Founder, Jerry Kieft’s Story
I was raised in a small rural community in northwest Iowa where my Father was an Elder in the church from the time I was young. My upbringing consisted of going to church twice on Sunday, catechism and learning all the right things that I needed to do to be “Christian.” Even though I knew what I was supposed to do I was a young man that wanted to find my own beliefs. Unsure of who God was and what an authentic relationship with Him looked like, I rebelled against my parents and upbringing.
Early in my journey I was making unwise decisions that led to problems with alcohol, drugs, and pornography. By the time I was 26 my life was quickly spinning out of control. I found myself dropping out of college and soon thereafter ended up homeless on the streets of Mesa, AZ. In the midst of all the external turmoil I began wrestling with God, wondering just what my purpose in life was really about. During this desert time in my life God began a mighty work in my heart and I realized there had to be something more for me. My philosophy in life had always been “don’t knock it until you try it,” and I found myself on my knees saying, “Jesus if you’re real I cannot say anything against you until I try you.” At that moment my life was transformed forever as I felt Christ and His Holy Spirit come upon me.
The next years proved to be more fulfilling as I began focusing on God and service to His kingdom while surrounding myself with caring, Godly people. After completing my education I became an Inpatient Counselor at a Chemical Dependency Treatment Center for 6 years, and then continued in ministry as a Youth Pastor. It was while I reflected on these two experiences in my life that the vision for ATLAS was born. As an Inpatient Counselor I saw people who would come into treatment and do very well then go back into their communities and fall flat on their face. I began wondering why the body of believers did not surround these people and support them as the Bible commands us to. Then as a youth pastor it became apparent to me that the hurting people did not always grace the doors of the church, allowing the body of believers to provide the needed support for them. It was clear to me that we could do a better job as the body of believers of loving hurting people, walking along side them and carrying their burdens whether they were in or outside the walls of our churches.
I also realized that we needed to equip and encourage the saints in our churches to walk beside these people in a mentoring role. This had been modeled so clearly in my life by a man named Gordon Kuik. He saw me in the pit, in a pothole of life and said, “God created you for a better reason than to be sitting on a bar stool or putting drugs in your veins. Get out of this pothole and walk with me and I’ll show you what life with Christ is all about.”
By helping hurting people wherever they may be and equipping people in our churches to reach out in compassionate service I feel that the Biblical mandate of uniting our churches and communities will start to happen. We must drop the denominational walls and work together in our communities to help those that are hurting, no matter what that hurt is. Alcohol or drugs, pornography, marriage problems, financial problems, spiritual problems or mental problems – we as Christians need to walk beside God’s children and love them for who they are.