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DAVID ADAMS speaks to Doug Stringer, the founder of a US-based ministry with a global reach… 

There are times when Doug Stringer – US-based evangelist, author, preacher and founder of Christian outreach organisation Somebody Cares – says he can relate to Forrest Gump, the unlikely hero of the 1994 film of the same name.

“He’d always end up in these photographs with all these famous people…he just showed up in the picture,” he explains.

THROWN IN THE DEEP END: Doug Stringer, the founder of US-based ministries Turning Point International and Somebody Cares, started seeing God use him to touch people’s lives from the day he decided to “sell out for the Lord”.


“I’m like Forrest Gump, I just show up in the picture and I make myself available and God seems to use that,” says Doug Stringer.

“I realise, with me, from one moment I can be in a garbage dump in Surabaya with thousands of homeless people and an hour or so later I can be in the presidential palace praying with the president. I’ve been with some of the most famous and wealthiest people from different arenas – from sports through to politics – and I think to myself ‘What am I doing here? I don’t have a clue what I’m doing’. But I’m like Forrest Gump, I just show up in the picture and I make myself available and God seems to use that.”

The 49-year-old – who recently made the latest of his many trips to Australia where he spoke to churches and pastors in Victoria – has spent the past 25 years working among and for those who society shuns, sowing God’s word and life into their lives, initially in Houston, Texas, and, more recently, all around the globe.

Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American navy frogman who was in Japan during the Korean War, Stringer went to the US at an early age where he lived in most of his younger years in the west coast city of San Diego.

After his parents divorced and his mother remarried, at the age of 15 he went back to live in Japan when his stepfather, also in the US navy, was stationed there. There he took up baseball, playing for the US, and wrestling, becoming first in his weight class for Japan. 

Stringer returned to the US at the age of 18. After dropping out of school, he spent some time living rough, riding goods trains up and down the west coast of the country before, at the age of 21, he tracked down and met up with his biological father in Houston, Texas.

“Though it was great to see my father, there was something missing – I knew that wasn’t all I was looking for,” he says. “And in was in that next three year journey – from ‘78 to ‘81 – that the Lord had to take me through a whole chain of events before finally bringing me to Himself.”

Stringer was running his own fitness centre in Houston when he finally “began a relationship” with Christ. Amazingly, he recalls that he started ministering to people virtually from the day he decided to “sell out for the Lord”.

“The Lord began to set things in order immediately in me. Everytime I read the Scriptures at night it became alive to me. The very next day I’d share it with people at my exercise studio and people I’d come across and that one verse I’d read the night before became life to someone else,” he recalls.

“I began to move in words of knowledge for people, I began to pray for people and they’d just look at me with tears in their eyes. I didn’t know what an evangelist was at the time but people would come to Christ everyday. After I would close my business at 9 o’clock at night, people would start showing up – 20, 30, 50, 150, 200, 250 – on any given night we would have functions; (my exercise centre) became a Christian activities centre. And this was me as a brand new Christian just making myself available. The Lord used that – in fact that was one of my prayers – ‘Lord, if you can use anyone like me, who’s broken your heart and brought shame to your name, I make myself available to you’. And that’s what He did, He took me at my word.”

“Soon I began to see hitch-hikers and runaways and drug addicts and prostitutes and people who were in desperate need. I tried to call places but I couldn’t find anywhere or they had waiting lists, so I just put them in my apartment. One day I had 17 people from the streets, just before Christmas one year, living in my apartment. A businessman gave me a two bedroom apartment if I would teach a Bible study and an exercise class once a week in the new apartment complex he developed…well, I put six more people there. Then another group of Christian businessmen had a three-bedroom house that they didn’t know what to do with so they gave it to me and I put 12 more people there. So that’s the humble beginnings – I was thrown into ministry, literally.”

It wasn’t until several years later in the mid-Eighties that Stringer says he even recognised that he was a minister.

“I started giving them a business card that said – ‘Somebody Cares. Call 24 Hours a Day’ and gave them a hotline pager number and a phone number. I found there were kids that for some reason, because of that term, would not throw those cards away; they’d hang on to them just as a last semblance of hope.”

“I thought that’s what all Christians were supposed to do – to make themselves available,” he says. “(The recognition came) only after a group of pastors and other ministers said ‘Doug don’t you realise God has ordained you? You can’t run from something God has placed in you’.”

The origin of the outreach ministry, Somebody Cares, dates back to that time. 

“Working with runaways and drug addicts and prostitutes and gang members, I would pass out tracts or Christian literature, but I noticed that a lot of them would throw those away,” says Stringer.

“But I started giving them a business card that said – ‘Somebody Cares. Call 24 Hours a Day’ and gave them a hotline pager number and a phone number. I found there were kids that for some reason, because of that term, would not throw those cards away; they’d hang on to them just as a last semblance of hope. So anywhere from a few months to years later, people would call from those business cards.”

