He was a restless, bored seven-year-old gazing through a rain-stained window of a small black church in East Baltimore when, he swears to God, words began magically appearing on the glass before his eyes. He blinked twice and read them:
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…
Suddenly, the writing faded away, leaving him to see his neighbors struggling in poverty and pain as they made their way past his window, on their way to more trials and tribulations. More hunger. More heartache. And, somehow, he sensed the dark passages of despair that lay before them. But he now knew they were not without hope. For God so loved them that he gave up his Son for their salvation.
“It was the first time that God talked to me,” said the Rev. Milton E. Williams, pastor of New Life Evangelical Baptist Church. “The first of many times to come. I don’t know if it was all just in my young head, or if the writing was really there on the wall of glass before me. After all, I was still just learning to read!
“No matter. The message began occupying my mind. God kept reminding me He required my help. And for the next 14 years, I flatly told the Lord, repeatedly, ‘What’s all this got to do with me? The suffering of your people is your problem. Count me out!’ You see, I had my own problems and so many other things I wanted to do.
“Then, one day, in my 21st year, I looked out the window once more. And saw my future. I felt the pain. I saw the suffering. I raised my eyes to heaven and told Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I’m all in.”
Rev. Williams said he is well aware that some young people growing up in the projects look at the suffering in their world and say to themselves, Up and Out! “But back then,” he confided, “I was like the majority of my friends and neighbors in East Baltimore. I believed ‘this is just the way it is’ and there is no way out. I didn’t know how wrong I was until God finally got hold of my ear and changed my life’s journey.”
He said he was soon to learn that there is no easy way up in the ghetto.
“You find that out by stumbling over the bodies of people addicted to pills, crack, alcohol and heroin. By your ears ringing from the constant siren call of the drug pusher. And by your eyes burning at the sight of street crimes and the crushing downfall of morality.”
Rev. Williams believes that so many of those who reside outside his community see only the boarded up houses and obvious poverty. And they just don’t know what it’s like to see friends, neighbors and even family members fall into the death trap of drug addiction or the dead end of a prison cell.
“But God knows,” he said. “And He told meI had work to do to help these suffering souls find a way back.”
During his late teens, Rev. Williams said he debated with his Lord and refused to abandon his personal dreams of upward mobility. He started his own business. He opened a shoe store. Then he opened a second one.
“One day I woke up and found I was rolling in money. I could barely hear God’s calling. But it wasn’t long before the Lord got my full attention. My business began failing. I was too young and far too inexperienced in handling money and running a business in good times and bad.
“Then, the other shoe dropped. My sister, Zelda, was shot and killed in violent East Baltimore. My grief turned to anger. And then to prayer. Soon, God was on the line to me again. He said ‘Listen to Me, Milton.’ And I finally did.”
Working two jobs, he managed to complete his education, including college, and become an ordained minister. He also was blessed with a vision to help God help his brothers and sisters in East Baltimore. He was not going ‘up and out.’ He was back in to help do the Lord’s work.
In 1987 he found barely enough money to start his New Life Evangelical Baptist Church at 2401 East North Ave. A year later he opened his church’s Hard Times Food Pantry to feed the hungry in the community. He says it is now the largest poverty solution food pantry in Maryland.
But another tragedy brought him to his knees. His daughter, Lisa, was shot and killed, the innocent victim in a drug battle on the mean streets of East Baltimore.
“I became determined to do all in my power to push back on the pushers by opening a faith based substance abuse clinic in this state,” Rev. Williams said.
He desperately needed the money to do it. And he soon found that some of the people controlling the money sought to prevent him from getting it. But, in the end, he did get it and was able to open the doors of Turning Point Clinic in 2003. The Clinic’s call to heroin addicts was, and remains today, “The way back stars here.”
Rev. Williams proudly reported that his Turning Point Clinic recently marked an important milestone in its growth with the admission of its 5000th patient into its treatment program. “Today,” he said, “our clinic has treated one out of every ten heroin addicts in Baltimore.”
Although it is true that every patient who enters Turning Point’s treatment program is one less addict on the street prone to commit crimes of robbery or worse to support their evil habit, Rev. Williams said. His clinic’s focus is on finding newer, even more effective treatment components to help recovering addicts stay off the slippery slope back to substance abuse.
“We know that methadone, while truly a God send, is only the first step on the path to a heroin-free life,” he explained. “Our treatment program continues to go far beyond methadone as we seek to provide our patients with the opportunity for lasting, total rehab.
“In addition to methadone treatment, we provide patients with spiritual counseling, mental health treatment, and intensive outpatient counseling,” Rev. Williams said. “But we can and will do more.”
Turning Point has announced that the clinic is now in the process of purchasing land directly across from the church and clinic building on Milton Avenue for the purpose of building a new church to make enough space available to accommodate 500 more patients. But Rev. Williams insists that his clinic’s expansion will not stop there.
“We are also planning to build a larger mental health facility, as well as both urgent care and primary care facilities, because we know– as everyone in the medical community knows—that mental problems and health problems are often the slippery slope back to heroin addiction.”
Rev. Williams added that Turning Point is also preparing to apply for a license to build a Federally Qualified Medical Center on Turning Point’s property.
“We have,” he proclaims, “reached our own turning point. And there is no turning back.”
Rev. Williams said he knows that there are still those in Baltimore’s medical and bureaucratic communities who believe he doesn’t have “a prayer” of succeeding in fulfilling his Total Rehab vision.
“However,” he asserts, “I do have a prayer. It is, ‘Thy will be done! Here. (In East Baltimore,) as it is in Heaven.”