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Stepping into Statesboro, out of retirement
God brings Jim Lewis a new plan
Jim Lewis w pastor Web
With an effort to involve the community in the success of Open Hearts Community Mission, Rev. Jim Lewis, right, chats with Pastor David Shirley, Care Pastor of Connection Church, to discuss upcoming plans for partnering opportunities with the church and Open Hearts. - photo by JULIE LAVENDER/Special

The King James Version of Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.”

Rev. Jim Lewis, director of the Open Hearts Community Mission, has first-hand experience with the verse applying to his life.

The 72-year-old Lewis retired as the executive director of Old Savannah City Mission in 2011 after serving there for eight years. Prior to that job, Lewis held several positions, including executive director, at a mission on Skid Row, Los Angeles Mission in Los Angeles, California, for almost 15 years.

And even before that, Lewis, who is fluent in Spanish, served as a missionary in Madrid, Spain, was in the United States Air Force Honor Guard for two years, and attended graduate school and seminary.

“I was ready to retire,” Lewis said. “And I thought we were going to Tampa.”

Lewis said Tampa made sense, as his wife, Damaris Tejada Lewis, is from the Dominican Republic and had lived in large cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“Tampa has the second-largest Dominican Republic population,” he said.

In the meantime, however, a reconnection with an old acquaintance sent the Lewises on a different path.

“Wayne Swanson, the pastor at that time of CrossRoads Community Church here in Statesboro, had been my parents’ pastor in the mid ‘70s in Seminole County, where I graduated from high school. My sister called me in Savannah and told me that Pastor Wayne’s son, DeWayne, was in the hospital in Savannah and asked if I could go visit him.”

Lewis reconnected with Pastor Wayne during that visit and also met and became friends with Cary Swanson, current senior pastor of CrossRoads, and his wife, Janet Swanson.

“My wife and I would drive occasionally to Statesboro to attend church there after that time, and before I knew it, my wife had gone online and found a house in Statesboro,” Lewis said.


Postponing retirement

Lewis, with much hands-on, on-the-job experience, several advanced degrees and a host of titles, humbly said with a chuckle, “I’ve never been smart enough to do things on my own. God often drop-kicks me from one place to another.”

“Retirement” plans in Statesboro for Lewis included occasionally teaching and leading seminars.

“I did some teaching, but there wasn’t the demand I’d hoped,” he said. “It was fulfilling, but that wasn’t it for me. I was OK, but that wasn’t OK. I needed something meaningful. And God had a better idea. He always has a better idea.”

From his friendship with Cary and Janet Swanson, Lewis met Delia Mobley after moving to Statesboro. Mobley and Janet Swanson share a close friendship.

With Lewis’ 30 years of experience in prison and homeless ministry, Lewis seemed like the perfect fit to come onboard with the Open Hearts Community Mission project.

“I was still looking for that meaningful work, and the Father said, ‘I have something for you.’ Board member Jim Benton called and asked me to go to breakfast and presented the offer of OHCM director.

“I was so glad to see that the last train hadn’t left the station. I wasn’t good at being retired,” Lewis said.

Still, he had reservations about taking on the position at his age and said that he prayed, “Father, if you want me to do this, help me out.”

Fast-forward slightly over a year from that breakfast meeting, and Lewis is going full steam ahead as OHCM director and changing lives one step at a time.


‘Gracious God’

“God is just so gracious. I am awed by a God who can do the miraculous,” Lewis said about the new facility. “This mission is a silver bridge to the future for someone who’ll come to us and is willing to meet the requirements and work.

“We’re serving a population that’s not been served — someone who’s having a hard time, possibly lost their job unexpectedly and been evicted. We’re here to help them get on their feet again. Seeking employment is one of the first priorities — guiding their steps to a path of success.”

Lewis’ ministry path has taken him from one coast to the other and back again and to several countries in between. Lewis may have initially planned on Statesboro being his place of retirement, but for now and until God leads elsewhere, God’s directing this director’s steps up and down the halls of Statesboro’s Open Hearts Community Mission.


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