Reaching them big time
Lou Woolley has been around and done a little bit of everything in his life, but he lives by one simple motto: “Wherever I’m at, I’m going to minister.”
These days, Woolley is changing lives as the senior counselor at the Cleveland, Ohio, Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), but he’ll be the first to tell you the calling took even him by surprise.
“This was not my plan in life,” Woolley says. “I never planned on being a counselor. It never even occurred to me. I didn’t even know The Salvation Army existed at this level.”
A decade ago, Woolley and his family moved from Youngstown, Ohio, to Cleveland when his wife, Linnea, landed a job with the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We moved to Cleveland with the understanding that, again, wherever I’m at, I’m going to minister,” Woolley said.
After getting his family settled in their new home, Woolley remembers praying, “OK, Lord, tell me what you want me to do.” He got a call 15 minutes later. It was a job offer from The Salvation Army.
“I had planned to be here two years; it’s going on 10 years now,” he said. “My heart has always been to help somebody follow the right path.
Not just a job
“My favorite thing is, when a guy first comes in, and then I see him again six or eight weeks later, walking down the hall. I have to look at his feet because he seems like he’s walking on air. You can see the relief in his life.”
Woolley, who once won the Counselor of the Year award in the USA Eastern Territory, said he gets no greater joy than directing men to a brighter future that involves being clean of drugs and alcohol, having an education and a job, and often reconciling with their families.
He especially likes those times when former ARC beneficiaries stop by to tell him how well they’re doing.
“To see the thrill on their faces, I can only imagine a billionth of what it will be like in heaven when Jesus sees them walking in glory,” Woolley says. “I want to be there to watch all that happen. I get just a little taste of it here knowing what Jesus has done in their life. It’s incredible.”
A common refrain Woolley uses with the men he counsels is, “Sobriety is not a destination; it is a journey.” He subscribes to a “holistic ministry” model to get there, quoting from the account in Luke chapter 2 that describes how Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature” during his earthly life.
“He grew mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially,” Woolley said. “If Jesus needed to grow in those areas, then we need to grow in those areas.
It’s all forgiven
“It’s unfathomable that somebody could find sobriety without growing in all of these areas in their life, especially spiritually. It is Jesus who sets them free from the drugs and alcohol.
“I believe God put me here to tell the men in the program Jesus is hope. He could call me anywhere to do that, but I believe that’s my purpose here; to give them hope and to let them know Jesus loves them, that Jesus wants to heal them, forgive them, and minister to them.”
Woolley says he also preaches God’s forgiveness and tries to get the men to realize that God has forgotten their sins once they become Christians.
“God says he will not hold our past against us,” he said. “He’s not going to bring it up. As far as He’s concerned, it doesn’t exist. You’re a whole different person. All things have become new.
“In some of our initial meetings, I try to get across not only how important they are to God, but how important God needs to be to them.”
Woolley says he has never been tempted to abuse drugs or alcohol and he credits his strong devotional life. He keeps a prayer journal, meditates on biblical passages, and memorizes verses throughout the day and he urges the men to do likewise.
“As often as I’ve read the verses, there are things I’ve never seen in there,” he said. “I guess that’s why they call it the ‘living word.’
“To me, getting the truth out of the Bible is like pulling a nugget of gold out of a river. I try to impart that to the men here.”
Answering the call
Woolley is absolutely buoyant about the direction of the Cleveland ARC and the corps there. He sees a renewed spiritual hunger among the men, and the corps has also started a children’s church for the kids of the beneficiaries.
“It’s thrilling because there’s a fresh life here,” he said. “We’ve experienced quite a bit of growth. The men in the program bring their wives and kids. We’re packing out the sanctuary.”
Excitement for the things of God goes way back for Woolley, who grew up Catholic in Youngstown. His family joined the burgeoning Pentecostal movement when he was 17. He became a Christian on May 1, 1978 at a David Wilkerson/Dallas Holm concert in the Pittsburgh area.
Woolley and several neighborhood kids, who were sitting in the nosebleed section of the stadium, went forward during the altar call at the urging of his father.
“All of us went down front and got saved,” Woolley recalls. “Oddly enough, all of us are still serving the Lord today.
“My whole family just got 100 percent into the belief of what God has to offer. We shared that around the community.”
Among Woolley’s siblings, a brother and a sister are ministers. Two brothers are deacons.
