By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service & IPAnews.com
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – July 24, 2014) — I got the call while I was living in California. On the other end of the line was a British voice: “Hi, this is Jeremy Reynalds. I hear you’re visiting New Mexico soon. I’d love to grab a bite to eat with you when you’re in town.”
So goes my first conversation with Jeremy Reynalds, founder of Joy Junction and a contributing journalist to ASSIST News Service. After discussing our common denominator—ASSIST News and our friendship with ANS founder, Dan Wooding—I agreed to Jeremy’s request.
Jeremy and I met at the downtown Albuquerque Hyatt. From my first conversation to my last—many years later, one thing rang true: Jeremy was a unique and exceptional human being. His passion for the homeless, his love of journalism, and his desire to live a Christ-like life encompassed all he did. After lunch and a meaningful conversation, we parted ways. Little did I know our paths would cross once again.
After my move to New Mexico in 2008, Jeremy and I would meet frequently, mostly to swap story ideas and shoot the breeze about whatever was on our mind. Jeremy was very interested in ANS News, asking questions about the news process. Because I was on ANS’s board at the time, I’d answer Jeremy’s questions with some insight. In turn, I’d ask Jeremy about the homeless situation in New Mexico. Jeremy would respond with precision and passion. He had a heart to help the homeless, for people to recognize homeless as humans, not just rubble on the road. A friendship blossomed.
From our friendship I learned Jeremy’s story, recounted in his book From Destitute to Ph.D: My Homeless Journey . Rick Nathanson of the Albuquerque Journal summarized it as thus: “Reynalds attended a Bible college in England, where he was from, and in 1978 he bought a one-way ticket to the United States. He was 20 years old, had $50 in his pocket and a burning desire to preach the Bible. He lived for a while in Florida, where he met his now ex-wife, started a family, volunteered in a Christian prison ministry and experienced homelessness.
“The infamous 1980 New Mexico State Prison riot was still on Reynalds’ mind when he moved to Santa Fe, hoping to get a job as a corrections officer and start a Christian prison ministry. ‘It was a poorly conceived idea,’ he later conceded. ‘I’m really not corrections officer material.’
“He did, however, start a Christian coffee shop that handed out free coffee and burritos to homeless people.
“In 1986, he moved to Albuquerque with his family to work with a nonprofit at an old chapel, where he provided pastoral services. He didn’t stay long. A former South Valley Catholic boarding school that later served as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center had just closed, and the nonprofit that owned the property was eager for suggestions about what to do with it. Reynalds struck an agreement for free rent for a short time, while he established a shelter for homeless families.
“That 52-acre property became the campus for Joy Junction. After a while, Reynalds was not only able to pay rent, but was also able to arrange financing to purchase the site in 1998. Since then, countless thousands of homeless people have been made to feel that they indeed had a home” .
From homeless and haplessness to a helper and humanitarian, Jeremy’s life is one of courage and care.
After a few years living in New Mexico Jeremy popped the question to me: “Would you be willing to sit on the Joy Junction board of directors?” I didn’t need to think or pray long about it: I accepted. With some homeless work done in my past, I felt it would be a marvelous way to help the homeless and our community. As a board member, our friendship increased beyond the professional to the personal. Jeremy would email and call from oversees as he courted his soon-to-be-wife, Elma. Jeremy was smitten; love was in the air. He worked tirelessly to secure Elma’s passport and travels back to the United States.
Over the next five years Joy Junction saw great growth: increased funding and more people served. But Jeremy wouldn’t rest on his laurels; more was needed for the benefit of the homeless. Jeremy—now with his new wife, Elma—initiated a building campaign to expand the housing available to the homeless. And though Jeremy didn’t live to see the completion of the new wing, we were together at its ribbon cutting, where I, along with a couple of politicians, was able to share some thoughts regarding Jeremy’s work. I provide a summary of my speech to give you an idea of the scope of Jeremy’s vision and ministry through Joy Junction. Here’s what I said:
On behalf of Joy Junction’s board of directors, I thank you for being with us today. I’d briefly like to share three quick points, summarized as knowing, growing, and showing.
