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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Twin Obsessions

By John W. Kennedy
Oct. 23, 2011

Twin brothers David and Dean Curry are using the flaws of their family’s past as ministry tools to lead two of the largest nonprofits in Pierce County, Wash. Six years ago, the Northwest University graduates came into their own: Dean (right) was named senior pastor of Life Center, the state’s largest Assemblies of God church, and David became chief executive officer of The Rescue Mission in Tacoma.

Their unity of purpose has made a mark in the city of 198,000, which adjoins Seattle to the south. Born and raised in scenic Tacoma, the brothers had an inauspicious beginning. Their father took off when he learned their mother would have twins, leaving her to raise them and their 3-year-old sister alone.

The family moved into a one-bedroom apartment owned by the boys’ maternal grandmother and went on welfare to survive.

After the boys turned 7, a male relative regularly began sexually abusing them. The abuser threatened to kill them if they ever told anyone else. The violations continued for a year and a half, until the boys reached the conclusion that the relative really wouldn’t kill them. They told their mother, Barbara, and the exploitation stopped immediately, although the abuser never faced criminal charges.

The young boys managed to survive. Since childhood, they have watched out for each other.

“Twins have to figure out who they are in a hurry,” Dean says.

“We had a coach and a teacher to look up to,” David says. “And Dean and I had each other.”

The Currys are unmistakably brothers. Both are tall, slender and bespectacled. They share comparable facial characteristics and similar voice inflections. Clean-shaven David, at 6 feet 3 inches tall, is a shade taller and a bit more athletic looking. Dean is more professorial in appearance, and more loquacious in conversation.

Both are affable and humorous as they banter back and forth.

At age 43, the brothers remain best friends and stay in touch daily via texting or phone calls. They often send people each other’s way for help. The childhood trauma they endured has proven illuminating to the brothers, who interact with hurting people every day as part of their work.

“Almost 90 percent of the people I deal with have been sexually abused,” David says. “A prostitute may think I don’t understand her situation, but I really do.”

The Lord, and professional counselors, have helped the brothers find redemption from turmoil. Their anguish lingered, they say, because neither their father nor their abuser ever apologized.

“I had all the necessary disadvantages to be a success in life,” Dean jokes.

At 12, a soccer friend invited the boys to Life Center — the church where Dean is now senior pastor.

“When we walked into church it was the happiest environment we had ever been in,” Dean remembers. “It became the center of our universe. People loved us. We had reason for joy. This is where I received Jesus.”

The brothers — each married for 21 years — now have healthy marriages (David to Kate, Dean to Anne). They each have two teenage children and are the embodiment of godly, manly leaders in their homes. Because of their own background, they place a premium on fatherhood.


LIFE CENTER

Dean Curry has been employed at Life Center for two decades, starting as junior high pastor after graduating from Northwest University, the Assemblies of God school in nearby Kirkland. His brother, 70-year-old mother and several other relatives now are part of the congregation.

For years he has considered ministering to Tacoma-area residents his priority.

“I understand these people,” Dean says. “I want to present answers to fractured families like ours.”

Life Center attendance has grown 75 percent in the past five years. Five English and two Spanish services are offered on weekends, with a 300-person church plant added in the suburb of Lakewood a year ago. Life Center is an anomaly in the unspiritual Pacific Northwest: a megachurch with 5,400 weekly attendees.

The Life Center campus sits on 13 cozy acres. The multigenerational church is adjacent to a Christian education facility where 800 students are enrolled in preschool through high school. Assisted living and low-income senior citizen independent living structures also are next door, with housing for a combined 215 residents.

With the church, school and elderly complexes, Life Center employs 230 people. The school is unusual for a Christian program in that it has math and science labs, video screens in every classroom, and programs for both gifted and special needs students.

The fact that he didn’t emerge from generations of preachers likely is a plus for Dean, as he relates to residents of Tacoma, one of the most nonreligious cities in the nation. According to census data analyzed by InfoGroup in 2009, only 21 percent of those living in Pierce County, where Tacoma is located, claim any religious affiliation.

This is the type of church where the unchurched don’t feel out of place and where people don’t feel condemned about their past (see sidebar, “Helping Victims of Sexual Exploitation”).

The past two summers, Dean has spearheaded Life Center’s effort to provide a free wedding — complete with live music, flowers, cake and photos — for couples who said they couldn’t afford a ceremony.

On the platform, Dean is a captivating communicator who speaks without notes. He is animated, gregarious, humorous and totally comfortable in front of the crowd.

“I’m a first-generation Jesus person,” Dean tells me. “Most of my friends are secular people who are openly disinterested toward faith at best, and antagonistic at worst. The church’s mission is to invite this community to love, then follow, Jesus.”

Dean credits Fulton Buntain with teaching him how to minister. Dean succeeded Buntain, who pastored Life Center for four decades. Buntain, at 85, remains pastor emeritus, comes into the office a couple of days a week, and leads a prayer group and a men’s group.

