Now, he’s a Leader
Andy Iorio was always more of a follower than a leader in his younger days.
A native of Plains, Pa., Iorio was an altar boy and attended 12 years of Catholic school. He also played defensive lineman on his high school football team. Unfortunately, he was also a heavy drinker, used drugs, and had no relationship at all with God.
“In high school, I turned my back on God and lost my way,” he recalls.
Iorio played two years of football at Lackawanna College before joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1995, hoping the military could help him mature.
“When I went into the Marines, I found it was a home for angry alcoholics, just like me. So I didn’t grow up, I got worse,” he said. “When I got out of the Marines, my drinking was full blown. I guess you could consider it alcoholic drinking.”
A new direction
Iorio was in and out of VA hospitals over the next two years, but nothing worked. He lost numerous jobs.
“I would rather drink than go to work,” he said.
The last time he entered the hospital, Iorio left an apartment he was about to lose. He drove in a car that was about to be repossessed—and ran out of gas on the way.
His life took a dramatic turn when he attended a concert at a pub in Dallas, Pa., and struck up a conversation with “the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”
Iorio was in for quite a surprise when he learned the pastor in the pulpit was the woman’s father.
“In the process of going to this church to have a relationship with a girl, I gave my life to Christ right there,” Iorio said. “I fell in love with her at first sight. We’ve talked to each other every night since then. That was 16 years ago.”
Love on display
Iorio likes to say, “I got saved, then sober.”
He continued dating Sara, his future wife, and was back at the VA hospital when someone told him his “pastor” was there to visit him. Iorio found that odd.
“I had burned every bridge I had because of my drinking,” he said. “I didn’t even know what a pastor was at that time.”
Iorio got about halfway up the hall before realizing the pastor was his girlfriend’s father, David Martin.
“He was the only one who visited me,” Iorio said. “I was confused because, if I were the father, I would want to beat me up.”
During a tense conversation, Iorio told Martin that he should hate him for dating his daughter.
“He said, ‘Andy, we don’t like what you’re doing with your life as far as your drinking, but we love you.’ I had never heard anyone communicate like that in my life,” Iorio said. “I was really attracted to it.”
Turning it around
Iorio continued to attend church and grow in his faith, reading Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.”
“All the 12 years of Catholicism became real,” Iorio said. “It wasn’t a religion anymore. It was real. I had a personal relationship with Jesus now when all I ever knew before was religion. My whole life changed.”
He also had extra motivation: Sara said he had to be sober for a year before they could get engaged.
Iorio eventually took counseling classes at Andersonville Theological Seminary. He also got involved with Celebrate Recovery, a Christian–based, 12–step recovery program.
Another turning point came when Iorio served an internship as a volunteer chaplain at the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Wilkes–Barre, Pa.
When Major Kathleen Wadman, the former program director at the ARC, learned Iorio was studying to be a counselor, she offered him a full–time counseling job in 2009.
Love your neighbor
“I always knew I was called to help people like me,” Iorio said. “Working here, I realized I’m sitting with me all day long. I’m the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homeless, the guy with mood disorders and mental health issues. That’s me. So I can talk to them with some experience about what Jesus can do.”
Iorio noticed something else each day—the homeless across the fence from the ARC in an area dubbed “Tent City.”
In 2014, Michael Tillsley, the business administrator at the ARC, wanted to do something to help. Tillsley would sometimes hop the fence to talk to the homeless; counselor Stanley Jackson would take them food.
“We had a hard time wrapping our mind around why ‘Tent City’ was right outside the window of the ARC,” Iorio said. “We wanted to find a way to tap into that and build relationships with the homeless community.”
Becoming a leader
The decision was made to send Iorio to the LEAD Lay Leadership Summit, held each August in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Skilled Leadership is one of the four elements of the “Strikepoint” initiative.
“LEAD taught me to come out of the church building,” Iorio said. “They taught me how to go get people and to make disciples. I learned how to communicate with the homeless and how to be very vigorous.”
Iorio also was involved when Major Charles Kelley took teams out and taught them street evangelism.
“I would have never known how to go up to someone and just start evangelizing,” he said. “I learned how to do that and communicate with people. It was pro–active. He took us out and taught us how to lead people to Christ in a busy street environment.
“I was humbled because at this point I knew some things about the Bible, I knew Christianity, but I didn’t do Christianity. LEAD taught me how to be a Christian and to get out there and get them. That was our motto.”
A God thing
Before leaving LEAD, Iorio was involved in a prayer meeting. Major Lauren Hodgson grabbed his hand as he started to walk away and said, “I need you to know that God is going to use you to start something new at the ARC.”
“That really got my attention because that’s the reason I was there in the first place,” Iorio said. “It was ordained by God. It was a special moment.”
When he got back from LEAD, Tillsley explained that “Strikepoint” funding was now available and a Sunday night praise and prayer meeting they had been talking about could actually happen.
“We were just in awe of God’s perfect timing,” Iorio said. “Now we had a vision and funding and we knew it was ordained by God so we pulled the trigger on it immediately.”
The program known as “Soup, Sandwiches, and Salvation” drew 80–100 homeless every Sunday night. It was temporarily halted after a year, but will return next month.
Watching God work
“We’ve had some people circulate through the program and graduate,” he said. “The biggest success was the homeless got to know us. Word spread. It was like a Sunday church service for the homeless.”
Iorio said the way God put the “Soup, Sandwiches, and Salvation” program together had a profound effect on his life.
“That was another life–changing event,” he said. “What really changed it was the presence of God and how He orchestrated it. He put the whole thing together. It all came together and fit like a glove. We all knew it was the right thing. There was total peace about it and it started at LEAD.
“If it wasn’t for the training and the street evangelism and learning how to communicate with broken people, it might not have happened. I used all that training here.”
Iorio is also a leader at his church, Cross Creek Community in Trucksville, Pa., where he is the Celebrate Recovery director and helps addicts.
“Here’s God’s grace,” Iorio says in amazement. “Here I was, a fall–down drunk, and 10 years later, I was getting ordained by the same church that rescued me. That’s a miracle.”
On the wall in Iorio’s office is a drawing by a friend displaying the three ministries of his life: Cross Creek, a jail chaplaincy program, and The Salvation Army.
“I know God brought me to The Salvation Army and LEAD because I needed to learn about the The Salvation Army’s mission of holiness,” he said. “The Salvation Army has taught me how to live an honest, holy life and to stay plugged into Christ.
“The Salvation Army taught me how to be a Christian and to go and make disciples.”
by Robert Mitchell