Woolley started attending a local Pentecostal church after he was saved. His pastor was a friend to Jimmy Swaggart and once ministered to country singer Patsy Cline.
Hitting the road
He also started running the church’s youth group, a passion that still excites Woolley today.
“Some of the people in that youth group are ministers today,” he says.
Woolley graduated from Central Bible College (now Evangel University) in Springfield, Mo., before returning to Ohio three years later to start churches and continue working with youth. The Christian Life Center in Youngstown was one of the churches Woolley helped build.
He also traveled around the country with a team called “The Warriors,” which featured Anthony Clark, the “World’s Strongest Man.”
“We had a wonderful time going into schools, breaking handcuffs and concrete blocks, and heavy bench-pressing, and giving out a positive peer message,” Woolley said.
While serving as a youth pastor, Woolley also trained youth to minister to children with music, puppets, mimes, clowns, and preaching. The group toured all over the country.
“I loved it and it was one of those things I thought I would do the rest of my life, but your body doesn’t keep up with your dreams,” Woolley said.
While ministering at a church in the Dayton/Middletown area of Ohio, Woolley remembers picking up kids from a trailer park and taking them to church.
Burdened for the unsaved
“I would look around and see all these kids there and they were just absolutely unreached,” he said. “Nobody really cared about them. Their parents would just leave them there on Sundays. I went out and got a bus and took the kids to church.
“Where I see a need, I consider it my responsibility to take the message of Jesus there. I saw a need and it was a huge need. I wanted to reach them. I wanted to reach them big time. For them to go to church on a Sunday morning was a treasure.”
Woolley got the idea to have the youth of his church minister to the younger children.
“I’d have the youth go out and preach and set up in different places,” he said. “I’m sure we made a hundred different mistakes, but we were reaching kids that weren’t reached and were able to share the Gospel with them and give them a solid foundation.
“At the time there wasn’t a big outreach to children. That wasn’t a focus of people. My whole idea was give them Jesus. Give them hope. Give them a future.”
While Woolley has never struggled with drugs or alcohol, he understands addiction. While building his last church in Youngstown, he was working 70 to 80 hours a week and simultaneously publishing a magazine, doing a radio show, and pastoring three para-churches.
“The stress of life itself is where I started eating my emotions,” he said. “I started eating and eating. I was a big guy to begin with. To me, it was just normal to eat. It took me a long time to deal with my stress and overcome. I turned to food instead of God.”
The 6–foot–6 Woolley tips the scales today at 425 pounds, which is down from a high of 515. He played football in high school and at Evangel University and also for a semi-pro team in Cincinnati.
Woolley, who at one time owned a martial arts school and dabbled as an airplane pilot, also played semi–pro baseball in Cincinnati.
A self–proclaimed “fool for learning,” Woolley earned a master’s degree, divinity degree, and a doctorate from Liberty University and is now working on a PhD in counseling from the same school. He also is an ordained Assemblies of God minister.
Woolley’s wife, besides working for the U.S. Department of Defense, is a part–time college professor, member of the high–IQ society MENSA, and plays the French horn in the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra.
“I have a beautiful life,” Woolley says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Always looking for the next challenge, Woolley says once he retires he might start a nursing home ministry.
“I think I will have reached the whole gamut by then,” he says. “I go out there where the rubber meets the road, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, lead people to the Lord, and let God figure everything else out.”
by Robert Mitchell
I’ve seen miracles
Televangelist Benny Hinn opens his show with a video of a young boy taking off his braces and running.
While some may dismiss such events as staged or even fake, Lou Woolley doesn’t. The senior counselor at the Cleveland, Ohio, Adult Rehabilitation Center says he took the boy to the crusade himself.
“I don’t know how much of that fake stuff goes on, but what I do know is that I took that kid to church,” Woolley says. “He was one of the kids from my children’s outreach and I took him there because he could not walk and he needed a healing if he ever wanted to move forward.
“I don’t think Benny Hinn has any miracle powers himself. He doesn’t have the ability to heal people or anything. The kids knew that any healing they got, it came from Jesus.
“Regardless of what anyone may say, this kid did get his healing.”
Woolley said the boy was from Middletown, Ohio, and the crusade was held in Cincinnati in the 1990s, but he lost contact years ago.
“I knew the kid. I knew the history. I know why he had the braces and everything,” Woolley said. “I know there are abuses from time to time, but I’ve seen pure miracles that no man can explain.”