Two little New Testaments nestled in the top of a tree: how do books find such an unlikely perch? Thirteen-year-old Bruce Donohue was astonished the day he climbed that tree as a youth and discovered God’s living Word. Having no idea who God was, he suddenly was overwhelmed with an emotion that indelibly marked him. God would continue to show up thereafter until Bruce couldn’t hold his Creator at arm’s length any longer.
The recipe for a good life?
Until the age of 43, Bruce describes himself as being an extremely immoral man who, at times, turned to violence. “By the time I turned 19 or 20, I began using drugs intravenously, and I did that up until I was 43, so we’re talking a little over two decades of intravenous meth,” says Bruce. “In my addiction, I burglarized people’s homes, robbed people’s businesses…”
He didn’t like limitations. Responding to every whim and desire, Bruce believed that a life without rules was the recipe for a good life, which eventually led to destitution and homelessness on the streets of Salem.
In his drug community, Bruce was well known, though not yet for noble traits: prison time, numerous arrests, and so many mugshots you could fill an album. Although distracted by the lure of the world, Bruce never did forget his first encounter with God in the tree. In fact, he couldn’t. God would systematically interrupt his life, reminding Bruce of His presence.
“I enjoyed my sin, I pursued it, but every once in a while, God would insert himself, and I’m telling you, in ways that are more remarkable than the New Testament on top of the tree,” says Bruce. “[God would] tell me He had not gone away, He was still there, and no matter how far I ran, I couldn’t get away.”
The verse Psalm 139:7-8 comes to mind: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”
Time and time again, God chased Bruce, and Bruce ran from, resisted, and rejected God, plugging the ears of his soul from the still, small voice.
A life-altering arrest
In 2004, Bruce was arrested. Not a unique experience to him, but this particular arrest changed the course of his life forever. In the back of a police car, an unexplainable shift in his heart took place. For the first time, Bruce sought God for help.
“God, I know you don’t have any reason to hear me right now, but if you will, I just want you to speak to me.” When he reached his cell, he cracked open a New Testament, asking God to speak as he read. Bruce will never forget what happened next.
“He finally revealed to me what I needed to know most, and that was His grace,” says Bruce with misty eyes. Over the years, God revealed He was “I am.” Then he showed His sovereignty. Then the source of true peace. But it was the power of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness that finally transformed Bruce.
During that year in prison, Bruce experienced a freedom he had never known, a liberation that his previous life of gluttony never filled, and his face was changed: “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken,” says Proverbs 15:13.
Search & Rescue
Upon release, God pointedly led Bruce to UGM where he grew in knowledge about God and found further healing from his past. Eventually, Bruce was offered a job at UGM, which led to his current position. Today, God has positioned Bruce as UGM’s coordinator for the Search & Rescue outreach ministry. His past experiences, his steadfast commitment to God, and his drive to build relationships with the homeless community match him well for this role.
Five days a week, Bruce loads up a van and hits the streets, delivering material aid and ministering to the souls of Salem’s homeless neighbors. The motivation, though, goes deeper. “I want to create an opportunity for the Gospel. How I count success is not how many people I get into the shelter, but how many hear Jesus’ name,” he says.
While nuanced in its own precious way, Bruce’s story is not unique. God is alive and active, daily wooing lost people to Himself. He is the Way Maker who makes the impossible possible, and we at UGM are humbled to be used by Him to carry out His plan.