It was 1983. Charles Biller, then 32, was fresh out of prison after serving a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for armed robbery, auto theft and assault.
Biller had few resources and little money. He had found God while behind bars, but that certainly didn’t mean life would go smoothly when he got out. There were times Biller wound up sleeping on the street or crashing at a friend’s house.
I know what it is to be homeless, he said. I know what it is to be broke.
Biller, 62, of Fort Wayne, eventually made a living working with his hands. He has worked in carpentry and furniture shops and as a master plumber. A few years ago, it dawned on him that he could combine his trade with his faith and give foster children a bed to sleep on.
That idea turned into Beds of Hope, a new ministry that will provide beds, desks and other furniture to children, needy families and anyone else who has been down on their luck.
Biller’s path to starting a faith-based organization is an unlikely one. He joined the Marine Corps in 1967 and completed a short tour in Vietnam in 1970. He felt like everyone hated him, including God. He was the one person God could take frustrations out on, he said.
After the military, Biller spent a lot of time getting in trouble and so forth. Eventually, he wound up in prison. Almost halfway into his sentence, Biller said he turned to religion at a particularly low point.
I was 27, been in prison for four years, my first wife had divorced me, he said. I woke up and realized I had totally destroyed my life. That I virtually had nothing to look forward to.
He asked God to save him so he wouldn’t have to take his own life. After praying, Biller realized it was Sunday morning. He decided to go to the prison’s church service. He doesn’t remember what the sermon was about or what hymns were sung. All he remembers is walking down the aisle and feeling an overwhelming sense of hope.
While building a bed for his stepson several years ago, Biller had the idea to turn his furniture-making skills into a business. But when a woman spoke at his church about how foster children often start out with very little, Biller thought about turning his idea into something more.
I immediately felt a tug at my heart about, Gosh, they could probably use a bed,’ he said.
Although Biller tried to get his idea off the ground, he said it just wasn’t the right time. Biller married his current wife, Melody Crossgrove-Biller, last fall.
On the patio one day, Biller thought about his bed-making ministry idea and asked God what he should do. What he heard back was, Step out in faith. The excuses he constantly made – having little money, nowhere to build the beds – were getting in the way of his dream.
He went in to talk to his wife. They prayed, and he asked her what they should do.
Let’s do it, he recalled her saying. Let’s go for it.
Now, Beds of Hope recently became a corporation and is still a few months away from attaining nonprofit status. Biller also is in the process of partnering with the Huntertown United Methodist Church’s ministry. The church works with about 100 area agencies, churches and schools to provide clothing, bedding, cooking utensils and other items to needy families, said Sherry Myers, the church’s outreach coordinator.
Several organizations in the area provide furniture for families, Myers said. A group of retirees at St. Joe United Methodist Church even helps provide furniture for the Huntertown ministry. But the need for beds in Allen County is overwhelming.
This town does not have enough beds, Myers said. If I had 50 beds, I could get rid of them today.
The urgent need for beds and other furniture was one reason Biller said he never gave up on Beds of Hope. Biller plans to make dressers as well. He wants to show families that they don’t deserve to sleep on the floor, that they’re valued, that they’re not a joke to God. The message is simple.
God loves you, and so do I, he said.