Rev. Bill Roscoe stands in front of several flags, including two American flags. Bill was brought up with a deep sense of patriotism and loyalty to country. (Photo provided by the Boise Rescue Mission)
By Steve Bertel
Since April, 2002, Rev. Bill Roscoe has been the President/CEO of the Boise Rescue Mission. He’s the public face of the Mission, really – his appointment calendar filled with radio and TV interviews, civic club speeches, community meetings, and the like. His warm demeanor and easy laugh exude his love for the Lord. He’s a minister, a leader, a servant, a man of peace.
But it wasn’t always that way.
At age ten, Bill’s parents and their children – he’s the eighth of nine kids – moved from his birthplace, North Hampton, Massachusetts, to Marin County, California, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
“I couldn’t have asked for better parents than what God gave me in terms of how much they loved us and how they took care of us,” Bill recalls. But, as for a God-centered upbringing, it was practically nonexistent. “There was no Christian training in our home at all.” His much-older siblings had already left the nest, “So my next-older brother, my little sister, and myself grew up going to Sunday school every once in a while, because my mother insisted on it. She and my father would drop us off at a local church, and then they’d go shopping or something while we went to Sunday school.” The reason? “Almost his entire life, my father had a very, very bitter taste in his mouth about religion. As for churches, he felt ‘All they want is your money.’”
In the late ’60s, Bill was a typical teenager. “We’d hitchhike down to San Francisco and hang out with the hippies; after all, it was the age of sex and drugs and rock and roll,” he remembers.
In that era, America was a nation divided. By politics, by the so-called “free love sexual revolution” …
And by the Vietnam War. “I had two older brothers already serving in Vietnam by the time I was in high school. So I was rather unique: while a lot of my friends were protesting the war, I was on the other side of the fence, defending our military involvement there. My parents had instilled in us a healthy respect for law and order. Mom, apple pie, and the American flag were very important to all of us … so I always had that sense of patriotism and loyalty to my country.”
That’s why, rather than graduating, Bill and two friends went to the local Army recruiting office and enlisted. But instead of being sent to the southeast Asian jungles to fight the Viet Cong, as Bill had hoped for, the military sent him in the opposite direction – to Germany.
Of course, drinking beer has long been customary in that country. So, coupled with his deep frustration, Bill began drinking, throwing back many a mug. “It got me into a lot of trouble. I wasn’t a good soldier,” he readily admits. “I was really angry because my two buddies I had enlisted with had been sent directly to Vietnam. I knew they were in combat. And I was mad because they were both seeing action, while I was stuck in Germany.”
He eventually got his wish, though, and was sent to South Vietnam, assigned to first build roads in the country’s remote central highlands as a combat engineer and later, working as a radio operator on dangerous reconnaissance missions. “It was exciting, challenging. And awfully scary. After all, it was war,” he says.
His tour eventually ended and, on the day he was scheduled to ship out, Bill received an urgent message. With devasting news.
His father, back in the States, had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer – and was given only months to live. “It rocked my world. After all, Dad was my hero. I had no idea he was even sick,” Bill remembers. “In his younger days, Dad was a bantamweight boxer; he was built like a rock, with not an ounce of fat on him. Plus, he had worked as a carpenter his whole life, so he had really stayed in shape.” That is, until years of smoking began taking their toll.
Bill was assigned to San Francisco’s Presidio. That way, he could still serve in the military and live at home, and be available to drive his father to chemotherapy treatments. “All I knew was: I was mad. My dad was dying, literally melting away right before my eyes. I didn’t know what was going to happen to my mom; I didn’t have much money; my little sister was still in high school; and I was in charge of the family. It was an awful time. Here I was, just a long-haired, scruffy guy with no career goals – whose only experience had been in the military. And I didn’t handle it very well. At all. I drank and drank and drank. I got arrested for drunk driving, but got off the hook by paying a fine and having my license suspended for thirty days.”
A short while later, another arrest. “It was a bad scene. I was at a party – under the influence again, and the police came to arrest a buddy of mine who was AWOL. I thought, ‘This is my Army bro. I can’t let this happen.’ So I took a swing at the officers and, of course, they handcuffed me, threw me in their patrol car, and booked me into the Marin County Jail.”
After spending weekdays at the Presidio serving his military time and weekends behind bars serving his jail time, Bill decided to try to get his life in order. So, following his father’s footsteps, he joined a union and became a professional carpenter.
When his father passed, the Roscoe household dynamics changed. His youngest sister – the last of the nine siblings – graduated high school and left home; his mother eventually remarried; and Bill himself wed his sweetheart, Sandy, the two moving farther north, to the growing city of Rohnert Park, near California’s wine country.
On the outside, life was good. Bill was living the American dream. “I was swinging a hammer and pounding nails and making a good wage,” he fondly remembers. “I had a beautiful wife, two beautiful kids (a daughter and a son), a new truck, a house that we bought with the GI bill, good benefits, health insurance, the whole nine yards …”
But on the inside, Bill’s life was in turmoil. He continued to drink – heavily. As a result, “My wife and I fought tooth-and-nail all the time. She’d take the kids and leave me at least once a month. I’d come home from work and she’d be gone. No note. Nothing. She’d just be gone.” He’d routinely make a few phone calls, network with friends, and would eventually find where his wife was staying. And he’d go to her. “I swore to her, ‘If you come home, I’ll never drink again.’”
