Back on the Street Again!
by Deborah Ross as told to Constance B. Fink
"You low-down child! I don't believe in abortions, but I should have killed you when I had the chance," screamed my mother when I was 12 years old, as I poured her last drop of alcohol down the kitchen sink. But, God had something different in mind as He repeatedly spared my life during my precarious upbringing, even when I didn't know Him.
All seven of my siblings carry physical and emotional scars from childhood. When I was a toddler, my little sister Rena and I lived with our mother. One day I remember waking up to Rena's wails and I couldn't find Mom anywhere. Dad found us days later – still alone – when he came for his weekly visit.
An absentee father and a drunken mother left us unprotected from all abuse. To physically discipline us, Mom would beat us with an extension cord and then pour alcohol on the open wounds. Mom always had a live-in boyfriend. My first memory of being molested was at age three. After countless times, I finally got the nerve to tell Mom what her boyfriends were doing to me, but she called me a liar, so I stopped telling.
School meant not only was I away from home, but I could eat a meal – sometimes the only one for the day. I loved to learn and got straight A's, which gave the school kids another reason to pick on me. One day, Beverly, the toughest girl in school, had taken most of my lunch. As I stood on the playground trying to decide what to do, I heard Beverly laugh and say, "Don't get too close. She stinks!" That did it. I was tired, hungry, and didn't need to be humiliated too. Before I knew what I was doing, I let loose all the years of rage on her. I punched, scratched, clawed, and screamed. That was the last time anyone ever messed with me.
When I was eleven, my older sisters went to live with Dad, leaving me to care for the children and house. Our living conditions were terrible. The building was condemned, the stench was strong, and the house was filthy. Rats and roaches skittered everywhere. The gas and electricity bills were seldom paid together so we rarely had both on. We were evicted frequently. Tired of these conditions, I started stealing Mom's welfare checks and food stamps to pay the bills and buy groceries.
I took care of my siblings, handled the household details, and continued with school. Then came my special day – eighth-grade graduation. After accepting my diploma, I looked over the crowd and felt so alone. There was no one there for me. Someone asked what my plans were for the rest of the day. I lifted my chin, forced a smile and said, "My parents had to work, but they're taking me out for dinner and a movie later." Then I went home and cried myself to sleep. From then on, I vowed that my younger siblings would never experience that kind of pain.
I was fourteen when my boyfriend, Ricky, came to live with us. Although he came from a decent home, he was in a gang. He spent a night here and there, and then eventually he stayed. I was the woman of the house; he was the man of the house. At sixteen, I was pregnant with our first child. Ricky decided I was smarter, so he dropped out of high school to care for the baby. When our child was five months old, Ricky was charged with theft and sentenced to three years in prison. I dropped out as a senior, and lost my dreams of going to college to be a lawyer. I fell into depression and began to drink and do drugs.
When Ricky was free, shortly after my nineteenth birthday, I became pregnant with our second child. During the pregnancy, Ricky got another theft charge. After his release on bail, we decided to move from Chicago to Milwaukee to start a better life.
My sister, Pam, told me Jesus wanted to give me a new life. With Ricky facing more prison time, I cried out to God and started making deals. Sitting in the court room awaiting the jury verdict, I begged God, "Please don't let Ricky go back to prison. Please, I promise I will give you my life and never commit sexual sin again." When the jury decided Ricky was innocent, even though we knew he was guilty, I realized how much God cared for me. The next Sunday I walked the streets of Milwaukee to find a church.
Before I could see the church, I heard the music, and walked in. The preacher pleaded with the congregation to receive forgiveness. I felt he was talking to me, so I wobbled my pregnant self up to the altar. A few days later, Ricky and I were married at the courthouse so I could keep my promise not to live in sexual sin. Had I known God's standard for Christians marrying non-Christians, I would not have married him then.
My faith and love for Jesus increased. I wanted everyone, especially Ricky, to experience the new life I had. But as I grew spiritually, Ricky fell deeper into drugs. I prayed intensely for him. One night, with great joy, I led him to Christ. However, he didn't experience the immediate deliverance I had.
