Tacos for Jesus
There’s a reason Canyon Lake is also known as Crystal Lake, and former drug addict Melinda Johnson is trying to change that, one taco at a time.
She has a small propane grill that sits on a picnic table, limited amounts of meat, and the patience and determination to just show up in Mobile Home Estates Park at 4 p.m. every Saturday and feed anyone who’s hungry, especially meth addicts.
One recent afternoon at Tacos for Jesus, an outreach of Canyon Lake’s Saved by Grace Ministries, a lady arrived dressed like a mermaid, with seashells on her bathing suit top and a fishing net.
“You get character in the park,” Johnson laughs. “She came out completely strung up on something. When people say what is taco ministry, I say I don’t know, we just show up at the park at 4 p.m. and feed people. It’s just blossoming into what I don’t even know yet.”
Recent arrivals to the park, skaters, also are enjoying her tacos, and several schools have asked her if she’ll have food for their students over the summer.
Tacos for Jesus is only several months old, but Johnson’s ministry now includes 15 regulars. She also serves fresh tacos on weekends at Sattler Farmer’s Market. They’re free, of course, but 100 percent of any donations go right back to the grocery store for supplies.
Johnson describes her specialty as “straight-up street tacos” filled with shredded pork or chicken with cilantro, all served with a side of prayer.
“Whatever cuts of meat are on sale that week, that’s what we get.”
Huge Drug Culture
Johnson says a lot of people don’t realize that Canyon Lake has a huge drug culture and that it touches almost everyone who lives in the community.
Statistics back this up. According to results of a January 2017 community survey by Community Resource and Recreation Center of Canyon Lake (CRRC), substance-abuse prevention programs were ranked number one in area needs, followed by primary healthcare providers at #2 and substance-abuse treatment at #3.
Saved by Grace’s Shepherd Shirley Dudley (she prefers the term to pastor) says Canyon Lake’s drug problem is much worse than people think. Many residents go hungry, and children live in sometimes squalid conditions because their parents are too strung out on drugs to care for them.
“People need to be aware that there are children living in these meth houses with no electricity,” Dudley says. “We live in our nice houses and have plenty of food but there is so much going on that people are unaware of.”
Saved by Grace Ministries also distributes free banana bread at Lowes Market in Startzville. Donations from the banana-bread ministry support Tacos for Jesus.
Reaching out to drug users like Johnson takes time, prayer and a lot of love, Dudley says. In Canyon Lake, drug use is multi-generational, and it gives those caught up in its cycle a very distorted view of love.
“People have used them.”
From Johnson’s point of view, the best way to help addicts is to just be there for them.
“It’s just about building relationships right now,” she says. “The drug culture is not a very trusting culture.
“Our target is to change the atmosphere of the park, to bring life and light into the neighborhood. One thing I’ve been noticing is other churches want to come together and help the drug culture, but no one really knows how to. So I was like, send me in there. I speak the language.”
Waiting Around To Die
Johnson says she first became addicted to opiates and “every other drug” 34 years ago after doctors in California prescribed them to alleviate pain caused by years of extreme sports, including surfing. They told her to make peace with the fact she’d need to use prescription drugs the rest of her life.
“Before I went and got delivered, I was one of those people waiting around to die,” she says. “I did not have much more life in me. I’d been taking hundreds of pills a month. I was doing street drugs, illegal drugs, prescription drugs.”
Once, she was so high she snapped her ankle but walked around on it for three days anyway. Taking 20 to 40 pills a day was completely normal for her.
About five years ago, high on 80 milligrams of methadone with another two pills in her pocket, Johnson walked into Saved by Grace Ministries.
Dudley recalls taking one look at Johnson before bringing her into her home where she could care for her, pray over her and keep her away from other users.
Johnson never took another pill.
Now she wants other addicts to know that no matter what shape they’re in, there’s always hope.
Recently, she spoke to her son, who’s in jail. He reminded her that the only place a drug addict can find a reliably hot meal is there.
“The drug culture is an extremely hard culture to get out of because once you get off the drugs you have to fix that,” Johnson says. “You can’t get a really good job. It’s just hard. Even if you want to turn your life around, it’s still hard. People are like, what’s the use? This is an extremely hard culture to reach.”
Isaiah 61:1 Area
Longtime Fischer residents Shirley and James Dudley were happy with their ministry at a more-comfortable church setting in Wimberley until they decided that Isaiah 61:1 — a chapter in the Bible instructing those called to comfort the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for captives and release prisoners from darkness — meant it was time for them to take on Canyon Lake.
They founded Saved by Grace Ministries in 2008. The church used to meet at the CRRC but now holds services in the couple’s home while the group looks for a new building.
“Canyon Lake has been a hard territory because there’s so much bondage and addictions in it,” Dudley says. “We love on people others would consider hard to love. We truly believe that you love people right where they’re at.”
The Dudleys are in the process of creating a landscaping company that would put drug users to work while keeping them under the right kind of supervision so they can learn things like how to dress for and act at a job.
They’d like to figure out a way to provide shelter for people, too.
“Being with them all day, you can just disciple them,” Dudley says.
Saved by Grace from a Car Seat in a Closet
Several years ago, the Dudleys ministered to a woman living in an abusive situation. They gave her James’ card and phone number and told her to call when she needed help and was ready to get out.
Two months later, when the call came, they arrived at Mobile Home Estates to pick her up. They were dumbfounded to learn she had a little boy who’d been kept strapped in a car seat in a closet — where he’d be safe — while she did drugs..
Thirty others also lived in that trailer, which was a meth house.
“She came out holding this little boy, and it was in June. His little cheeks were blood red. He had on a polar-fleece fitted pajama thing. People were passed out all over the floor.”
When they handed the 23-month-old a toy, and he just stared at it.
“He had the biggest blank look on his face,” Dudley says. “For me, that was so hard to understand. He didn’t even know what a toy was. He went to the trash can for food. We kept him for a year then placed him with a family for adoption. He’s doing incredible.”
To learn more about Saved by Grace Ministries or to make a donation to Tacos for Jesus, visit sbgjesus.com.