He began to notice a group of like-minded people – those who had a “heart of compassion for the lost” – doing similar work to himself. So he started a network called Somebody Cares with the aim of linking together those who were reaching out to others.

By the early Nineties, the Somebody Cares network had grown to include 300 pastors and ministers from across denominations and ethnicities within the Houston area who joined together in signing a covenant of unity. In 1996 those involved with Somebody Cares joined together in what become known as ‘Houston Prayer Mountain’, praying and fasting together for 40 days as they lifted up their city and nations over the world to God. More than 25,000 people showed up.

“We had very notable miracles,” recalls Stringer. “Gang members would walk in and take off their colors and give their lives to Christ; we had people from various denominations who normally wouldn’t even work together come and leave their labels outside as they came to pray together.”

These days Somebody Cares continues to bring together Christians of various backgrounds to pray together for common purposes, such as ‘Adopt-A-Gang’ initiatives in which people pray for the members of particular gangs or prayer walks which focus on prayer for particular neighbourhoods.

It’s also involved in “compassion coalition” initiatives which bring together Christians, churches and organisations who are already helping to address the unique humanitarian or other needs of a community in some way to better coordinate their efforts.

“Rather than creating something, you identify what already exists in a community and bring those organisations together to be more impacting…” explains Stringer. “What that does, it tends to open the hearts of the unchurched to see the relevancy of Christ being tangible through the church – not the institutional church so much as through the church of a community. It also provokes the church of a community to realise that ‘You know, we are part of something bigger than ourselves; that is not just about my stewardship of one congregation, this is about me co-pastoring or co-facilitating the church of a greater region’.”

While Somebody Cares started out as the Houston-based outreach arm of Stringer’s other ministry, Turning Point International (an organisation which now has missionaries on almost every continent), the model on which it’s based began to catch the attention of others.

“We found that there were…cities around the country and around the world who said ‘We want to do the same thing’,” says Stringer.

As a result, the Somebody Cares ‘model’ has since been exported to a number of other cities and regions around the US – including in Texas, Florida, California and Massachusetts – as well as to cities and even whole nations overseas, such as in Fiji and the Scottish city of Aberdeen.

“The Somebody Cares ‘model’ has since been exported to a number of other cities and regions around the US – including in Texas, Florida, California and Massachusetts – as well as to cities and even whole nations overseas, such as in Fiji and the Scottish city of Aberdeen.”

Such has been the success of the model that on several occasions when a natural disaster has hit a region – such as when Hurricane Ivan stormed across the south-eastern United States in 2004 or when the worst floods in 70 years recently affected parts of New England in the country’s north – authorities turned to the local Somebody Cares networks for help.

“So what’s happening is in all these communities (is that)…when something happens, they immediately go to and call or email Somebody Cares to see how they can help or get help,” explains Stringer. “It’s become a localised network of churches and ministries who are becoming very tangible expressions of Christ’s love for the community.”

One of the greatest challenges for Somebody Cares came after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the US city of New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast in August and September, 2005.

“In New Orleans we had churches were were already related to – they were giving us quick assessments and the same thing happened when Rita hit south-east Texas – we already had a relationship…so immediately, even before the Red Cross or the government agencies were able to get their assessments, we were able to get the on-ground assessments from church leaders,” recalls Doug Stringer, the founder of Somebody Cares.

“Church leaders know their community far better than a federal group or a state group coming in, they know their area better.”

At the same time, says Stringer, people started contacting Somebody Cares from across the US and beyond asking what they could do to help. The group were able to match these offers with the needs being reported from the disaster site.

“So in real time, (we were) getting assessments…and getting people out to locations as the needs were rising.” he says. “The first few days after Katrina when 250,000 people came from New Orleans to Houston, Texas, as evacuees, over 21,000 showed up at my office alone. In fact, the Red Cross and FEMA (the US Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other people were actually referring people to us because they were still trying to get their systems in place.” 

Stringer says the churches of Houston responded, joining in Somebody Cares’ relief efforts as they opened their doors to those who needed shelter and relief.

“We had Somebody Cares church sites all over Houston (providing everything) from cots to shelters to food to providing gift cards to Walmarts and Kmarts for basic humanitarian needs like groceries and immediate emergency needs for families, diapers or nappies and formula for the children.”

Stringer says that while at the time he only had three paid staff – “I thought Lord, how are we going to do this?” – many other people simply showed up to help. There was also support from the Houston Christian radio station – KSBJ Radio – who co-ordinated the collection of giftcards for gas, groceries or general needs via local YMCAs.

“That spread all across America to where, within the first eight weeks, we were able to provide $US1.5 million in gift cards to evacuees, all by donation…” he recalls. 


Doug Stringer’s relationship with Australia goes back to 1983. He was driving along the road into Houston one day when he saw a man walking along the side of the road with a sign that said “Australian”.

      Stringer, who had just broken up with Australian woman he had been living with, didn’t want to have anything to do with Australians just then so he drove on.

      But about 100 metres further down the road, God convicted him and he stopped and backed up.