“I learned a lot from Fulton Buntain, and he still helps me,” Dean says. “He has been a friend and a mentor for a long time.”

Soon after becoming senior pastor, Dean elevated Michelle S. Cox — Buntain’s daughter — from Life Center human resources director to the post of executive director. Although she considers her father a trailblazer who preached that the church is for all people, Cox believes Dean’s style of leadership is right for today.

“I value the past, but I don’t look to the past for the road map to the future,” says Cox, 50. “God has something fresh now for Dean as the shepherd and visionary.”

The personable, conversational and relational Dean in the pulpit is genuine, co-workers say. Many of them have known him for decades.

“What you see on the platform is what I see in the office,” says his executive assistant, Heather Schmick. “He truly cares about people.”


RESCUE MISSION

Although he earlier served on Life Center’s pastoral staff, for a long time David Curry’s heart focused on the down and out of Tacoma.

Despite the clean air, temperate climate, and surrounding beauty of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, Tacoma isn’t immune from the problems of homelessness.

The Rescue Mission budget has doubled to more than $5 million a year under David’s leadership. The 99-year-old organization has six residential facilities scattered throughout the city, ranging from an emergency shelter to transitional housing to family apartments. An average of 650 people stay each night, and 1,000 meals are served daily.

David believes that for homeless people to be open to transformation by Jesus, they first must be overwhelmed by excellence. Thus, facilities, while not ostentatious, should reflect practical living conditions that are an improvement over those to which the homeless are accustomed.

“My goal is to create beautiful environments for the homeless, not just buildings to warehouse them,” David says. “These are children of God, first and foremost. We want to provide a clean, hopeful and lovely environment — the opposite of the chaos these people came from off the streets.”

The men’s emergency shelter grants a 30-day stay for free, no strings attached, or 60 days if residents are looking for work. Men can sleep in a bed, use shower and laundry facilities, and go to a computer lab to search for a job.

Classes are offered to help men obtain a general equivalency diploma. Comfy leather chairs, Kindles and iPads are available for those who struggled with traditional learning environments. When a man locates a dwelling on his own, the mission will provide furnishings at no cost.

Families, overwhelmingly headed by single mothers, live at the Tyler Street campus, where they can stay up to a year provided they aren’t drug or alcohol dependent. The household head works with a case manager in looking for permanent living quarters and employment. The 27 dwellings on a tucked-away cul-de-sac have a colorful Cape Cod architectural design.

The crowning jewel of the Rescue Mission is an $11 million family housing project completed last November. David led a four-year process of raising the entire amount to construct the 36-unit Adams Street facility on a quiet, wooded street. The exterior and interior give no indication that this is a place for the homeless. It looks more like a ski lodge, complete with a massive brick fireplace in the relaxing open room on the ground floor. It’s quite a step up from living in a car.

Families, who participate in Bible studies, may stay up to two years. They also learn such lifestyle skills as money management and problem resolution, with classes streamed between campuses to avoid duplication.

When he took over as CEO, David correctly predicted that homelessness would become more of a problem for women and children, in part because of the scourge of methamphetamine. The rescue mission family centers house 100 children, who are able to eat three meals a day.

“When I think of a single mom and three kids, that was my mom,” David says. “I don’t want those kids to be hungry.”

The mission has 67 staff members and 87 interns. It has a 50 percent rehabilitation success rate, compared to 9 percent nationwide for homeless who go through rehabilitation programs. For Tacoma mission families, the self-sufficiency success rate is 90 percent. David says the spiritual component is key, as staff and volunteers show Christlike compassion in helping the homeless understand that Jesus loves them.

“I don’t see a distinction between ministering to the homeless and anyone else,” David says. “Everyone is broken in some way. Their dysfunction is just out in the open.”

Co-workers uniformly compliment David on empowering them to do their best.

“We’re allowed to try something new and to make a mistake,” says Shilo Lucyk, 40, director of intern and volunteer programs at the mission. “David isn’t a micromanager. He is a good coach and a caring person.”

“He’s focused, and undaunted by obstacles,” Rescue Mission Chief Operations Officer Elis Taylor says of David. “He’s a great generator of ideas, and he’s not afraid to fail.”

Interns and other volunteers are given tremendous leeway to initiate strategies that can make significant differences in the lives of those they are helping. In a typical month, 680 volunteers donate an average of 14 hours of service. Children benefit from homework assistance, field trips to museums and parks, and camping outings.

Despite their blessed lives and faith in the Lord, the Currys still contend with wondering why their father abandoned them — and why their abuser never expressed regret.

“I have to forgive them frequently,” Dean says.

Yet because they have overcome adversity, the brothers have been able to help hundreds of people struggling with heartbreak.

“You don’t get to be a conqueror unless there is an enemy and a battle,” Dean says. “In our case, it began in our mother’s womb.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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