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Seminary couple’s faith & witness transform inner-city apartments

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–In downtown Louisville, Ky., police knew the 550 Apartments complex as a place of prostitution, gangs, violence and drugs. Residents knew it as a place of broken glass and glass ceilings.

But Michael Puskar and his wife, Netta, saw the subsidized housing complex as a mission field.

Now, nearly three years after the Puskars began working at the 550, God has produced much fruit from their labor and love.

Netta started managing the apartments shortly after Michael brought the family to Louisville to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michael soon joined his wife as the maintenance supervisor.

“When we entered that property, it was unsafe — a lot of drugs and alcohol and prostitution,” said Michael, a master of church music student from Parachute, Colo. “They [the police] recommended everybody leave by 5 p.m.”

And at first the Puskars considered leaving their jobs completely for safer vocations.

“We were wanting to leave the property, but God had big plans for this property,” Michael said.

And even as police officers served arrest warrants — sometimes six a day — the Puskars stayed and served Christ and the residents in both word and deed.

“In this kind of ministry, what we’ve learned is this: You can go out and tell words to folks. But people have heard enough words,” Michael said. “They want to see Christ. Man is selfish, and people are used to selfishness. They want to see sacrifice.”

Enduring the fear, intimidation and spiritual attacks, the Puskars selflessly served, prayerwalked and loved the complex.

“We just kept ministering to and loving the people for a year,” Michael said. “After the first summer, God started cleaning house.”

Also during that first summer, the Puskars began to reach out to residents by putting on neighborhood “foods.” Sponsoring music and speakers, they would raise money to buy meals for the impoverished tenants.

The fellowships furnished the residents with a few hours of fun and safety.

“This was new for the residents because they were afraid to come out — especially the widows,” Michael said.

After several more similar events and continued love, the Puskars have seen a complete change in the tenants. Many of them have been saved.

“There were tenants who used to cuss me. Now they pray with me,” Michael said.

Police even contacted the apartment office concerned. The officers hadn’t issued a warrant in six months.

But even with this success, the work continues for Michael and Netta. This July, the Puskars hosted an all-day carnival. Clowns, choirs, booths and burgers entertained and uplifted residents, as more than 150 were fed spiritually and physically. God saved four people that day.

“God wanted to do a God-sized thing,” Michael said. “The beautiful picture was to see the widows come out and have a meal and watch children laugh and play.”

The Puskars’ ministry is fueled by a work the Lord has done in their own lives.

Raised in the music industry and radically saved at age 15, Michael began his Christian life as a “Jesus freak.” Yet, several years later, he “got prodigal” — playing in bands and drifting from the Lord.

When he married Netta in 1991, the wayward son returned home to Christ. Leaving the nightclub business and looking for a new start, he moved his family to Colorado.

“We had a thorn in our nest, and a hunger in our heart,” Michael said.

In Colorado, the Puskars were discipled, and their hunger for God grew.

“We didn’t know anything about anything,” Michael said of his spiritual knowledge. “We didn’t know Job from job or palms from Psalms. It was all brand new again — a new faith and trust.”

An “Experiencing God” class and a Paul-like pastor produced a “Timothy” ready for ministry.

“Within six months I got my call,” said Michael, who soon literally sold everything and moved his family to Graceville, Fla., to attend the Baptist Bible Institute, now the Baptist College of Florida.

“The Lord was doing a lot of speaking, and we were doing a lot of, ‘Yes, Lord,'” Michael said.

The Puskars listened to God and started working in a drug and alcohol rehab center in Florida, leading in the worship on Sunday mornings.

In Florida, Netta also began managing a subsidized housing complex — a ministry that continued when Michael enrolled at Southern.

Since coming to Southern, Michael and Netta’s ministry has not been limited to the 550 Apartments. They have begun an outreach, worship and revival ministry called “River of Life Ministries.”

Michael recently resigned his position at the apartments in order to take a job teaching adult education to help people coming off welfare break the cycle of destitution.

But their ministry in the inner city continues. Netta continues to manage for the apartments, and the Puskars held a children’s fair Oct. 28 in Louisville.

Michael encourages anyone who would like more information about River of Life Ministries to contact him at [email protected] or (502) 896-1595.

The Puskars’ motivation for their ministry is simple — spreading the gospel in love.

“We have a passion for the lost. We have a passion for those in the street and those who don’t know Christ,” Michael said. “It is such an awesome thing to be in the midst of what our awesome God is doing.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library. Photo title: MICHAEL PUSKAR.

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  • Bryan Cribb