The Turlock Gospel Mission’s founding executive director, who has led the organization from a modest nightly meal offering to a group on the verge of opening a full-time shelter building, has stepped down from his post.
Sept. 1 marked Jeff Woods’ final day as the Turlock Gospel Mission’s executive director. He has been succeeded by Tim Guerino, who has operated the mission’s Homeless Assistance Ministry since Feb. 1.
Woods’ departure comes as the former pastor hopes to return to the ministry. He is currently working with his denomination to find a church in need.
It’s just time for something new for Woods, who has tirelessly worked to advance the Turlock Gospel Mission. And from its humble beginnings to where the mission stands today, it’s almost difficult to believe the progress the mission has made, Woods said.
“I couldn’t have pictured it. I didn’t ever picture this thing,” Woods said, gesturing to the Homeless Assistance Ministry center.
Woods stumbled into the gospel mission post after spending seven and a half years pastoring with the Turlock Covenant Church, and a term as pastor for the local jails.
It all started with a meal ministry – the seemingly simple idea of offering Turlock’s homeless a fresh cooked meal each night, with a different local church hosting dinner every week.
But those early days were rough, tracking down volunteer churches and donors to make the idea a reality. Sometimes, there were “close calls,” Woods admitted. But the gospel mission has not missed a meal since Jan. 14, 2008.
The Turlock Gospel Mission grew, and quickly. In winter 2008, the nascent group responded to the Turlock City Council’s decision to exit the homeless shelter business by beginning its Winter Relief Ministry. That effort offers shelter from the cold for women and children in a roaming setting, moving from host church to church each week.
In 2011, the mission took its largest step yet: opening the Homeless Assistance Ministry in the former Turlock Youth Center. The ministry serves as Turlock’s first day center for the homeless, offering a safe place and the contacts homeless need to get off the streets permanently.
“We laid a foundation, and built a lot of bridges,” Woods said. “… We’re taking quantum leaps now.”
About a year ago, when work began on the HAM center, Woods knew he would need a helping hand. Guerino, then a local pastor, immediately came to mind.
“I couldn’t do it in addition to what I was doing,” Woods said. “… I felt like the Lord really provided Tim.”
Guerino brought years of experience to the post, having worked with homeless organizations on the East Coast. And Woods saw that to take the next step the mission would need that type of experience.
Guerino officially took the helm of the gospel mission on Sept. 1. But the transition process started June 1, as the two worked side-by-side to make sure the mission didn’t skip a beat in the changeover.
“It’s an honor to come behind Jeff,” Guerino said. “He’s a man of God, who is faithful and honorable to God’s will.”
Since June, Guerino’s been looking to follow in Woods’ footsteps by meeting with as many people as he can, from elected officials to pastors, club leaders, church groups, and average citizens. Guerino said he’s had face-to-face sit downs with as many as 400 people in that time frame.
To take the gospel mission to the next level, Guerino said he knows he needs to work hand-in-hand with a lot of agencies, and in collaboration with the community.
That next level – opening a full-time shelter building on a lot at 437 S. Broadway the Turlock Gospel Mission purchased last year – will require massive funding. But reaching that level will only take a subtle “fine-tuning” of Woods’ basic philosophy, Guerino said – it’s all about building bridges.
“It’s going to be hard to fill his shoes, but it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Guerino said.