Last Monday night, an unidentified businessman allegedly assaulted his girlfriend, and then led police on a low-speed chase through several Southern California highways. Hours later, sitting behind the wheel of his $100,000 luxury Bentley sedan, the armed driver shot himself to death. According to published reports, the man was distraught over losing his business.
We’re not told why his business collapsed. Whether tough economic times, inadequate capitalization, or poor management skills were at fault, he had failed and that failure sparked a depression which drove him over the edge. As I read this story, I was reminded of another man, Mel Trotter, a chronic drunk who believed his life was an absolute failure, too. But the outcome of Mel’s story, which took place more than a hundred years ago, was radically different.
Mel’s father was an alcoholic. Like father, like son, Mel took up drinking and couldn’t shake the habit. Even after he married and had a son of his own, Mel struggled to stay sober. He promised to lay off of the bottle, only to engage in another bender that would last for days on end. At one point, Mel even sold the family’s horse and buggy in order to sustain his drinking habit.
Mel hit rock bottom when, penniless, he came home after a ten-day drinking binge. There, he found his wife cradling the body of their dead two-year-old son. Stricken with guilt for being such a poor provider, Mel swore he’d never touch another drop. Two hours later, he was stone cold drunk. Figuring that changing cities might change his fortune, Mel headed to Chicago. But what Mel really needed was a change of heart, not a change of circumstances.
In the dead of winter, now broke, destitute, and despairing of life, Mel traded his shoes for one last drink. His plan was simple. He’d drown himself in that bottle of liquor before drowning himself in the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan. To Mel, suicide was the only way out. On January 19, 1897, as he stumbled toward his death, Mel “happened” to walk by the doors of the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission. Somebody near the door reached out to Mel and invited him into the warmth of building.
As God would have it, Harry Monroe, a former alcoholic and the director of the mission, was giving his testimony. When Harry asked those who didn’t know Jesus to come forward, Mel was quick to rise to his feet and invite Jesus into his heart. Literally overnight, Mel traded his thirst for the bottle for a thirst of the Bible. He especially resonated with the words of II Corinthians 5:17, which says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
But Mel’s story doesn’t end there.
For the next three years, this changed man worked side-by-side with Harry Monroe to help others find true power for living that comes through a relationship with Christ. Impressed by Mel’s management skill and incredible testimony, in 1900, Mel was invited to oversee the newly opened rescue mission in Grand Rapids.
Before long, under Mel’s leadership, the ministry grew to serve more than 700 men. For the next forty years, Mel worked tirelessly with those seeking shelter at his mission. He also had a hand in launching more than sixty-five other rescue missions throughout America.
Two men. Both felt like failures. The one in California took his life. The one in Chicago took hold of the Life Giver.
If you find yourself driven to the edge, if you believe you’ve failed at your work, your marriage, or your family, my prayer is that you’d see that God still can use you in ways you might not be able to envision. Don’t lose heart. Jesus promises that “new things have come.”