     “The Holy Spirit convicted me so I had to back up,” Stringer recalls. “I remember the first thing he said to me was ‘G’day mate’ and I remember thinking ‘Yeah, g’day to you too’ but he needed a place to stay for one night so I took him to my exercise studio that at that time had become Turning Point and was an outreach centre where we had Bible studies almost every night…”

      The man he picked up turned out to be Andrew Merry, an Australian from Victoria who had been backpacking around the world. While he had intended only in spending a short time in Houston, the theft of his passport and his bag meant the stay turned into a six week sojourn.

    “He began to see, in his words, ‘Christianity in action’ – he saw the genuineness of all these young Christians that really had a passion for God; that enjoyed life, enjoyed worship; enjoyed being excited for God but were out doing tangible things – reaching the homeless, reaching drug addicts and helping people. He was so touched by that, he gave his life to the Lord within a few days.”

      Merry, who is now the senior pastor at the Ocean Grove Baptist Church near Geelong, Victoria, recalls his time in Houston.

     “God had it all organised,” he says. “I was a phys ed teacher travelling around seeking meaning in life and I was put next to a gym/aerobics instructor whom God was using to shine His light in a dark world,” he says.

     “My life was radically changed by my commitment to Jesus and I have always thanked God for Doug, his obedience and his willingness to be used by Him.”

      Stringer first visited Australia in 1986 and has since been back countless times. On his latest visit, in May, he spoke to churches and ministers in the Geelong region about “God’s abiding presence”. 

     “We can look around the world and we have Middle Eastern conflicts, we have Indonesian conflicts, we have human and natural disasters going on – we can watch the daily news and our hearts can be quite overwhelmed and perplexed,” he says.

     “And our man-made ways, our man made efforts, our political efforts are not working. So what do we need? We need an intervention of God Himself…One nod from Heaven can turn everything around in a moment.”

“Then we were able to procure – through our partnerships – over $US30 million of goods: from generators to groceries to clothing and all the basic necessities – and we were able to distribute that all of our sites throughout the Gulf of Mexico – through Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.”

It’s that willingness to help anyone in Christ’s name which Stringer says consistently results in people who would normally resist the Gospel being open to hearing it.

He recalls, for example, attending a recent event in California at which former Indonesian President Sukarnoputri Megawati who was being honored for helping Somebody Cares Indonesia, its partner Children’s Hunger Fund and other agencies get resources into Banda Aceh in the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. 

Stringer was having breakfast the next morning with Paul Tan – president of the Indonesian Relief Fund – when they received a phone call from President Megawati asking them to lunch.

“(We) had about two hours sitting on a couch in a hotel just having the most wonderful time of conversation. She began to share with us the great needs for education and poverty, for children and also for the issues of AIDS and autism in Indonesia,” he says.

Stringer says such a conversation would never have taken place if the church from all over the world had not reached out to help those Indonesians who had been affected by Boxing Day disaster.

“That opens the hearts of people…”

He says that while there are times when it has been suppressed beneath other imperatives, helping to relieve others’ suffering has always been a part of the core value of the church.

“We are created for moments like this – we are the one’s who bring hope in the midst of tragedies,” he says. “Luke, chapter 21, talks about wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis but verse 13 says that but in the midst of this, this will turn out as an occasion or opportunity, for your testimony.

“We know that God doesn’t bring these on – God wants to bring life, not death – but when these things happen, we the church have a great opportunity to bring hope in the midst of despair, victory out of disasters and triumphs over tragedies. It’s an opportunity for us to be…the tangible expressions of Christ.”

Among his other roles, Stringer also sits on the board of George Otis Jr’s Sentinel Group, the organisation responsible for the Transformations videos that show how revival is actively transforming communities around the world.

He notes that while in 1999, only eight communities around the world, including Cali, Colombia, were experiencing revival, that figure has since risen to over 1000 communities and even whole nations experiencing some level of “transforming revival”.

“Up until last year most of them were in places like Latin America, Brazil, Uganda, places like that,” says Stringer. “But we’re beginning to see – and it’s really exciting – a kind of bubbling over where things are beginning to stir even in the Western world.”

In an attempt to explain why the West often doesn’t seem to experience the sorts of revivals seen in the developing world, Stringer says that one key factor in all the places that are experiencing revival is that of desperation.

“Revival comes by desperation and desperation by one of two ways – either passion or persecution,” he says. “Oftentimes in our Western mindset we tend to lean on our own securities rather than a desperate need for God. We sing songs like ‘I’m desperate for you’ but the reality is we’re not desperate.” 

Stringer says people in the West have an “institutional mentality” and tend to put God in a box.

“Whereas if you invite God’s presence, we’re really saying ‘God, you have the right to be God – do whatever you need to do – change my thinking and rearrange the furniture of my heart and You do what You want to do’,” he says. “That’s very uncomfortable for most of us who know how to plan our day and have everything set.”

Somebody Cares America

Turning Point Ministries International



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