By Fred Comella
I’ve worked in both the state and federal prison systems over the course of my career. To say it was a learning experience would be an understatement. However, during that time, there were some common denominators that stood out for me, things that made sense if you will, and things that didn’t. I’m bringing this to you all today because how we view those in need is often a reflection of the scope in which we see them. The timing of those interactions is usually limited, and that person’s life story is not always readily apparent. So when my editor broached me about speaking to a ministry that both reached out to the needy on a street corner, but which also spent time bringing “His” word into the prison system, I was immediately intrigued. I would tell you, that I’ve struggled with my “sympathy component” over the years. This was mainly because my early life experience and exposure to only the end result, that being criminality and ultimately incarceration, left me with only the lessor and more cynical opinion of my fellow man. Drug use and other factors, as well as family and social backgrounds were not necessarily a concern, as my job description and the necessity to be detached if you will, took precedence.
So what’s different now Freddy? Well, Jesus is different, and things just aren’t that simple any more. We are all God’s children and to that end, I am (Christian duty bound) to look beyond where I would have stopped looking years ago, to seek answers to the question; why has it come to this for anyone to be open to a way of a life unlike my own? With this answer I might understand their current condition, offer what I can in the way of God’s word and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as well as a hand up so they might have hope.
Matthew 25:35-40 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”.
I’ve spoken with a few Christian stalwarts of late, but none quite like Gus Barboza. Founder and the driving force behind Praise and Worship Ministries, or “P.A.W.” for short, Barboza is also an entrepreneur and owner of “Gustomized” Signs and Glass Tinting, The Gustomizer Music and DJ Company, White Dove Limousine Services and Inventor and owner of Gus-T-Winds Stunt Kites. So you see, he gets around. Gus’s road to ministry didn’t necessarily begin in the vein of business, but that experience would surely augment and facilitate all of his future efforts for the Lord.
During a moving operation, Gus was grievously injured after falling three stories through a stairwell. His Journey to Christ is what he knows saved his life, as statistics tell us, many in Gus’s predicament do not recover. Gus however would not only recover, but would bring his faith and testimony to the forefront of his mission. I spoke with the 51year-old proud father of spirited 7 year-old Logan Michael recently, and I was nothing short of amazed by the UMass Dartmouth Graduates ambition for the Lord and “His” children. Forced to close down some of his operations during his recovery, the DJ lover of all things music wrote a letter to the evil one, which eventually evolved into a rap song encapsulating his innermost feeling for the God who saved his life, and how He would take Gus to a full recovery and better days. The result was “Stop, Drop and Roll”, a rap song that would change Gus’s life, as well as the lives of all those around him. Moreover, it would change the lives of those he was yet to touch.
Growing up in New Bedford, and through his many business connections inside the local music industry, Gus came to know many a local singer, dancer, and rapper, who’d come to know Christ and were saved of their sins and addictions. Talent abounded and Gus began a mission to share the Gospel and to play local events, showcasing his talented friends and their performances for Christ. Rap, New age, Christian Contemporary, Dance, A-cappella and more, ensured there was always something for any in the audience. But a call from a local Pastor and friend would move the ball to a new set of downs to be sure.
Gus was asked to share his burgeoning Christian music mission, and specifically “Stop, Drop and Roll” within the prison system, and began playing events, including Christmas parties and the like in places like the Taunton Detention Center for Youth and affiliated Hospital. But when friend Allison Vigna asked that he bring his show to the Dartmouth House of Corrections for Women in 2015, Gus could never have imagined how his ministry would take off.
Things were “blowing up” at that time, (in a good way Gus explained), as he was using his many talents and those of his team to spread the Gospel. But when Allison called again, it wasn’t for music, but for help on a scale that she understood only a man with Gus’s drive, ambition, and heart for God could help with. Allison explained that there were three hundred homeless and hungry folks living aside of the train tracks by the “Save-A-Lot in New Bedford, and she feared immensely for there well-being. Gus sprang into action and ultimately called on his team to reach out with simple basic sack lunches including sandwiches, fruit and a drink for each of those in need. Somehow, and clearly through the power of the Holy Spirit, they pulled off a miracle, coming to aid and comfort of this varied group of downtrodden souls. But in true fashion, Gus new there was more to be done. You see in his eyes, Gus felt that a hand out must also come with a hand up, along with his best efforts as a servant of Christ to bring a sense of normalcy to the lives of these children of God. And so the praise and worship aspect of what had come to be known as “P.A.W. Ministries” had now become a whole lot more.
