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Directors give God's love to repentant gang members, addicts

Morning Star directors guide repentant gang members, addicts to new life

Staff writer

Former Hillsboro resident Brian Partridge has experienced the worst that life has to offer.

Partridge’s mother, 16 and a single mother, could not take care of Partridge and he grew up in foster care in Tacoma, Wash.

He was in many homes; one foster father and brother molested Partridge when he was young.

Partridge’s outlet for his psychological problems was to join a gang and sell and use drugs on the streets of Seattle.

By the time he was 18 years old, Partridge had spent two and half years in prison on a charge of attempted murder.

He later tried to commit suicide.

“I couldn’t kill myself,” he said. “I couldn’t do anything right. There was no righteousness in me.”

When he was released from jail, Partridge received a letter from his mother who was living in Hillsboro. She asked Partridge to move to Hillsboro and be with her.

Partridge’s foster family encouraged him to move, fearing he would die if he stayed in Washington.

“My way was going downhill,” he said.

“You can have this kingdom, because I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your home. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:33-40

Partridge said he is a radio for God’s word — when he is tuned into the right frequency, he makes sure to follow the subsequent directions.

However, the first time Partridge received a sign from God he was like a wary traveler, spinning the dial aimlessly.

Partridge was playing basketball behind Hillsboro Ministries apartment complex when a family offered him a glass of water, food, and a temporary place to stay.

The family told Partridge about a Christian retreat for young men. Partridge attended the event and the gathering of people caught Partridge’s attention.

“I saw guys who were not from around Kansas — ex-drug dealers, ex gang members,” Partridge said.

Partridge saw two things in that meeting: one, he was not alone in his struggle and, two, he saw that these men had gained peace and happiness despite their violent pasts.

“I wanted what they had because I could see it was good,” Partridge said.

The retreat was organized by Morning Star Ranch counselor Val Newton.

Newton and Tim Suderman recently became co-directors of the Ranch, located four miles east of Florence, this past December.

The division of their duties is bridged with a common goal to bring the love of God to the people in American society who could use the voice of a heavenly power in their lives.

Newton is in charge of the Christian leadership program for young male adults.

Partridge graduated from the two-year Christian leadership program in 2005.

Newton provided discipline for men who have only lived for themselves throughout their adult lives — survival and independence were their priorities.

“When guys first come in, naturally, they struggle with independence,” Newton said. “They really need to be interdependent and grow with the community.”

Trust is an important part of the program; Newton tries to earn trust from men who have been previously betrayed in their lives. The pushback Newton receives from his students he returns with love.

“I’ve seen people spit in their face,” Partridge said of the counselors at Morning Star. “They continued to show love.”

Because the students who stay at Morning Star enrolled in the leadership program longing to change their lives, Newton said the program has an 80 percent success rate. However, the program is anything but easy.

“In terms of putting off the old man and putting on the new, change presents a challenge in anyone’s life,” Newton said.

The young men in the program study Christianity and receive vocational training, such as construction or auto mechanics. However, the most exhausting part of their learning is the emotional and psychological work to become a new person.

“It’s a lot of reality checks and self evaluation,” Partridge said. “It’s a chiseling process, areas in my life that I need to chisel off.”

What helps men like Partridge are counselors like Newton who can relate to the struggles of their students. Newton grew up on the streets of Miami and said that he struggled with addiction. He can empathize with the pain of the transformation because he went through the same experience when he gave himself to God, he said.

“I really enjoy seeing young men change and grow in Christ,” Newton said. “As time goes on, you see the mask removed from their face.”

Partridge said that while he was in the program Newton was a father figure — a relationship that Partridge had never experienced.

“I never knew my father,” Partridge said. “Val came along as more than a buddy. It was a tight bond that we had.”

Partridge is one of the successes that has fueled Newton to continue mentoring young men for the past 13 years at Morning Star Ranch. Partridge has become a Christian leader despite his hellacious upbringing.

“I’ve been high off PCP, marijuana, crack, ecstasy,” Partridge said. “Nothing felt so pure and clean and real (as God).”

Currently, Partridge lives in Newton where he is working as a youth minister at Riverpoint Church.

He first found the calling of working with children at Morning Star Ranch during its summer camps.

Suderman operates the summer camp program, which runs from the first week of June through the first week of August.

The camp is for inner city youth, age 8 through 15, from Wichita, Dallas, and St. Louis.

While Christianity is a theme in the camp, more importantly the program allows children without the means to have a normal camp experience — canoeing, fishing, and archery are more important than scripture reading because the goal of the camp is to provide fun activities.

“When they arrive at camp, you can see it on their faces that they’re struggling,” Suderman said. “We see the joy and happiness while they’re at camp.”

With a week of camp, children often develop lifelong friendships that persist despite geographic distance because of Facebook and the Internet.

Suderman said the program does not ask for much money from campers and covers the remaining costs of the camp with the generosity of sponsorships, including funds from local companies such as Flaming’s Heating and Air Conditioning and Hillsboro Electric Company.

“Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.”

Exodus 14:15

Partridge has continued his Christian journey since leaving Morning Star.

He went back home to Tacoma where he helped feed the homeless and counsel addicts.

He also started a Christian rap career, recording in Seattle. Music was a hobby Morning Star promoted; he performed in front of groups often at the ranch.

Partridge later went to Reno, Nev., a town he had never visited. Prayers and signs from God led him to the Nevada town — it was where God wanted him to be.

Partridge continued the ministries he started in Washington in Nevada, and joined the Teen Challenge program where he helped counsel California teenagers.

Partridge was later called back to Kansas but says he has received signs that Chicago may be his next destination.

“Wherever the Lord will have me go, I go,” Partridge said.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:24

Partridge said he tries to lead the Christian life he learned at Morning Star, although some days are harder than others.

“It’s an everyday process,” Partridge said. “Your first day of college doesn’t make you a doctor.”

Recently Partridge has committed himself to forgiveness.

He has never resented his mother for leaving him in foster care. He said, if anything, he can put himself in her situation.

Partridge also found a phone number for the foster father who sexually abused him. He called the man and told him he forgave him.

The man hung up the phone without a hint of regret or sorrow at his actions.

“I’ve been forgiven more than I can imagine,” Partridge said. “I don’t want to say I love God and hate someone. If you hate someone, you lie.”

“’Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’” And he was saying, “’Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’” And He said to him, “’Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”

Luke 23: 40-43

Suderman talked about grace.

“Grace is receiving what I don’t deserve,” he said. “I think the grace that is administered to me is being able to be long-suffering.”

Suderman and Newton agreed that their jobs at Morning Star require a huge amount of grace and patience.

However, Suderman, Newton, and Partridge’s drive is to transfer that grace to others, especially if it seems undeserved.

“Once they’re free, it’s life changing,” Newton said of God’s affect on his students. “The grace is not just given to them.”

Last modified April 20, 2011

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