One day about a year ago Todd Mock was jogging along the Columbia River when he felt divinely guided to go toward a pile of big rocks under The Dalles bridge.
There, he saw smoke from a warming fire and things strewn about.
He ran off to buy a sandwich and came back to the bridge, saying to the pile of rocks: “’I was sent from the Lord. I’ve got a sandwich for you.’”
And then, he recounted, “These little hands come out, and they’re just black.”
That first encounter with a longtime homeless man began Mock’s work and ministry locally with the transient population. For 24 years he’s helped the homeless in big cities including Seattle and Chicago.
He seeks out the most hardcore transients, the ones who have been kicked out of everyplace else.
“I’ll just drive around and bump into people and ask them what they need.”
He brings them tents, food and simple human caring. He helps them get IDs. He estimates he’s worked with about 50 people here.
It’s not just alcohol, drugs or mental illness that puts people on the streets, he said, it’s also abuse and financial instability, “which is very prevalent right now in The Dalles.”
“I know why a lot of people don’t like to do this; it can be dangerous. It’s dirty. It’s smelly. And I really think you need to be led to do that,” he said.
But the upside can be huge.
One night, he was standing in a darkened Chicago parking lot with a troubled Vietnam vet, who said he’d committed atrocities there and hadn’t slept since.
Mock heard God say to him, “Tell him God is going to heal him right now.”
Mock did, and began praying for him. The man began screaming, jumping up and down and holding his head. The whole parking lot became diffuse with light, Mock said, and the man said his head was hot.
“I’ve seen crazy things,” Mock said.
The next day, the vet told Mock he’d slept for the first time since Vietnam, and he had peace in his life.
Here in The Dalles, Mock visited the guy under the bridge for about a month before he finally opened up to him. Mock’s wife started washing the man’s clothes.
The man eventually was kicked out from under the bridge by officials. Mock found him downtown and spent most of a day finding a motel room for him. “He’d been trespassed from everywhere because of his behavior.”
Mock paid for his motel room and bought him food daily. “This man was awful, just cussing and whatever.”
But then he stopped drinking, and began showering and picking up after himself.
“One morning I was sitting with him and he said, ‘You know I’m using you, right?’”
“I said, ‘No, I found you.’ And he put his head on my shoulder. He just needed to be loved.”
The moment goes to the heart of Mock’s ministry, titled Mephibosheth (pronounced Meh-FIB-o-sheth) Outreach. The name was given to Mock in prayer 12 years ago, and the ministry’s tagline is “He who scatters shame.”
The name is from a Bible story about the crippled son of a deposed king, who the new king invited to his table to eat. Seated, no one saw Mephibosheth’s physical infirmity and he appeared princely.
“It’s symbolism. When we come to God he hides all our weaknesses and frailties, and to him we are royalty,” Mock said.
Mock said his mission is to display God’s love to others and to show them that no one is beyond God’s love, forgiveness and restoration. He’s known homelessness, addiction and despair himself.
“I really believe the Lord has imparted his heart to me, his heart for his people and his creation. I just can’t stand to see it all twisted and tormented like this.”
Mock was raised Episcopalian but never knew Jesus, he said, until a life-changing experience 24 years ago, as he drove home from a concert at church. He was doing drugs and drinking, and only went to church for his children. He was a successful graphic designer who had worked for Disney, McDonald’s, and the “Veggie Tales” video series, but he felt “empty.”
The theme that night had been, “If Jesus came back, would you even know him?”
His own thought was, “’No, I don’t think I would know you if you came, but would you remember me?’”
Suddenly, in the car Mock had a theopathy, or a vision from God. “I didn’t see God’s face or form, but I saw myself as a baby in his arms.”
He heard the words, “’I’m your father and your mother.’”
Mock couldn’t talk for an hour. His then-wife, in the back seat behind him, was hitting the seat and asking what was going on. He couldn’t answer.
When they got home, she saw his face as he came in the house and was horrified. She told him, “’I didn’t even recognize who you were; your face was literally glowing.’”
A few weeks later, he was driving to work in Seattle, again with his wife in the car, when he saw a blur and, with urgency and not a word, turned around to go back.
His wife asked what he was doing. He was shaking, saying he had to go back and didn’t know why. He saw a homeless man, got out of his car and touched him on the shoulder, saying, “’I’m a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I’ve been sent here to tell you that he still loves you.’ I wasn’t prepared to say anything, it just came out.”
The man burst into tears, explaining he’d been a minister who got into drugs and lost his congregation, his family and his home, and was about to commit suicide. Just moments earlier he’d asked God for a sign that he still loved him.
Mock compulsively gave the man all the money he had, plus his sack lunch. But he felt heavy, burdened and sad. What he’d done wasn’t enough. He wanted to help get the homeless “all the way back home.”
He heard God’s voice tell him, “Someday, you’ll have the opportunity to do that.’”
It’s been a hard 24 years since then. He hopes that that opportunity will come soon, here in The Dalles.
He moved here two years ago with his wife Julie to care for her ailing mother, Irene. (Her father was the late Dr. Bill Wester, a dentist.) When Irene passed away a year later, they bought her house.
The homeless man Mock put in a motel room only lasted there about two weeks before he was kicked out for drinking and having non-paying guests.
“He said, ‘Are you going to abandon me too?’ And he just walked away.”
He eventually found him again and bought him a tent and found a small spot on private property where he was allowed to stay. He’s also gotten him his birth certificate and state ID. He found his brother and put them in touch.
But Mock wants to do more, to help people go “all the way home,” as he puts it.
His long-term goal is building a retreat on land he’s eyeing about 15 miles out of town.
He said the Lord told him to move people far from their toxic environment — away from the liquor store and the internet — to a healing place where they can piece their life back together. In inner city Chicago, he learned what happens when people don’t escape their environment.
“Everybody was getting born again every week,” he said.
They’d have a religious experience, get clean, and then go right back to their neighborhood and the troubles it contained.
His retreat would have pastors, social workers, and people experienced in drug addiction to help.
He wants to give transients “the word of God translated through hugs. Just acceptance.”
The work wouldn’t stop with becoming clean and sober. “That doesn’t give you life skill,” he said. “You still need to know how to pay your rent, how to not trash the place, how to be polite in public.”
A more immediate goal is to open a location in town where the homeless could shower, and there’d be a space for fellowship or events. He’s about to launch his non-profit and has already begun fundraising toward his goals.
His website, Mephibosheth.org, is live, with an option to donate, and he’s also marketing on social media.
He hopes fundraising will help him realize his goal. “All I can do right now is meet people in the street; I need help.”
Mock has joined a local homeless coalition that formed almost a year ago. He said, “I’m learning I need to be a part of everybody to make this work. We all need to be part of it.”