Gus and his Girlfriend Sharon Ambrose went about the business of providing much more than just a sack lunch. Gus felt that a home cooked meal, and the sense of belonging it brought to the homeless and hungry was in order, and he enlisted the help of his sister Lynne Carnivale to make it happen. Personal kitchens where invaded and the mission began to grow exponentially. Gus’s business’s and their equipment were usurped and put to the test with the acquisition and transportation of clothing and other personal items Gus was now acquiring for those in need. The pace was dizzying and getting more hectic. But Gus understood that solutions required action, and while that action was good, fruition and satisfactory “future” results were even better. In one early instance during this period, and as the P.A.W. Team where trying to gauge their efforts, there was a great abundance of extra food after an event, the team sought to further help where it was needed. Again, a mutual friend (George) who was working in a similar ministry, “Fishes & Loves” out of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in New Bedford provided the answer in a cooperative effort which fed even more of those in need. This interaction however, was even more of a benefit than they knew, as it would open a door that would be oh so needed in the not so distant future.
Along the way, as P.A.W. grew in name and recognition, via their unique (dog paw) insignia, which folks came to know the ministry by, there would be hurdles. You know, those things Satan throws in your path to trip you up as you move to serve God. These are the times Gus tells me that he was amazed at how quickly and completely Christ intervened on his ministries behalf and resolved any issues or impediments to “His” intentions. Like when Gus’s small trailer blew a tire under the stress of the huge clothing deliveries he was making to the Salvation Army and other needy stations. Inside the span of a week Gus would pass a home where the owners were giving away things on the front lawn that Gus knew he needed for the ministry and noticed a near new enclosed trailer much like he’d envisioned for his ministry sitting in the yard, also for sale. A subsequent conversation with the owner and his wife would lead to a severely reduced price, as they were so impressed with Gus that they simply had to help him. Time was a factor though and Gus needed to raise $2000.00 before the owner would be forced to move on. A “Go-Fund-Me” account was set up and immediately raised a few hundred dollars from those who valued Gus’s efforts and gave all they could. But it ended up being a stranger who saw his efforts on Facebook, caught up with Gus at one of his events and provided the rest of the money needed. So taken by Gus’s attempt to return an unused $1000.00 of the original $3000.00 she’d given him in an unmarked envelope, she told him to keep the money and further his ministry. This is just one of the many instances Gus cited for me that I simply don’t have the room to list. But I could hear the emotion in his voice as he spoke of that special time.
There would be other troubles along the way, as the health department would attempt to reign in the ministry on the preparation of food and state guidelines about the use of a licensed kitchen for such activity. Once again Christ would intervene and touch the hearts of all involved. Through much prayer and conversation, P.A.W. would come back through the open door at St. Paul’s, and is still using their kitchen today! Amen!
Others would attempt to partner with P.A.W. and offer their respective locations, but the relationship and comfort in their mutual efforts from the start, has kept P.A.W. right where they are today at St. Paul’s. Gus has partnered with HW Staffing and Jennifer Blatchford, as well as Roberts Joseph Staffing, in keeping with his ambitious philosophy of a hand “up”, not just “out”. Obviously not all are success stories, but the vast majority of lives touched by P.A.W. are finding the Lord and riding that love and confidence to better days. Homeless to home-owner, from married and pregnant on the street to shelter and a warm bed and food with the promise of a new beginning, to the mother of a homeless teenager crying and offering thanks to Gus and his team for locating her daughter and making sure she was OK, are just a few of the things we talked about. Truth be told, I ran my cell battery from full to empty during our talk, and found myself hoping for just a few more minutes. In the end, Gus reiterated his ministries mission statement to foster relationships and networks within communities that have higher than average at-risk youths and to bring hope and inspiration to challenged teens and inspire and motivate those less fortunate to rise up and overcome the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives. He explained that by the power of God, the ministry brings a message of hope to change lives, to restore failing relationships, to inspire the uninspired, to encourage the younger generation, to transform entire communities from the ground up. Sounds like P.A.W. is part of the solution and not the problem, much like I’ve often written. He’s not complaining, He’s doing God’s work, no exceptions or excuses. Stepping outside my Christian writing for just a second, and completely in my own words not Gus’s, lets stop putting Band-Aids on gunshot wounds shall we America? Our fellow man needs us, and no politician is the answer. Jesus is the answer! And if we can just get that straight, the rest will come much easier. At P.A.W., they get this…
P.A.W. has needs, as all ministries do. Lately Gus envisions an all in one mobile operation, complete with showers and toiletries to give the willing comfort and readiness to face their future. He established another “Go-Fund-Me” account to raise $200,000.00 for the purchase of a mobile home, which they may then convert into a one stop facility to help the homeless and hungry get on their feet and go. Gus’s job placement friends are fully engaged and will partner with P.A.W. and transport folks to jobs so they might realize that apartment down-payment they might need, or the steady work needed to get off the street. In this way, Gus feels strongly that the Holy Spirit will work through this effort and help P.A.W. be that part of the aforementioned solution. I agree Gus…
If you are so inclined or moved to help with a ministry so dedicated to some of our nations biggest community problems, please go to www.pawministries.com and find out about the Mobile Home Effort, or call them at 508-995-6902. P.A.W.’s website is a wealth of information as well, if you want to read more about their efforts and the people of P.A.W.
Galations 6:2 “Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” …