One evening after I attended a Bible study, Ricky came home high. He wanted money for drugs and I wouldn't give it to him. He was angry. I knew he understood my decision to follow Christ, so I was shocked by his anger. He pleaded for forgiveness, but I gave him the silent treatment. I knew I should have forgiven him, but my pride got in the way. When he saw he could get nowhere with me, he left the house. Then I heard gunshots, and before I could get to the door, Ricky was beating on it saying he had been shot. He died later that night in surgery.
Although I had been in the church for over a year, the meals and help normally given to widows were not given to me – a ghetto girl. God was my only comfort, and I experienced His love and concern for me. I saw the Bible come alive in my life as He proved repeatedly He was on my side. What an awesome, personal, and powerful God! I knew I would never leave Him, and He promised He would never leave me. He and I were now a team.
I wanted to forgive my mother, father, and the man who murdered my husband, but it was a long process. Eventually my emotions caught up with my decision, even though none of the people apologized to me. God revealed my pain to me a little at a time until I was deeply and completely healed.
God used my pain to prepare me to reach the homeless, drug addicts, teen moms, widows, the poor, and abused children. My childhood was training for the ministry He had in mind for me. Knowing His purpose, it was time to move forward with His plan.
First, I met Maurice Ross in a Bible study. He grew up in a stable, two-parent home, raised in the church. Despite our different backgrounds, we fell in love and got married. Maurice loved my children as his own, and we had three more together. I homeschooled the children – I wanted them to know and love the Lord as much as I did.
Our girls formed a string quartet called the Sisters of PraiZe. We took a battery-operated karaoke machine to the park. As people gathered to listen to the children sing and play their instruments, I stood on a picnic table and told them how Jesus made a difference in my life. Many, including gang members, surrendered their lives to Jesus.
In a short time, we began a full-time street ministry in cities across America, meeting basic needs first and then sharing the gospel. JohnRoss Ministries – "the Church on Wheels" – has a carnival-style atmosphere with popcorn poppers, tents and a portable stage, and a stove for hot dogs. We serve food to the people while they listen to music by our children. In the winter we dress the street kids in hats, scarves and gloves, and serve hot drinks. Testimonies and the gospel are presented, and people are given an opportunity to receive Christ. Local churches follow up with discipleship.
Our holiday outreaches come from my own painful experiences. In August we give backpacks filled with school supplies - I never had a backpack. For Easter and Thanksgiving we give turkeys and hams with all the trimmings - my mother never cooked a holiday meal. For Christmas we give toys - I remember getting a toy on only two Christmases.
It is truly God's amazing grace and mercy that He adopted me as His daughter - someone once discarded by adults and society. Today I walk through life with a smile and my chin held high, not because I survived my childhood, but because I am the daughter of the King of Kings!
Taking the church to the city
The Lord has called our family to be missionaries to the cities in America. Our daughters are known as Sisters of PraiZe. Blessed with God-gifted talent, each one of the girls plays three or four instruments. Sharice, Rickena, Monique, and Chaunte lead praise and worship at outreaches all over the country. The Sisters of PraiZe have a versatile ministry, blessing both young and old through song and dance, instruments, and testimonies.
Maurice and I conduct parenting seminars and facilitate evangelism training. We go to prisons, shelters, and the streets. In cities across America, many people don't attend church, so the "Church on Wheels" goes to them. A team of volunteers goes out and canvasses the community with attractive flyers, announcing a free concert, and free food. At each outreach, the community is fed, Bibles are given away, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, along with testimonies and music. Those who receive Christ are plugged into a church in their community for discipleship and follow-up. JohnRoss Ministries has approximately 30 trained volunteer missionaries, but more are needed to set up for each outreach, work as altar workers, prayer counselors, and servers to the community, and to break down equipment at the close of each outreach.
For further information on JohnRoss Ministries or for Deborah's autobiography, Back On The Streets, please contact Deborah Ross at P.O. Box 18075, Milwaukee, WI 53218