average, we provide shelter for 400 men, women and children per night at four facilities*. They're hurting, broken people with shattered lives and scrambled brains,” he said.
Another of his responsibilities is getting people involved with Rescue Mission programs and services through speaking engagements and tours of the Mission's sites in the valley. “I tell people, 'If you've got a gift, skill, talent or ability, we will put you to work,'” he said.
Volunteers at the Mission do everything from tutoring children to serving meals and sorting clothes.
Billester, now 39, finds himself in a far different position than he ever imagined as a younger man. “My goal was to work and make money,” he said. “I thought of God as my ATM machine, and prayed that way. The accumulation of money and possessions was my motivator.”
Though Billester has been a believer since his youth, he was not born into a model Christian family. “We were showy Christians,” he said. “We went to church. We dressed well, smiled big and smelled good.”
But beneath the outward display, there were undercurrents of dysfunction — his parents were on the verge of divorce. “They argued constantly,” Billester said, “about money, business and family matters.”
Then, at age 13, Billester suffered serious injuries when an El Camino he was riding in was t-boned by another driver. He was thrown 32 feet out of the back of the vehicle and landed on his head. He was in a coma for a month, with 44 staples holding his skull together; his wrist and both his ankles were broken. The doctors gave him a 3 percent chance of living, a 2 percent chance of living but being in a vegetative state, and a 1 percent chance of regaining a fully functional life.
He pulled through despite the extremely narrow odds, with youth and faith in his corner.
“I realized I was a broken vessel that was put back together, and the Lord had a different plan for me,” Billester said.
He moved from Southern California to Northern California to live with his grandmother, and his parents eventually divorced. In the small town of Lucerne, he attended an Evangelical Free Church at a senior center with older Christians; his relationship with the Lord started to take root and flourish, and his grandmother was pivotal in fostering its growth.
“It was my grandma who taught me how to love others and serve God, stay centered and focused, and stay active and involved in church,” Billester said.
At age 18, he “moved around a lot,” he said.
His travels led him to Idaho. After graduating from Idaho State University in Pocatello, where he majored in speech communication and rhetorical studies, he sought employment in Boise working with a large pharmaceutical company. He imagined it would be his ticket to a world of financial and career success.
It was another grandmother — Grandma Jean — who connected him with this current vocation/ministry. She told him she'd been talking with a friend at church who suggested he call Rev. Bill Roscoe at the Boise Rescue Mission about the possibility of employment, but it wasn't until four months later that he made the call.
“It was a pride thing. I just didn't see myself working at a homeless shelter,” Billester said.
He set up a meeting with Rev. Roscoe, who told him, “I like your resume.”
But when Roscoe offered him a job, Billester answered no, respectfully. Nonetheless, Rev. Roscoe wasn't ready to concede. He said, “I'll call you in a week. I want you to pray about it.”
So Billester spent time on his knees during the ensuing week until, at last, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit that the Boise Rescue Mission was where God wanted him. He took the job, but the focus on his paycheck remained. “I thought working at the Rescue Mission was a way to make money,” he said.
He was doing a lot of work and drinking Monster energy drinks to get it all done; but over time, his emphasis shifted. “Back then, I worked harder and prayed less,” he said. “Now I work hard but pray more. I see God's evidence and fingerprints every day, doors of favor that open with fundraising, and transformative changes in the lives of people we serve.”
An influx of approximately 1,300 people come into the Mission's shelters each week, according to Billester. “We never turn anyone away because of lack of room, so if someone needs recovery, they'll find it at the Rescue Mission,” he said. “We want to treat each person with love and respect and address their needs as an individual.”
The development vice president has served a total of nine years at the Mission. He took a job at the Better Business Bureau for two years in that nine-year time frame to earn enough money to pay off medical bills incurred when his baby son was born with a heart defect that required treatment at a Seattle hospital. When he returned to the Mission, it was again through the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Despite his formal job description, he feels he's been called to more than might be undertaken in a similar secular position. “I used to think I was here for the purpose of raising food and money. The Lord has shown me that His plan is perfect and better than anything I could imagine. This is the Lord's rescue mission; it's not mine,” he said. “I just get to be a part of it.”
*Boise Rescue Mission Ministries homeless shelters include: River of Life Men's Shelter in Boise; Lighthouse Men's Shelter in Nampa; City Light Home for Women & Children in Boise; and Valley Women's and Children's Center in Nampa. The Mission also has a thrift store at 1215 12th Ave. S. in Nampa that helps raise funds for BRM's many programs, including addiction counseling and other services. The Mission thrives through the generosity of the local community and receives no government funding.