First is knowing. As many of you are aware, for the past 30 years Joy Junction has grown to serve more than 10,000 meals each month, not including the 6,000-plus meals served by our mobile feeding unit dubbed The Lifeline of Hope. Joy Junction is known as New Mexico’s largest homeless shelter, guided by the mission to offer the homeless a safe and tranquil environment to live, providing basic needs like food and shelter, but also emotional and spiritual assistance so individuals can get back on their feet. Joy Junction is a known entity.
But along with knowing, comes growing. Recognizing that it takes a community not only to raise a child but also to lift an individual from their worst days, Joy Junction is stepping up its efforts. Over time, we have noticed a growing need for living spaces that go beyond mere subsistence. Living in dignity can quickly help bring about a positive and permanent change in the ongoing difficult situations experienced by the homeless. It’s taken a while to happen, but the time is finally here. Today, we gather to participate in our commitment to assist our city’s homeless and hungry with the groundbreaking for what will soon become a beautiful and dignified apartment complex. The project, which we hope will be completed in 2018. It will have multiple units with 250 square feet of living space and a personal bathroom. Joy Junction is growing.
And finally, showing. Jesus said, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ The heart of what we do at Joy Junction is based upon a love for God and a love for people. It is love that shows our community the care of our Creator, providing hope for the hurting, and help for the helpless.
So today we celebrate much more than a building. We celebrate the God who loves the world and has provided new living assistance for those needing an expression of His love.
Through Joy Junction—and Jeremy Reynalds—we are showing our city God’s love found in Jesus Christ.
Like knowing, growing, and showing summarized Joy Junction’s ministry, I think four words can summarize Jeremy’s life and ministry:
People: Jeremy will be remembered through the lives of the people helped lift up, from the homeless and hungry to the honored and humble. Jeremy sought to represent Christ in all of his relations.
Place. Jeremy will be remembered for the place he helped found—Joy Junction, a homeless shelter serving thousands of people throughout its 30-year existence.
Partnership. Jeremy will be remembered as a bridge-builder, developing partnerships with people in our community—from the politicians to the police, ensuring the homeless are treated with care and compassion, giving a voice to the voiceless.
Passion. Jesus was a passionate person. He was passionate about his family—five boys and his wife, Elma. He was passionate about journalism and writing, as his many articles and books will confirm. But mostly, Jeremy was passionate about his ministry, yearning for Christ to be honored in all he did and said.
I think a story Jeremy shared with me prior to his death summarizes his life’s work. During one of our many lunches, Jeremy said he had a great story to tell. With beaming eyes, Jeremy told me he was at a conference to promote Joy Junction when a man, an African-American male in his upper 30’s, approached him. The man proceeded to tell Jeremy that he lived at Joy Junction for a time many years ago, and was inspired by Jeremy’s life and ministry and the time he spent at Joy Junction. The man went on to earn his Ph.D. and was now a sought after speaker in his given field.
Jeremy, smiling as he told me the story, was like a proud surrogate father. All I could do was smile back and thank God that Jeremy—and Joy Junction—had such an effect on the man, one testimony among thousands. And I think this is what Jeremy was as well: a testimony of God’s grace, a light in the darkness, and a preserver in the pain. Jeremy was a unique human being—as his painted nails and earrings will attest, but he lived an exceptional life for the glory of God and the good of his neighbor, a living testimony of a loving God.
With Jeremy’s death on Tuesday, July 10th due to complications from cancer, there’s two things for certain: one, he’ll be missed by both family and friends. And, two, His best friend, Jesus, was there to greet him when he entered his true home, heaven. So welcome home, Jeremy; you finished your race well.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, artist, musician, and educator. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon