By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Since his formative years were spent in the real “West Side Story” environment, with the Sharks ruling one side of the neighborhood and the Jets the other, the Rev. Benny Santiago travels to his old stomping grounds to reach out to struggling people. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx and Brooklyn, Santiago fell into the lifestyle of gangs and drugs before finally giving his life to the Lord.
“The Jets were the Italians and the Sharks were the Puerto Ricans,” said Santiago, senior chaplain for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. “There were a lot of realistic parts to that movie. After I moved here I became an ordained minister, but I want to give back to where I came from.”
He met his wife while she was completing an internship for Anderson University at the New York church he was attending. When she returned to Madison County, he followed her.
“I became her bodyguard while she was there,” he said with a laugh. “Nobody else from AU was with her and it was a dangerous place. I was trying to get my life together and the Lord used her to bring me here.”
Now, 30 years later, Santiago journeys to the Cathedral of Joy in Brooklyn to provide assistance in any way possible. Some trips include repair work on the building (including the removal of graffiti), helping in the soup kitchen, stocking the pantry, holding street meetings, supplying clothing and distributing school supplies.
Their last project was to transform two unusable restrooms into operational facilities complete with showers.
“It was right before Hurricane Sandy,” said Santiago, member of Sherman Street Church of God in Anderson. “Because of that work, the church was able to host 15 people to use the building as an emergency shelter. That was a blessing we never thought would come that way.”
“We knew we were in God’s will, but we didn’t realize the amazing thing God had in store for us,” said Donna Madewell, pastoral assistant and director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church. “The facility was intact when Sandy came through and could house people. As Christians we are called to give and show the love of God. When we leave home, we leave our own security blankets and it opens our eyes to the way God works.”
From Here to There is a series about Madison County residents who travel to help their fellow man. If you know of an individual or civic, school or church group that has embarked on a missions trip in the last year, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.