Woodland Hills podrishioner Sandy Halverson has a pretty intriguing ice breaker: “My dog led me to Christ,” she’ll say, and then take her listener back to 2001, the year it happened.
“By earthly standards I wasn’t a bad person, really,” Sandy says. “I never did drugs or smoked or even drank all that much, but I was entrenched into the other sinful desires of this world; pride, envy, always wanting more while living a very self-absorbed lifestyle. I had lost sight of God in my life. I was 44 years old, alone and saw no way out of my dismal existence. If there was a God, he needed to explain to me why my life had gotten so messed up. Where had he been? Why didn’t he answer my cries for help?”
In February 2001, Sandy attempted suicide. When her attempt failed, she got in her car with her two dogs, Shadow and Midnight, and drove south to Florida.
Without a job or house, Sandy was living on the streets. “There is no glamor to living on the streets. We would constantly get hassled by the police. I was barely eating, always on the move, trying everything we could to stay cool during the day and then find a hidden parking spot to sleep at night. To be honest, it was more of a hit to my pride and ego than anything else. I didn’t like being the hapless homeless person with nothing of value to offer. I knew I couldn’t keep going on like that much longer. Something needed to change.”
One day, Sandy’s dogs were playing at the park when Midnight collapsed on the ground, struggling to breathe. Sandy rushed to a veterinarian who agreed to wait for her even though his office hours had ended.
It was a difficult drive. “As we drove across town I was cursing and shaking my fist at God the whole way. I had lost all my earthly possessions, was living on the street and now God was attacking my best friend. How could he do this to me?”
The vet’s name was Dr. Hasse, and after he was able to stabilize Midnight, he asked to talk with Sandy in his office. “How are you doing?” he asked. Sandy evaded the question a couple times. Then Dr. Hasse asked, “Do you believe in God? Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
Sandy says, “I couldn’t reply. What the heck was he talking about ‘a personal relationship with Jesus?’ He asked me again, ‘Do you know Jesus loves you?’ To be honest, the rest of the conversation is somewhat of a blur. But it felt like a thunderbolt hit me in the middle of my chest. It may have been Midnight who had the heat stroke, but it was my heart that was being regenerated and a new creation was just getting started.”
That Sunday, Sandy visited Dr. Hasse’s church. “Once the service began, all I could sense was the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit as God washed my sins away. My knees were wobbly, my mouth was dry, I was completely humbled with tears streaming down my face throughout the entire service.”
Right away Sandy felt compelled to share her story. The Tuesday after her first church service, she struck up a conversation about Midnight and the veterinarian at a mechanic shop. “This was my first time ‘sharing my testimony’ with someone or maybe it was more like a brief disjointed story of how Jesus had come into my life. It felt a little uncomfortable, but in a very good way, to tell someone else about Jesus.”
Sandy didn’t stop there. Over that summer she had developed a colorful group of coffee buddies including, “a former KKK member, an atheist, a New Ager, two Wiccans, a couple of homeless people, a Presbyterian who had lost his faith, a retiree, and some local retailers.” She was the Christian with the Bible in the group, which raised a few eyebrows, but she felt that she was seeing people in an entirely new way.
“Before I became homeless and then a Christian, these were people I never really knew existed or had time to interact with. In the past, I was too busy, and self-consumed to involve myself with people like that. Oh sure, I would see them on the street, but I would conveniently look away and keep on walking, never thinking twice about them. If you and I weren’t talking about business or if you couldn’t do something for me, I didn’t have time for you. It was a lonely and wasted existence. Now, there’s a big place in my heart for those who live outside the normal spheres of society. In fact, that may be the biggest change that has happened in my life, the fact that I genuinely feel compassion for other people and will engage in conversation and listen to them. Having coffee with anyone, anytime, anywhere has become the centerpiece of my ministry.”
As the summer continued, Sandy was deep into Bible reading, growing in the faith, serving at church and telling people about Jesus both on the street and with her regular coffee group.
For the next two years, Sandy and Dr. Hasse met every Thursday for breakfast. “He went that extra mile with discipleship, encouraging and being genuinely concerned about me. The greatest thing was that he really listened to me. You know, making me feel like a real person. Believe you me, it would have been a lot easier for him just to have discarded me after leading me to Christ. Thank God he didn’t.” Sandy relied on Dr. Hasse’s friendship through more hard times on the street, another suicidal period and Midnight’s death.
That fall she enrolled in an evangelism class which equipped her for prison and street ministry. Just as God used Midnight in Sandy’s faith story, Shadow became a part of many other people’s stories. Sandy explains, “Having a Siberian Husky in Florida was a great ice breaker for me to strike up conversation with people and share the Gospel. Shadow may have been responsible for leading more people to Christ than a lot of Christians.”
By February 2002, one year after her suicide attempt, Sandy was a completely different person, “As opposed to being obsessed with dying I was now consumed with my new life as a Christ follower. With her newfound gift of evangelism, Sandy also decided to become a missionary. “After God touched my life, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
She has now served as a missionary for two decades. “I have filled in the gaps at several churches in the US and overseas, primarily focusing on prison and homeless ministries.”
Her first missionary experience was in Canada from 2003-2005. During that time, she attended a seminar Greg Boyd was teaching about prayer. She says, “I had never heard of Greg but was impressed with envisioning Jesus when you prayed, which has stuck with me.”
Sandy served in Brazil in 2009, and in the Czech Republic in 2010. During this time, she came across more of Greg’s sermons, and began to read his books. She says, “His ability to explain theology, beliefs and the Bible has helped me tenfold in understanding the Bible, my story, and God’s love for us.”
Sandy is back in the States now, and a regular Woodland Hills podrishioner living in Des Moines, Iowa. She continues to use her story to tell others about God’s goodness. As she says, “The fact that God would allow this homeless person to travel around the world presenting the Gospel, helping others, while providing for all my earthly needs [is incredible]. How does that happen if there is not a loving and all powerful God?”
We’re honored to have been a small part of Sandy’s inspiring journey, and it’s a blessing to know that she continues to tune in for our services. If you have your own story to share, please let us know!