Catherine Pettie: Life's trials fail to get her downFormer homeless woman takes ministry to the streets
For more than three years, Catherine Pettie was homeless.
Injured on her job working with disabled people in 2009, she was unable to work. Bills piled up, and she couldn't afford to pay her rent. Eventually, she lost everything but her car, which was paid for. She says that was a blessing because her car became her home.
For 18 months - through the hot summer and cold winter - Pettie lived in her car in a parking lot behind Walmart in Camden. There were others doing the same thing, including a teacher and a mother and child, she says. “The police said we could stay there as long as Walmart was open,” she said. “Many people are just one paycheck away from being where I was.”
She survived on income from a small unemployment check. She showered at a nearby truck stop and ate whenever she had money to purchase food.
It wasn't until her car broke down and was towed away that she was forced to seek out homeless shelters in Dover, Salisbury and Georgetown.
“I found out a lot about people, living in my car,” she says. “It's sad that a lot of people don't show much heart when they see someone going down. Even so, I was determined to stay afloat.”
The constant in her life that has never wavered is her Bible. “I read it three times cover to cover in my car,” she said. “As I studied it, I kept getting stronger and stronger.”
She's learned that material things don't matter.
Without her car, she moved from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, preaching to anyone who would listen. She learned she had to overcome the stigma attached to being jobless and homeless; it was hard because she had worked her entire adult life. Once again, she turned to the Bible for strength to retain her dignity.
Even during the most trying times, Pettie's faith in the Lord never faltered. In fact, she says, it only became more intense. “I know what God can do in this world. I can't take my eyes off him,” she said. “I got stronger and stronger as the Lord's spirit came alive in me.”
Through it all, she says, she never lost hope. “No matter what happens, I'm still me,” she said.
Compared to last year, her life has turned around. Staff from the Connections program in Georgetown assisted her in finding a place to live. She receives some financial assistance from state and federal programs, and is working to secure Social Security disability benefits.
For the first time in more than three years, she has a small apartment. Pettie, 58, now lives in a Georgetown group home not far from where she can be found most days - on The Circle, preaching to anyone who wants to listen. Her voice can be heard throughout the county seat's downtown.
After the walk from her apartment, she sits on a park bench and reads from the Bible, but it doesn't take long before she has to stand up and read out loud.
Reading from a dog-eared Bible, she shouts out scriptures, working herself into the spirit. “It's like I'm up in the air flying,” she says with a big smile. The more she reads, the louder she becomes and the more her hands reach skyward in a gesture of devotion.
“I could stand out here for hours, because I know somebody is going to hear me,” she said. These days she has to sit a lot more than she used to, but that doesn't stop her from her ministry.
She smiles as she talks to the occasional passerby who stops to listen to her ministry; sometimes people offer her donations.
Pettie takes her inspiration from Job in the Old Testament. It was Job who refused to denounce God even though his wealth, property and family -including 10 children - were taken from him.
Pettie, like Job, has had to endure the loss of everything she cherished, but she has never blamed God. “His word keeps me strong,” Pettie says. “God's word stands; it's the truth.”
Pettie says no matter what comes her way, she has no plans to stop her street ministry. She says she would rather be outside spreading the word than inside a church.
“It's more vital now than ever because these are dark times. People need to hear the word,” she said. “This is my calling.”