Police Chief Converts to Missionary
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“I spent 15½ years putting people in jail,” says Leathers, 56. “Now I’m getting people out of their prison cells.”
Tim and Tami both graduated from Evangel University and married in 1989. Tim served as a youth pastor at Bethel Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Rock Island, Illinois. Tami started working as an elementary schoolteacher.
In 2002, Tim became the pastor of Heartland Fellowship Church, an AG congregation in Wilton, Iowa, 25 miles west of Davenport. He quickly participated in other activities in the community of 2,800, including joining the police reserve. During college, Leathers worked as a dispatcher and jailer in Salem, Missouri, and he sometimes rode along with his identical twin brother, Mark Shawn Leathers, a police officer in Rolla, Missouri.
A year after moving to Wilton, at the age of 40, Tim became a full-time police officer — working bivocationally as a pastor — with a proviso that he wouldn’t draw Sunday shifts.
Only a year and a half after he joined the force, the town appointed Leathers as police chief of the department, which has four full-time and eight part-time officers. He continued pastoring, and saw his new position as a way to minister outside the walls of the church.
“I got to be with hurting people every day, people in desperate situations,” Leathers says. “I loved to help alcoholics and drug addicts.”
For extended periods, Tim and Tami invited people recovering from life-controlling issues to stay in their home. Meanwhile, Tami began working for a Davenport ministry that helps the poor, incarcerated, and addicted get back on their feet. By 2018, Tami believed she should open a residential home for women trying to re-establish their lives following drug dependency or detention.
Last year, the couple opened LifeHouse Women’s Home after purchasing a 6,000-square-foot log home in the country that previously served as a ranch for troubled boys. Tim, who remains an ordained AG minister, and Tami have their own private apartment connected to the house. They chose the path toward becoming U.S. missionaries with Chaplaincy Ministries as a means of credibility and accountability for the new ministry. Tami serves as executive director and CEO.
Currently, four women live at the home, although eventually a dozen will stay for the yearlong program. Lauren Howell became the first graduate on Nov. 21.
“Some come just because they know they need help, while others have been paroled straight out of prison,” says Tami, 54. “We live with these women; we don’t clock out at the end of the day.”
Tim and Tami have two grown children of their own, Abigail Beckett, whose husband, Jairus, is campus pastor of LIFEchurch in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Ryan Leathers, video director for North Point Church in Springfield, Missouri.
At LifeHouse, women advance through five phases of classes, all taught by Tami. Along the way, the residents earn more liberties, ranging from regaining use of their cellphone to finding employment and paying rent. A greenhouse is being constructed at LifeHouse Women’s Home in which produce will be raised to sell at a farmer’s market. In addition, 1,500 tilapia fish have been stocked on the property to sell, along with eggs laid by chickens roaming the land.
Job training includes classes in construction and welding, in part because major employers in the Quad Cities include John Deere and J.I. Case.
“We want to retrain these ladies to be able to accomplish anything they set their mind to, including traditional men’s jobs,” says Tim, noting that sober living rules are enforced. “If they are self-sufficient, they won’t go back into the lifestyles they came from.”
Christian women in the community serve as individual mentors to speak into the lives of the residents over their yearlong stay. One of the mentors is Lucinda Harms, who knew she wanted to help out after reading about LifeHouse Women’s Home last year in a local newspaper article.
Harms, 60, disciples one of the residents on a weekly basis. Their gatherings have included reading theologian Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved together, going for walks, eating lunch, going out for coffee, and playing games.
“Basically my role is to be another adult in her life to be a sounding board, encourager, and supporter,” says Harms, a pharmacist and nutritional wellness consultant. Harms mentors a woman who is between her own two daughters in age.
Harms has tried to impress upon her mentee the importance of appreciating the safety and security of LifeHouse Women’s Home. She also has endeavored to build trust for her charge, who mistakenly anticipated she would be evicted when she failed to live up to expectations.
“These women have an opportunity to feel like they’re part of a family, sometimes for the first time,” Harms says. “They finally feel as though they have a place to belong. And there aren’t a lot of expectations except to focus on their recovery.”