Thursday, 01 May 2014 16:39

The Shepherd’s Staff with Linnie and Debbie Dickson “No Lights…No Cameras…But a Lot of Action!”

Written by  Rachel Fisher
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Linnie Dickson grew up with parents who were World War II veterans determined to give their kids a better life. Working long hours eventually allowed them to move from public housing to an upscale neighborhood, but financial success did not bring the happiness they thought it would.  Instead, the pursuit of the American Dream, and the mounting pressure for more, eventually led to a broken family.

 

The premature and tragic deaths of both parents led Linnie into a four-year battle with drug and alcohol abuse.  His no-care view of life and fast lane mentality echoed the only truth he had ever known: there is no hope and no way out. The drug and alcohol use was constant; a vicious, numbing cycle to take away the pain life had dealt him. Yet, there was still some small trace of the positive values his parents had left for him. A strong work ethic was at the top of the list.

 

When his job landed him in the path of a woman who saw straight through his rough façade, Linnie’s life took a turn and led him to a life he never dreamed could be true for him. The investment this woman was willing to make in Linnie not only brought him face to face with the person of Jesus Christ and a life free from substance abuse and generational sin patterns, but also introduced him to the woman who would be his wife and partner in ministry.

 

That was close to 33 years ago. Today, Linnie and his wife Debbie are continuing to reap the benefits and blessings of an investment another person made in both of their lives. Most importantly, they continue to pass this investment on to others through their ministry, Shepherd’s Staff, a ministry focused on children and families who are suffering from generational cycles of poverty, substance abuse and fatherlessness. Linnie’s evangelistic approach coupled with his personal experiences, and Debbie’s social work background, provide the ideal pairing as they seek to see children and families restored to their original design. This para-church and non-denominational ministry works alongside the body of Christ to provide for both the spiritual and physical needs of those they serve. Most importantly, they long to see the churches of Montgomery serve beyond their four walls and make an investment that can change the course of a lifetime.

 

In 1985, Linnie and Debbie Dickson moved from their home in Virginia to Enterprise, Alabama to take care of 10 little boys in a group home setting. Or so they thought. What began as a two-year plan to take care of these 10 children turned into nearly 30 years of ministry and parenting over 100 children in the process.  In 1995, the Dickson family made the move to Montgomery, AL. It was then that the Shepherd’s Staff Ministry was born and the ministry as it is known today began to take shape.  “We thought we were coming for one thing, but the Lord called us into ministry with the fatherless children we were encountering,” says Debbie. “It was during this time we saw how each child carried a broken heart.”

 

“We were Mom and Dad to some, aunt and uncle to some, Mr. and Mrs. to others, and when things got difficult in their lives, we would all realize we were truly family. But even with those relationships and taking care of so many children, Linnie and Debbie kept seeing the same kind of brokenness.

 

“No matter how much of a family we provided for those children, we learned we had to encourage them to look back and forgive and honor their biological parents, whether they knew them, saw them or none of the above,” says Debbie. Linnie says he believes firmly that the family was God’s idea. “We were able to adopt some and parent those we didn’t adopt. We found that if they could forgive their parents they could go on and have their own families.”

 

Out of the 100 kids in their care, one was incarcerated (but is now out of prison and a productive citizen) and one died. The rest are functional, successful, family-oriented people giving back to their communities. Some are in law enforcement, some are in education, and one is a pastor. “Many consider us their “forever family,” says Debbie. “It looks like we were a diverse family before it was common!” The investment Linnie and Debbie have made continues to pay out in a million little ways.

 

The ministry God had planned for the Dickson family didn’t just come out of the disintegration of Linnie’s family, but also from the strong family background Debbie experienced. Knowing what family isn’t and experiencing what it can be has allowed them to invite the people they serve to see for themselves what is possible through discipleship and building relationships that come out of a lifestyle of loving and caring for the people around them.

 

While Shepherd’s Staff no longer houses children through group homes or foster care, they are working alongside foster parents through training, advocacy and helping them navigate the challenges and struggles that come with being a foster parent. And it doesn’t stop there. The ministry tutors children from subsidized housing projects, mentors single mothers and disciples young men with the goal of helping keep them off the streets, out of prison and see them set free through the power of the gospel of Jesus. Linnie and Debbie know what they do isn’t complicated, but it does take a level of commitment and compassion that is sometimes hard to find and other times comes from the most unexpected people.

 

For instance, Highland Gardens is an area where Shepherd’s Staff has a presence in the community. At the time they started going to this area, the church in the community had no pastor and very few members. However, the people who were a part of the church welcomed Linnie and the volunteers in and helped set up one of the largest tutoring programs, as well as one of the most well-stocked clothes closets around. To this day, the women at Highland Gardens Baptist Church and others are some of their most committed volunteers. The most astounding part is they are a part of the community Shepherd’s Staff is serving.

At the heart of the ministry is the desire to bring several networks, organizations and churches together for a bigger purpose. “We work in partnership with each agency, church and volunteer group, working to the benefit of families to support areas that are weak,” says Debbie.  Debbie has been a foster mom, a step-mom, a biological mom, and an adoptive mom, just to name a few of her titles. Her unique calling has enabled her to speak into the lives of many women and children, help them navigate the broken pieces of their lives and find the way into a new way of doing life. “We want to move women from government dependence and man dependence to Jesus dependence,” says Linnie. “If you can tell a family that’s struggling that you can help them budget or find a place to live, for instance, they begin to realize, if they have the tools and know how to use them, they will be fine.” Shepherd’s Staff is there to help facilitate the change that they believe the Lord wants to accomplish in the life of every believer, but especially in the lives of those who are forgotten.

 

For Linnie and Debbie and those who work with them, they have seen how many people in Montgomery are, in fact, forgotten. “You technically don’t have to go to Haiti to find the poor,” says Linnie. “If you look hard enough you’ll see we’ve got Haiti right here in Montgomery.” It’s true. The areas where most wouldn’t dare go or venture to are right where you will find Linnie and Debbie. And instead of being program oriented, Shepherd’s Staff maintains a focus that is primarily relational and founded on a lifestyle of what they call “as you go” ministry. The ministry mission is James 1:27: “ Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Put simply, they exist to make an investment in individuals, families and communities that will make a remarkable difference in the present, and impact future generations by presenting the restorative message of Jesus Christ in word and action.

 

The ways they accomplish this are varied. From hosting Care Fairs and Bible studies at local subsidized housing projects to game nights at retirement communities, to tutoring children and mentoring young mothers on how to care for their babies, plus moving families to a new home and equipping volunteers, they seem to have a place for anyone to get involved. More than anything, they want people to come be the hands and feet of Christ in the lives of people.

 

“If you have a passion, we can find a place for you,” says Debbie. The needs they encounter are innumerable. The ways for people to get involved in serving and loving Montgomery’s least, lost and forgotten are not difficult to find, but often require more than one Saturday of service. Debbie and Linnie long to see churches and individuals jump in and take the plunge and discover the joy and blessing of being a part of the lives of people who look different from theirs.

 

“With Shepherd’s Staff there are no lights, no cameras, but a lot of action,” says Debbie. “Follow us! There’s plenty to do. Whatever your passion is we can plug you in. But most importantly, invest in another life. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever do.”

 

 

** To learn more about ways you can get involved and support the work of Shepherd’s Staff, call Linnie and Debbie at 313-1991.

 

 

Rachel Fisher loves learning what God is doing in the world and writing about it. She and her husband Chase live in Montgomery.

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 12 May 2014 16:43
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