FCA Idaho Director Ken Lewis Serves Through Athletics
By Gaye Bunderson
Some people are called by God to be ministers, while others are called to be missionaries. Fellowship of Christian Athletes Idaho Director Ken Lewis felt he was called to coach. For 15 years, he worked as a wrestling coach and biology teacher at Kuna High School; it was, at the time, the sweet spot of service for him.
“I felt called to make a difference for Him in that world,” Lewis said.
Lewis was brought up in a Christian home and had wrestled at Meridian High School and later at Northwest Nazarene University. When his college team visited Panama and Peru, he caught a vision of how sports could be used for the Kingdom.
“I had an incredible time. I saw that you can use sports to influence people for Christ. I was using something I loved to do ― wrestling ― and combining it with my love for Christ. It was a big adventure,” Lewis said.
He got his job at Kuna High in the mid 1990s.
“A couple years in, I wanted to be part of something intentional in terms of discipling athletes and showing them the love of Christ. I started looking into the FCA, and we started a Bible study at Kuna High in the fall of 1997. We would meet before school or during lunch,” Lewis said.
He became the adviser for Kuna High School's FCA huddle, as the organization's Bible studies are called. “We started to grow the Bible study. ... Then I went to FCA Sport Camp in Wyoming in 2001. It's incredibly impactful as a coach to get encouraged and grow with other coaches. God had called us to be coaches, and we were getting equipped to go back and make a difference on campus,” Lewis said. “For me it was refreshing. The Holy Spirit was validating, 'This is what I made you to be.'”
He faced challenges in bringing his faith into a public school setting.
“It was tough being a Christian coach and teacher. You had to find ways to be creative on how you love people. There were divine appointments and opportunities to creatively use biblical truths,” he said.
When a crisis happens ― 9/11, for instance ― everybody wants to pray, he said; but when things are going well, nobody seems interested in praying, or hearing or seeing anyone pray. As a wrestling coach, when an athlete would get hurt, Lewis would use that as an opportunity to pray for and with the athlete.
“I could hear His voice telling me to love on people and love on kids and speak life and vision to them. Even in the intensity of competition you can speak life into them,” he said.
It was frequently just a matter of encouragement rather than criticism.
“God had to teach me how to do this,” he said. “It was a process. Part of that was treating all the athletes the same, whether they were star athletes or were never going to be on varsity or go to state. You need to communicate their value to them, because it's about them. They're not a means to a better season. See them the way God sees them. Their identity ― and your identity as a coach ― is not in the win-loss record.”
He admits it was a fine line to walk because the thrill of sports, and the reason for training hard, is victory. Finding a way to participate in athletics and to work toward winning but not be defined at the end of the day by stats and scores required effort.
“This was something I had to learn as an athlete and then re-learn as a coach,” Lewis said.
For him the answer was integrating his faith with his profession. “Like everything else, sports is about glorifying God,” he said.
“I would tell the athletes to give their absolute best. It freed them up. I would say, 'Don't worry about the score, just give it your absolute best.' When you do that, you're free. It brings back the joy. Jesus gave His absolute best for the Father when He went to the cross.”
Throughout the early 2000s, the FCA experienced a revolving door of directors; and for a while after that, it was completely without a director. In 2005, Lewis was approached to serve on the FCA staff. He credits his wife Judy, a teacher at Greenleaf Friends Academy, with encouraging him to accept the position. “She felt the leading to work with the FCA before I did,” said Lewis.
After serving as Treasure Valley director, he eventually became state director. There are now 55 huddles (or chapters) throughout Idaho. Lewis helps coaches and athletes get their ministries up and running and helps plan all FCA-related events.
The 4Cs of the FCA ministry, according to Lewis, include: coaches, campuses, camps and community. FCA membership is open to all athletes in junior high, high school and college and includes Bible studies for coaches at each level of campus-based sports. “Since most of our involvement is on campuses, the community outreach (the fourth C) includes things not tied to a campus,” Lewis said. That encompasses FCA-hosted events such as a golf scramble, a couples getaway, and a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl FCA Breakfast*.
If there were a D in the 4C ministry, it would stand for donors; Lewis acknowledged that without donor assistance, the FCA would be severely limited in its ability to reach athletes.
Though Lewis has taken on administrative tasks and other necessary responsibilities to keep the FCA functioning, he's never forgotten his first calling. “I spur people on to a personal relationship with Jesus,” he said.
