It’s not hard to find Ricky Williams on Sunday mornings at 11:15 a.m. He’s on the front row in the Sanctuary at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus, hands raised high during worship.
“I love it there,” he said. “I’m already registered for the Unleashed Conference to see where I can serve.”
Williams comes to church with friends from Liberty Place, a nonprofit for veterans facing homelessness.
Salt-and-pepper hair and a quick smile give few clues to the hard road Williams has traveled. He spent 12 years in the Army with deployments in Afghanistan, Germany and bases around the world. He joined the Army at 17 to get away from drugs and addiction in his own family and trained in air defense. Buddies called him the “red-eye stinger man.”
Williams planned a career in the military until his wife left, and he returned to Indiana to care for his two children.
Sometimes it’s hard to trace what starts a downward spiral. It’s not too mysterious with Williams. He did well when he had purpose in life—taking care of his kids and serving his country. In 1997, he married again, and the next 17 years were the best of his life. Cancer robbed them of the chance to grow old together. Williams cared for her until the day she died in 2015.
By then the kids were grown, and Williams was alone.
“I was in a dark place when she died,” Williams said. “I took her pain medicine to numb my grief. At the end of a year, I was drinking and taking drugs.”
Williams was homeless for two years, sometimes living in a tent, sometimes in his car.
“I tried hard to clean up on my own,” he said. “That didn’t work. I overdosed four times. I was so reckless that it was like I was trying to kill myself.”
In December 2019, Williams moved into Liberty House and began volunteering at Hope Southern Indiana, a Southeast missions partner.
“By then I knew I couldn’t do it on my own,” Williams said. “I needed God to walk with me, and I needed a church. A friend read one of Kyle’s books in prison and wanted to go to Southeast, so we began sitting on the front row.”
Williams said for years he never saw a future.
“Now I see where I can give back,” he said. “I tell my story to groups. I want younger veterans to see they can make it. Someday I’d like to work as a recovery coach. God has saved me from overdose and suicide. I believe he can use even somebody like me.”
As the pantry supervisor at Hope Southern Indiana, Williams sees seniors, addicts, single moms and others who need food and hope to make it through another day.
“I no longer feel like the walking dead,” Williams said. “I have purpose.”
Hope Southern Indiana Executive Director Angie Graf said Williams spreads a lot of joy.
“Ricky has found purpose here, loving on our clients and encouraging other veterans,” Graf said. “He’s thankful for his second chance, and we’re thankful for him.”
Hope Southern Indiana
Hope Southern Indiana in New Albany has been a partner of Southeast for six years. It helps people in crisis through a food pantry, eviction prevention and utility assistance.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Hope Southern Indiana provided additional food to families hit hard with unemployment, provided more food for the homeless, delivered food to senior centers, provided transitional housing for those dealing with job loss and provided backpacks with hygiene, first aid, socks and ponchos for the homeless.
Southeast is one of 54 churches in the community that supports Hope Southern Indiana.
“Support from Southeast means everything to us,” Graf said. “We get to help a lot of people. What keeps us going is seeing them get on their feet.”