Crossroads’ Donor Relations Manager Exemplifies the Promise of Redemption
A brisk stride, a wide smile, eye-catching bow ties, and a porkpie hat.
This is Robert Woldhuis’s signature look. It’s the outward expression of his uncontainable vitality. Robert is the donor relations manager at Crossroads. If you are a donor, you might have received a handwritten note of thanks or a phone call from Robert. When he talks with donors, Robert tells them directly how much Crossroads means to students.
“More than twenty years ago, my mom found it in her heart to sign me up for Crossroads. She never gave up on me, and my mentors didn’t either,” Robert said.
Robert grew up in a family of faith in West Michigan and attended Christian schools, but he says he was always in trouble. Robert burned with resentment when his behavior led to expulsion in the last semester of his senior year of high school. He carried resentment and shame with him when he enlisted in the Army at the age of seventeen. For a time, he found purpose and focus in the Army. He also found happiness as a new husband and father.
Sadly, his happiness was short-lived. Life began to unravel after he left the structure of the military. His marriage fell apart under the stress of having four baby boys in five years. Filled with guilt over falling short as a husband, Robert turned to illegal substances to quell the pain. Soon, Robert’s life dissolved into addiction and crimes to fund his addiction. He stole from family and friends for several years until they wanted nothing to do with him. He bounced in and out of jail for five years.
At the end of his last jail term, he thought he was on a long-term path to sobriety, but his family suffered unfathomable tragedy three days before his release. His two oldest sons were killed in a car crash, and the devastation was too much to bear. Robert quickly fell back on a path that led to prison in Nevada in 2010.
During his prison sentencing, something changed in Robert. “I heard 36 months, 120 months, and I started to think of all the missed birthdays, my parents getting older, the years going by, and I knew I was in serious trouble,” he remembered. He also had a deep desire to honor the lives of his deceased sons.
Soon, he was living in a six-by-fourteen-foot cell, isolated for twenty-three hours a day.
Under those conditions, “wherever you go, there you are,” he said. “You can try to hide, but stuff ends up coming back. You have to face it and find things to involve your mind.”
Having started Crossroads Bible studies during a jail sentence several years earlier, he decided to resume his studies. His mother put money in his commissary so he could pay the postage to return his lessons to Crossroads. (Crossroads now provides postage-paid envelopes to alleviate this financial barrier for students.)
He was hungry for a chance to learn, and the Crossroads lessons cemented God’s Word in his mind. The letters from mentors opened his heart.
“In prison, you have to be very careful about who you let into your life because everyone is out to get something,” Robert said. “The mentors don’t have an endgame other than just being the hands and feet of Jesus. It took my guard down a little to receive those letters. I remember feeling so moved to think this person took the time to speak some encouragement into me and pray over me.”
After two years of solitary confinement, he spent the final years of his sentence at a work camp in Northern Nevada, building fences and fighting wildfires for the state for one dollar an hour. The fresh air and physical activity renewed him. The time at the camp gave him an opportunity to get rooted in sobriety and knowledge of the Bible. It gave him a chance to practice the way he wanted to live after his release.
This time, when he boarded a bus home to Michigan, he knew things would be different. His parents gave him shelter, and he humbly agreed to abide by their rules because he wanted them to know they could trust him.
Caring supporters helped Robert get back on his feet. He got a job through a man from his parents’ church who had written letters and befriended him while he was in prison. Another man from the church mentored him after his release and paid for Robert’s entry into a 25K run to give him a physical challenge to plan for.
Running became the perfect physical outlet.
The strenuous physical activity was the thing he needed to keep him sober, and it provided him with supportive friends who ran with him. Running led to the opportunity to share his story with others. It gave him the chance to meet his future wife and finally experience a harmonious marriage. Friendships formed through running also led him to the woman who would hire him at Crossroads Prison Ministries in early 2022.
“Getting this job at Crossroads was a full-circle moment,” Robert said. “Now I get to steward people who are passionate about our ministry. It is amazing to give back to the people who helped me get where I am today.”
Every mentor has undoubtedly wondered about past students. Did they continue to grow in faith? Did Crossroads make a difference? This series features the stories of former students who affirm that Crossroads helped them turn their lives around. Many, like Robert, are now free and using their time and talents to serve incarcerated individuals and returning citizens.
If you are a former student, we would love to add your story to our growing collection. Please mail us a letter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.