*The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl FCA Breakfast is set for 7:30 to 9 a.m. Wednesday, December 21, at Boise Centre in downtown Boise. Keynote speaker will be Coach Tom Osborne of the University of Nebraska. Players and coaches in the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will share their testimonies and an “Up Close” reception with Coach Osborne will follow. For more information about this or any other aspect of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, go to www.fcaidaho.org or call (208) 697-1051.
The Closet: Ministry Gives Teens Clothes and Compassion
By Gaye Bunderson
God may be perfectly capable of parting the Red Sea, but sometimes His miracles involve something as everyday as clothes hangers.
Kelly McMurry thought she and God had talked it over and she was going to take a break from volunteer work for a couple of years while she served as PTA president. Then she got a call from Kippy Jacob, former executive director of Love INC Boise, where Kelly had volunteered. Kippy wanted to meet for coffee, and when the two women got together at Rembrandt's in Eagle, Kippy sprung a surprise on Kelly. She said, “God has placed on my heart to ask you to do something for youth in the community.”
Kelly said she kept asking Kippy what that something was, and all Kippy was able to answer was that she didn’t know for sure. Kippy soon went off to another commitment, but before she left, she said to Kelly, “Can you just pray about it?” Then she threw out a cryptic suggestion: “Maybe clothing for teens.”
“I sort of liked that. There was a little excitement,” Kelly now says, explaining, however, that she also thought at the time, “I don’t like teens. Who does?” Her own children were pre-adolescent then but were on the verge of their teen years — sometimes a difficult passage for both parents and youngsters.
Kelly left Rembrandt’s and went and sat in her car for a moment, mulling what Kippy said. Before driving away, she offered up a quick prayer to God, telling Him, “If this is You, I’m all in. If it’s not You, please let me know. Give me a sign.”
What she didn’t realize as she started the engine was that she was about to get the biggest affirmation of God’s will for her that she’d ever received. She was on the verge, she said, of an amazing God moment.
“I drove to Chinden — about two miles. The light was red, so I pulled out my cell phone. I was going to call a friend, Lynn. She was somebody Christian in my life I went to for everything. I wanted her to be the first one I talked to,” Kelly said.
She wanted to tell Lynn what had just happened at the coffee shop and to get her thoughts on it. She called Tree City Church on Eagle Road, where Lynn was at the time, and got the receptionist, a woman named Bev. Bev explained Lynn couldn’t come to the phone, but she would transfer Kelly to her voicemail. While Kelly was waiting for the call to go to voicemail, Bev got back on the line and said, “I cleaned out my closet this past weekend. I switched to SlimLine hangers, and I brought you three boxes of hangers, if you can use them.”
Clothes hangers…. Just a bunch of devices for putting apparel on rods in closets. Is that a pivotal conversation? “I have some hangers for you”? Turns out, it was.
“I was shaken. It was such a confirmation,” Kelly said.
She was to do something with clothing for teens, and of course clothes hangers would be needed.
That was a little over seven years ago.
“It’s November of 2009. I’m now moving forward. I’m feeling overwhelmed,” Kelly said.
She asked the pastoral staff at Tree City Church if she could have a space there for something she was calling The Closet; 24 hours later, they told her she could have a room on the second floor. She now had a space, but no clothes and no teens. Then a friend called to say she’d found a cabinet at Big Lots, available at a very good price. She was going to buy it and if Kelly could use it, fine. If not, she’d keep it for herself.
The cabinet came in a box full of pieces and screws and complicated directions on how to assemble it — pretty much a whole lot of things beyond Kelly’s skill set. Her frustration with the cabinet is evident when she tells the story about the afternoon she and her son — then only in second grade — went to Tree City Church and tried to put the cabinet together.
“It felt like 4,000 pieces,” she said. As the story continues, 4,000 pieces become 12,000 pieces, and then 12,000 pieces become a ton.
She shut the door of the room that would house The Closet, sat down on the floor with her young son, and felt like she was on the verge of tears. A man named Marty happened to walk by just then and peak into the room. Spotting a clearly flummoxed woman and her child, he knocked on the door; when Kelly answered, he asked, “Can I help?”
With the help of this kind man, the cabinet went from a ton of disassembled pieces to an essential piece of furniture, with its many wide slots for shoes.
As of late January of 2017, Kelly had served 3,000 teenagers. The Closet has grown from one room to two, and then two rooms spilled out into a hallway. “This community pours out donations to me,” she said.
Three days a week, she comes to Tree City Church at 3 p.m. and prepares The Closet for her special guests. She takes hour-long appointments at 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 p.m. They are private, one-on-one, confidential appointments for individual teens who are frequently accompanied by their parents.
“I’m clothing kids,” she said, “but it’s so much more than that. I am loving on difficult, broken situations.”
The clothing is free, and Kelly makes shopping at The Closet the best experience she can. “Thrift stores are cool, so this is cool. This is good stuff. It’s teen-friendly,” Kelly said.
Walking into The Closet is as nice as walking into a boutique at the mall. Kelly put fine touches into the décor. Everything is clean and fresh and youthful.
Roughly 12 volunteers work with Kelly to sort through donations and get them ready for the teens. Kelly needs one volunteer assistant when she has an appointment. The assistant does other things to help the client but leaves the personal connection to Kelly, whose ability to reach out to her young clientele is something she feels she’s been gifted with over the years.
If a teen is reticent, Kelly takes one approach; if a teen is outgoing, she takes another. “I gauge their mood and respond to them accordingly,” she said. “I can connect to a person in one hour — that’s been given to me by God.”
After the teens collect the 12 items they are allowed to take home, they bring them up to the infamous cabinet, the one formerly laying on the floor in a trillion pieces. It now serves double duty as the check-out counter. This is often where Kelly does her best work.
She has classy black shopping bags to the put the teens’ clothes in, just as if they’d bought them at the mall. One of her special touches is scripture cards that look something like bookmarks. Kelly handpicked all the scripture verses on them, such as Jeremiah 29:11: “'For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.” On the back of the card, she writes a personal message for each client and signs it with “God bless” and her name. She slips the card into the shopping bag, not knowing where it will end up but believing that if God wants to use it, He will.
“I have a captive audience here; they like me right now,” she said. She has treated each client with genuine graciousness and concern, sometimes throwing in some of the brand new undies that Walmart donates to her, or allowing a teen to go over his or her 12-item limit if it’s for something special.
Now she takes it up a notch and does what God commanded her to do. “God said, ‘Kelly, I want you to ask every family how you can pray for them — EVERY family,'” she said.
Kelly keeps a journal on the cabinet and writes prayer requests in it. She never puts pressure on anyone and said that if the teens can’t think of a prayer request, she’ll ask how school is going — or sometimes more specifically, how math is going. “I have lots of prayers for math in the journal!” she said.
But sometimes prayer requests are for family members or friends. “Tears have dripped on this cabinet,” she said. One mother asked if she could take the pen and write her own prayer request, and Kelly obliged.
On Sunday nights, Kelly types up the requests and gives them to a prayer team. There are no identifiers in the requests; anonymity is always protected. Kelly said the prayer team is made up of “gifted people” who have volunteered to pray for the families that come to The Closet.
Kelly has cultivated relationships with school counselors in Boise and West Ada (at present, she is only able to help youth in Ada County). Many of the teens have been referred to The Closet by counselors because their families are in the throes of divorce or the young person is in an abusive situation.
Kelly also helps teens in the juvenile corrections system. “I have a beautiful relationship with Corrections, and I let those teens take as long as they need when they come in,” she said.
Kelly makes frequent presentations out in the community. “I’m always speaking,” she said.
She is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit known as The Closet Inc. and was blessed when a couple volunteered to pay for her to obtain her nonprofit status and get help with the paperwork.
Kelly’s professional background is actually in banking. She began working at Bank of America when she was 16 and continued in that job until she was 31, working in Seattle and San Francisco.
“That’s the professional side of me,” she said. She was also a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. She got a degree in interior design but never made a living that way. Her husband has an executive MBA, and her children are now teenagers.
“Everyone supports me,” she said, “with gifts of time and goods.”
When she speaks, it’s often to professionals. When she ministers, it’s to teens in a state of poverty and brokenness.
She was supposed to have The Closet out of Tree City Church by December of 2016. Now, the church has given her until summer of 2017. “The ministry is growing so fast,” she said.
She would love to have someone offer her space rent-free but is fundraising just in case she must pay for a space for her thriving outreach.
She has 1,400 followers on Facebook and wants to tell everyone she can to keep their hearts open. “These kids go to school with your kids,” she said, acknowledging their problems may not be visible on the outside, but they are there and they are real.
The woman who once thought she didn’t really like teens now loves and serves them with all her heart. But she takes no credit for the success she’s seen with the ministry. “I am so not qualified for this job,” she said. “I give it all to God. I say to Him, ‘You be my Light tonight.’ God is so alive in this place. The Closet is a beautiful story of God at work.”
The CFor more information go to TheClosetInc.org or contact Kelly at (208) 409-0204 or email@example.com.
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