By Jeffery Chaves
“I was running from God, but he had a different plan.”
Ron Cornell speaks with a grin that turns serious when he reflects on the past. “I slept behind dumpsters and ate out of dumpsters. I spent every dime I had on drugs and alcohol. I’m only here by the grace of God.”
Ron is the founder and director of a ministry in Las Vegas that reaches out to the homeless. They provide food, care packages, and hope to the men and women who are where Ron once was.
Ron was born and raised around Omaha, Nebraska, to a single mom who had her own problems. Ron was bullied and soon found his way into the wrong crowd, doing the wrong things. “I started smoking cigarettes and smoking weed because these folks accepted me, unlike everybody else.”
This led to alcohol, hard drugs, and crime. “Before the age of 19, I had already committed over 20 felonies. I spent time in two different boys’ prisons.” He says that he tried to reform on a couple of occasions but always ended up back out there. “I was always self-medicating. The only time I was happy was when I was high.”
On the Streets of Sin City
A string of bad relationships led Ron to ditch Nebraska and head to San Diego and then to Las Vegas, where the cycle would continue. Ron was hopelessly addicted to drugs. “The drugs always accepted me, and I always chased them. That continued on for many years.”
He sustained himself by hustling. “I learned how to panhandle very, very well. I could bring tears to your eyes in a minute in order to get a dollar.” He made his home in the center of Las Vegas, in the old downtown section. “I did so many bad, awful things. The whole time I was medicated. I didn’t care. All I wanted was my drugs. I would make $150 to $200 a day.”
Over the next 17 years, Ron worked the streets, but drugs can be a deadly employer. He said that he had seven overdoses. “Three of those times they told me that I was clinically dead when the paramedics found me. I turned blue and purple. They had to stick this thing on my heart to get me to come back.” Each time he went back to the drugs. “I wish back then they had tried to put me into a program, instead of kicking me out of the hospital and right back into the streets.”
Ron knows now that it was God who changed his life.
Changed for Eternity
What made him stop? When did Ron finally decide to give up? That was a matter of divine intervention.
While many people tried to reach out to him, and quickly gave up, one man gently tried to persuade Ron to get help. His name is Joe. “He used to run papers for an attorney down by the courthouse where I hung out.” Ron recalled, “He would help me out every time he saw me. He would give me a few bucks and tell me that there’s a place were I could get help.”
Joe and Ron had encounters for nearly three years, but Ron never took up the invitation. Joe knew about the Las Vegas Recuse Mission. They have a recovery program and help men just like Ron. The mission’s program is founded on Christian principles and is a located just a few blocks from Ron’s hangouts.
“It’s funny, because one time he actually took me to the mission. I walked in and saw all the crosses, and I freaked out. I said there is no way I can do this.” Yet it was this small introduction that would change Ron’s life for eternity. God began to intervene. “After that I had the worst times of my life. I broke two or three crack pipes. I woke up without my shoes. Another morning the cops woke me up and said they were tired of seeing me here.”
Ron said this string of bad events brought him to the breaking point. He called Joe and begged for help to get to the Rescue Mission. “I know in my heart that it was God who caused all those things to happen because he had a plan for my life.”
The mission required that their residents go to chapel every night, and one night Ron heard a message that would shake him. “A girl got up and gave her testimony. She was 14 and already been raped and abused. She’d been drinking and doing drugs. She started talking about how Jesus changed her life and how she walks with him. I was like, ‘Wow, how can you praise him after all that? There’s got to be something to this Jesus.’”
The minister gave an invitation that night and this seemingly hopeless drug addict surrendered. Ron said everything began to change in his life. He began to understand more in Bible studies and in a few months he was baptized. Over the next year he would find a home church, get a job, and graduate the mission’s program. He didn’t realize that this was just a beginning.
The Second Act
Ron felt so blessed to finally have peace and a real life. He began to ask God what’s next. “He’s done so much for me, I was asking God what I can do for him. It took a lot of praying and some time, but finally I heard it plain as day. He said ‘I want you to go back out to the same streets and tell people what I’ve done for you.’” God would lead Ron to do what Joe had done for him—show grace and mercy and urge people to get help.
This has led to the formation of 2 Act Ministries. Partially the name is from Ron’s life—he says he is in the second act of his life story. Together with other graduates of the mission, they hit the streets looking for the people in need. They give out blessing bags that include food and socks—very important to people on the streets. “I remember one time that I was peeling socks off my feet and I was screaming because it hurt so much.”
The 2 Act team also gives out a pamphlet that includes Scripture, Ron’s testimony, and a message of hope. “I distinctly remember all the pamphlets I would get that would say ‘You’re a sinner—you’re going to hell.’ That wasn’t helping me at all. I needed to make a pamphlet of love and how God has a plan for someone’s life.” Ron also gives out business cards with his cell number. He regularly gets calls from people who are ready to get off the streets.
Ron has become an advocate for the street people in Las Vegas. Regularly 2 Act has volunteers from area churches that go out with them. Ron instructs and guides them on the best way to reach the homeless. Ultimately he hopes to one day create a home like the mission that helped him.
To catch up with Ron and 2 Act Ministries, visit their web site: www.2actministries.org.
Jeffery Chaves is a freelance writer and pastor of Northpointe Community Church in Las Vegas.