Detour To Life - The One Year Christian History

Detour To Life

He had walked in their shoes—until the night he sold them.

THE SON of a saloon keeper, Mel Trotter had learned bartending from his father when his dad was too drunk to pour a drink at the bar. As a young man, Trotter had resolved to escape the saloon, leaving home to take up barbering. Unfortunately, he was so successful as a barber that the income gave him the opportunity to gamble and drink at will.

Trying to escape big city temptations, Mel Trotter moved to Iowa about 1890 and managed to stay sober long enough to marry. But his wife soon discovered that she was married to an alcoholic. He repeatedly vowed to straighten out his life, once staying sober for eleven months. But even the birth of a beloved son could not keep him from drinking. After one ten-day binge, Trotter returned home to find his wife weeping over the dead body of their two-year-old son.

Trotter left his son’s funeral for a saloon. Then he hopped a train for Chicago, running from his failure, from alcohol, and from the certainty he couldn’t conquer his addiction. He knew his life was running out, but he resolved to end it in anonymity.

The night of January 19, 1897, homeless, hatless, and coatless, Mel Trotter sold his shoes for one last drink before planning to commit suicide. The alcohol barely warmed him as he trudged barefoot through a Chicago blizzard, trying to find Lake Michigan so he could drown his sorrows forever. Passing the darkened businesses on Van Buren Street, Trotter stumbled. A young man stepped out of the doorway of the only lit building, helped Trotter up, and invited him inside. Trotter followed, too numb to read the sign over the door: Pacific Garden Mission.

The man sat Trotter down in a warm room full of derelict men. The mission’s superintendent, Harry Monroe, was in the middle of his evening message but broke off his comments when he saw Trotter. Monroe felt compelled to pray aloud, “Oh, God, save that poor, poor boy.”

Monroe then shared the story of his own troubled life before he had met Christ. “Jesus loves you,” he concluded, “and so do I. He wants to save you tonight. Put up your hand for prayer. Let God know you want to make room in your heart for Him.” Barely understanding what he was doing, Trotter raised his hand. Something inside him rose up and accepted the invitation in simple faith. And in that moment the shackles of alcoholism and despair fell away.

Trotter spent the next forty-three years ministering to the men and women he met on the streets, as lost and hopeless as he had been. His message was simple: “God loves you in the midst of the deepest failure and despair, and his love has the power to change even the most ruined life.” He was ordained in 1905 and for forty years served as the supervisor of a rescue mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Alumni of his mission founded sixty-eight other rescue missions across the United States, and Trotter became an international evangelist.

That dark night in Chicago Mel Trotter’s life didn’t end—it began!


Have you ever struggled with an addiction, whether alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else? God is in the business of delivering men and women from addictions. He did it for Mel Trotter, and he can do it for you.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

Psalm 40:2

From the Book:

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The One Year Christian History
By E. Michael Rusten and Sharon O. Rusten

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