Kevin Dowling and his wife, Rachel, lay huddled together in a cardboard box to stay warm. It was a chilly spring night in New York, but not cold enough for nearby shelters to open their doors to overnight homeless guests. The Dowlings would have to remain in their box for the night, pushed up against a rundown alleyway building. Too tired, too cold, and too high on drugs to worry about it at the moment, they would resume their quest for food in the morning.
Kevin and Rachel first met in Grand Central Station in the heart of New York City. After a quick, casual conversation, Rachel boarded one train and Kevin another. But, as fate—or God—would have it, they met up again that same night in a different part of the city. They have been together ever since.
Kevin and Rachel soon married, but the honeymoon was short-lived. Trapped in the tentacles of drug addiction, the couple found themselves living on the streets without a dime to their name: “Every penny we were able to hustle, steal, or con someone out of went straight to the dope man,” recalls Kevin. “Drugs were absolutely an idol in our lives.”
“We wandered the streets hungry,” adds Rachel. “The first time we ate out of a dumpster was when we saw a pizza box sitting right on top of the garbage heap. Most of the pizza was still in the box, so that was our dinner.”
Aside from dumpster diving for their meals, the Dowlings also ate at soup kitchens, churches, or homeless shelters—anywhere they could scavenge free food. Then they heard about a Lutheran church that provided breakfast for the homeless on Sundays. “You didn’t have to go to the services,” explains Kevin. “They just let you come and eat. We started eating there every Sunday.”
Little did Kevin and Rachel know that their newfound breakfast spot would soon change their lives. After a while, the Dowlings began hanging around after breakfast to help the church staff clean and put tables and chairs away. They also took time to chat with some of the church people.
It wasn’t long before they began attending the services as well. “Although we were going to the church, we were also still living on the streets and getting high. We never told anyone what our lives were really like,” says Kevin. He and Rachel were certain that those at the church would not approve of their lifestyle.
But at least one lady in the church didn’t care. “We met a lady named Pat, and even though she knew we were homeless and had nothing to give back, she invited us into her home,” says Rachel, still amazed at her generosity.
Kevin continues the story: “Pat sat me down at her kitchen table, looked me right in the eyes, and with such compassion, she told me that God loved me no matter what I was like or what I was going through.” At that moment, Kevin felt something move deep within his heart—something he had never before experienced.
“I was so excited…so joyful,” recalls Kevin. “I told Rachel that I had gotten saved, and I asked her to do the same.”
“I remember saying to Kevin, ‘But I’m not worthy. I don’t deserve Jesus,’” says Rachel.
The very next day, Rachel had her own conversation with Pat: “Pat told me, just like she told Kevin, that God loved me very much—no matter what. I’d never heard that before. I didn’t know God could love someone like me.” Rachel also gave her life to Jesus, and she and her husband experienced an immediate infilling of God’s unconditional love and grace.
Although they were completely transformed on the inside, the Dowlings’ circumstances were still dire. Their drug habit was so ingrained, they knew they wouldn’t be able to get free on their own. They checked themselves into a Christian rehab center that took in married couples. While Rachel was able to stay in the program, Kevin had to first clear up past issues with the courts due to his probation. After his year of probation was up, he informed his probation officer that his only hope of staying out of trouble was to get out of New York City.
God moved on his probation officer to stand in for Kevin before the judge so he wouldn’t have to appear in court and run the risk of having to stay in New York. She only made Kevin promise to call her as soon as he and Rachel arrived in Chicago. He did, and he and Rachel began with a clean and sober slate in the Windy City, where they lived for five years. Afterward, they decided to move to Pennsylvania. It was there that they heard God calling them into the next chapter of their lives:
“When we were in Pennsylvania, I stumbled across Gospel Truth on television. I was hooked,” says Kevin. “We started watching Andrew every day and ordering his books and CDs.”
Once, when Kevin was tuned in to the program, he heard about Charis Bible College(CBC). He mentioned CBC to Rachel, but neither gave it much thought initially. Meanwhile, the couple was trying to purchase a home in Pennsylvania, but every time they thought they had an open door for a place of their own, that door would slam shut.
Kevin recalls, “It was funny how every avenue we tried for a home suddenly became closed off to us. About this same time, God started bringing the thought of CBC alive in my heart. One night, I came home from work and woke Rachel up. I said, ‘Why don’t we just move to Colorado and go to the Bible college?’”
“I just looked at him and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to say that.’”
As soon as the Dowlings made their decision to attend Charis, they received a phone call informing them that they were owed money that they never even knew about! Although it wasn’t a large sum, it was enough to pay off their car and help them save for their move out West. Kevin and Rachel enrolled in CBC in 2008 and have never looked back from this new beginning God gave them.
“Sitting under the teachers at CBC has totally changed our lives,” says Kevin. “We’ve learned that we don’t have to earn anything from God; He just loves us and gives us His gift of salvation absolutely free.”
One of the biggest changes Kevin has experienced is how God’s grace has transformed him into a brand-new person: “Simply by studying God’s Word and staying focused on His love, I’ve realized that God has changed things in my life and inside my heart that I didn’t even try to change. Over time, I’ve just become a very different person.”
Kevin and Rachel knew they weren’t going to just sit in classrooms and listen to lectures every day. This was a hands-on school that equips the students to be world changers. And that was fine with them. God had given them more than they could ever repay, but they wanted to do something to serve Him by serving others.
One of the ministries the school offers was a perfect fit for the Dowlings: an outreach to the homeless. Kevin and Rachel jumped at the chance to be involved in this food ministry and led it throughout their entire second year at Charis. Now they’ve graduated, but they continue serving in the ministry by bringing food to CBC students at the school three times a week and providing ministries and churches within Colorado Springs and surrounding areas with all the food they need.
Kevin and Rachel stand amazed at how God has grown this ministry. “We receive thousands upon thousands of loaves of bread every week, plus meat, canned goods, and dry goods,” says Kevin. “Each Saturday, I pick up a trailer full of food, and people from all around come and take whatever they want. We had no idea it would turn into something this big.”
When they started leading the food ministry, they made a promise to God to never turn anyone away. God has helped them honor that vow by consistently providing for their every need so that they always have enough to bless others.
But God hasn’t limited Himself to only meeting the Dowlings’ needs; He has also given them the desires of their hearts. Kevin explains, “For many years, I’ve always wanted a brand-new Harley. And, once I became a Christian, I wanted to be part of a Christian motorcycle group.”
Not only did God provide Kevin with his Harley and lead him to a Christian motorcycle group, but Kevin is now an assistant chaplain with one! The group is called Black Sheep because their goal is to be different. While a lot of motorcycle groups are on the streets looking for trouble, Black Sheep riders are out looking for ways to serve.
“This group loves to serve and give in any capacity,” says Rachel. “God has brought us into this group because it’s an extension of our passion.”
Whether it’s feeding the homeless or ministering to the hopeless, Kevin and Rachel never want anyone to feel that they’re useless or worthless just because they’re going through hard times. They’ve been there themselves, and now they want to be able to see people through God’s eyes: “We want to treat people like kings and queens,” says Kevin, “because when you love God first, then love your neighbor as yourself, everything else falls into place.”
For more insight into the Dowling's heart to share the love of God, be sure to watch the video below.
For more information about the Dowlings and their food ministry, In Jesus Ministries, contact them by calling 719-393-5581.
Story reprinted from the 2011 Fall/Winter edition of the ministry's Gospel Truth Magazine.