It’s been a remarkable year for catering chef Tim Schroeder, 51. He remarried ex–wife Paulette, whom he divorced in 1999, and they became a family again with their two children. The next day, Tim returned to the site of the wedding and was enrolled as a soldier (member) of the Salvation Army corps (church) in Ann Arbor, Mich. During National Salvation Army Week, he received a ‘Doing the Most Good’ Award from the Washtenaw County Salvation Army for his volunteer work with a prison ministry program. And now he is the operations manager of the Army’s Staples Family Center.
The award was especially poignant for Tim because it was through a Salvation Army prison ministry six years ago in Florida that his life turned around during a 51–month incarceration.
“We wanted to bring attention to someone whose life had been totally transformed,” said Major John Williams, Washtenaw County coordinator, who serves with his wife, Major Dianna Williams. “We’re honored to have Tim as part of our membership,” John continued. “His smile and excitement about Christ go a long way when you see him talking with people.”
Tim Schroeder’s jailhouse conversion, new life in Christ, and subsequent ministry mirror the passion of the apostles. Just as they worked to save their fellow Jews first, Tim is committed to helping those who are physically incarcerated as well as those who are imprisoned mentally, emotionally, and spiritually through substance abuse. Often they’re the same people.
Jailed in more than one way
Like many of his fellow inmates, Tim had been a drug addict and alcoholic for many years. He had had short periods of abstinence after his first stint in rehab in 1990, but none of them had lasted more than a couple of years. In spite of his instability, Tim managed to stay clear of problems with the law until 2003, when he suddenly found himself facing three life sentences for attempted murder.
What had begun as a domestic dispute between Tim and a girlfriend escalated when he pointed a loaded gun at her head. She called the police. Tim took a shot at a neighbor who got involved, then fought with police when they arrived on the scene. Tim still has a copy of the police mug shot taken of him that night—his bruised, puffy face reflects the depth to which he had sunk.
“Satan had me right where he wanted me—behind bars without hope,” recalls Tim. While he was awaiting trial, a Salvation Army volunteer named Jimmy Garrett faithfully came to the Marion County jail every Monday to lead a Christian recovery class. Jimmy used a workbook called “Walking the 12 Steps with Jesus Christ” from Christian 12 Step Ministry. (See sidebar.)
Tim knew little about Christianity or any other religion. His parents had never even said they loved him, let alone taken him to church, where he might have found God’s love. Tim had learned about a “higher power” through several 12–step programs. After each rehab attempt, however, no higher power had stopped Tim from slipping back into his old behaviors. But he decided to give this program, which defined its higher power as Jesus, a try.
As the light of God’s truth began to burn through Tim’s mind, it illuminated unexpected areas of his life. It was painful for him to realize how self–destructive he had become.
“I was full of fear, shame, guilt, and insecurity—all stored up since childhood,” Tim said. “Out of desperation, I tried something I’d never tried before. On May 5, 2003, I made a commitment to the Lord to seek Him and His will for my life. I found what had been missing in my recovery program—the higher power of Jesus Christ.
“Things didn’t change right away—I was too full of junk. But, that’s why we go through the 12 steps, to rid ourselves of junk so we can be filled with His goodness,” Tim added.
Tim believes it was divine intervention that spared him from spending the rest of his life behind bars; the court couldn’t find the neighbor at whom Tim had fired the gun. Two of the six felony charges were dropped; by pleading guilty to the others, he received a minimum sentence.
While in prison, Tim took every Bible and advanced–study course The Salvation Army and Christian 12 Step Ministry had to offer, including the 12 Step Teacher Training Course. In April 2005, he became certified to teach classes. While still behind prison walls, Tim helped several fellow inmates find new life in Christ and overcome their addictions.
Against the tide
Some people can be (or sometimes should be) a bit cynical about jailhouse conversions like Tim Schroeder’s; they often last about as long as the jail sentence.
So Paulette was understandably skeptical of her ex–husband’s letters from prison, which said that Jesus had transformed his life. The real test came after Tim’s release in August 2007. This time, he didn’t relapse. Instead, he continued to walk with Christ as a changed man.
He persisted in writing to Paulette, but she still didn’t believe him.
Then, just before Father’s Day in June 2008, Tim wrote to ask Paulette if he could come up north to visit her and their now–adult children, Elizabeth and Timothy.
He also proposed marriage.
Paulette had never stopped loving Tim since they were wed in 1978, but his addictions had caused two separations and much heartache before they finally divorced after 20 years.
“I loved Tim but had to let him go until he grew up,” said Paulette of the “bumpy road” their first marriage had been. Now, 10 years later, Tim was asking for a second chance.
Paulette asked him to wait, but she soon saw that he was genuinely different.
“After spending time with Tim, I just kept thinking, ‘Wow!’ I was shocked to discover that Tim had been telling the truth about himself all along,” Paulette says. “He had changed so drastically.”
The only word Paulette can summon to describe their marriage today is a heartfelt “beautiful.” Their children are also pleased to have their dad back in their lives.
After Tim moved back to Michigan, he became involved at the Ann Arbor Corps, first by volunteering, then by attending church. He holds classes in the Christian 12 Step Ministry, which uses a 38–lesson workbook, at the Livingston County Jail, the Ann Arbor Corps, and its emergency shelter, the Staples Family Center.
Major John Williams is solidly behind the approach Tim uses.
“I’d always been troubled by 12–step programs that depend on an unidentified higher power. These programs are successful, but there needs to be a choice for the Spirit–led individual to clearly identify that higher power as Christ.”
“I believe God is using me to introduce this much–needed Christian 12 Step Ministry to our community because there’s a great spiritual battle going on here; a great number of men and women are struggling with addictions,” observed Tim. “In the classes, we read from and discuss the lesson materials and our ultimate ‘instruction manual,’ the Bible!”
Tim explained that several of the lessons revolve around the fourth step, which is an examination of one’s past and is pivotal to the recovery process. “We must journey back into our lives to find the real reasons why we drank or took drugs or were caught up in any of the 30 common addictions covered in the workbook.”
One woman who has successfully completed Tim’s classes and demonstrated a godly, changed life is being groomed by Tim and Majors John
and Dianna Williams to lead a women’s recovery ministry. She is working on certification as a class instructor.
“My faith stands firm, as I walk boldly and unashamedly in Jesus’ name, that God has placed me here in Ann Arbor to help men and women come into a relationship with Him,” says Tim. “I want to help them receive the peace that only comes from knowing Jesus and experience the glorious reality of a new life in Christ.
“It’s not about me anymore,” Tim says of his new life in Michigan. “It’s about what I can do for Him. God has restored everything Satan took from me so many years ago, and I want to help others in the community find God’s healing power.”