Of course, being the loving, devoted wife who trusted her husband, Sandy would return home with their children. But several weeks later, Bill would be back drinking again. And the cycle continued.
“I wanted to be a good husband, a great dad, and a normal, ordinary, responsible person. But, man, I just could not stop drinking,” he says, sadly shaking his head. He sought help through support groups, to no avail. “Granted, I wasn’t going out to bars or getting in fights or anything like that, but I just could not stop drinking. I was miserable.” And increasingly desperate, to the point where “I even considered ending my life.”
But then, Bill’s life took a turn for the better through, of all things, a bestselling horror novel.
“I read The Exorcist,” he says. “And quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me! So I called my mother – at that time, she and my stepdad attended a church in the city of Petaluma, a few miles south of where we lived – and I told her I wanted to get my kids baptized. I definitely didn’t want the devil getting them! Of course, my mother was delighted, saying, ‘I’m sure our pastor will be happy to do it for you.’”
When the pastor came to their house, he invited Bill and his family to attend church for a few Sunday mornings to see for themselves what it was like, and to see if they’d be comfortable with the church, before having their children dedicated. “So we did. And, sitting there in the congregation, I’m thinking about what he’s telling us … about what the Bible says … and I’m ready to explode; I didn’t know what to do,” Bill remembers. “I knew what the pastor was saying was true; he pointed out where the Bible says I can be saved and that God loves me. But I was having a really hard time believing it.”
One evening, Bill came home – sweaty from a hard day at yet another construction site – and stepped into the shower. He wanted to clean up before dinner. But unbeknownst to him, those steps into the shower would become his first steps in his walk with the Lord.
Still plagued by his personal demons, “I had tried everything to get sober and be a decent human, a normal guy, a good husband and father. But nothing worked. Finally, in sheer desperation, I looked up at the shower ceiling and said, ‘God, if you’re real, come into my life. Make me a different man.’ And just like that – in my mind, my heart – I heard the words, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you.’ In just a fraction of a second. It was that quick! At that time, I didn’t even know it was a Bible verse.
“And boy, woo-hoo, I was so excited! I believed, I received, and I accepted Jesus right there! Right there in the shower. So I wrapped a towel around myself, ran down the hallway to the kitchen, to where my wife was cooking dinner, and I told her I had accepted the Lord – that I was a Christian now, and that she should be one, too!”
Of course, his wife initially reacted the way some non-believing spouses typically do, telling her husband, in no uncertain terms, to go “pound sand,” as he puts it.
But Bill remained undaunted. Later that night, he opened a Bible someone had given him years before, and read in John what it means to be saved. “I knew I was a sinner. I knew I was guilty of terrible things. And I knew those sins would send me to hell. But the kicker to my salvation was John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” And that did it for me! I knew that I knew that I knew I was saved!”
Then, when the family attended church the following Sunday, “Everyone saw how happy and joyful and excited I was that I had accepted the Lord and, of course, my mother was glowing!” Bill recalls.
And his wife noticed it, too. “Because she accepted Christ into her heart that night as well!”
Their fresh, newly-found faith prompted the Roscoes to not only go ahead with their children’s baptisms, but to also become integrally involved in the church.
One of Bill’s first duties was to arrange speakers for the men’s group meetings – and one of the first speakers he set up was the executive director of the Redwood Gospel Mission (the Rescue Mission) in nearby Santa Rosa. The two men soon became close friends, with Bill often strapping on his tool belt and helping the Mission with its many carpentry needs, which included a major remodeling of the women’s and children’s shelter.
By the early ’90s, Bill had become an ordained minister and, as now the Director of Youth Ministries, he helped develop the Mission’s outreach program for homeless and at-risk youths through a teen drop-in center – to counter the troubling gang activity flourishing in the Santa Rosa area at that time. “God was very, very gracious and opened a lot of doors for us!” Bill exclaims. “The drop-in center was originally a building that had been donated to us, and was conveniently right near the local high school … law enforcement authorities gave me a ‘free pass’ into three juvenile detention centers, so I could hold Bible studies and mentor kids when they got in trouble … and someone even donated a brand-new van so I could take kids to Giants’ games at Candlestick Park!”
Their work with the Lord eventually took Bill and Sandy even farther north – where Bill became Executive Director at Redding’s Good News Rescue Mission. Its executive director had retired and the Mission was on the brink of bankruptcy. So Bill took the helm, his wife at his side.
Four years later, he received a phone call from a friend, the executive director of the Boise Rescue Mission. “He told me: I’m taking a job in Omaha and I’d like to recommend you to my board of directors as a candidate for the director’s job here.” But Bill respectfully turned him down. After all, Redding was his home now. He and Sandy had settled in. They had a large circle of friends. The Mission was doing well. Life was good.
Six months later, another call. This time, from the Mission’s chairman of the board, again asking Bill if he would be interested in the top job in Boise. “When I told my wife, she replied, ‘Well, we haven’t had a vacation in quite a while and we’ve never been to Idaho so, sure, let’s go check it out.’ When we made that first visit, we were both completely amazed at how good, how comfortable we felt here,” he recalls. “So we prayed about it … and God ended up opening the door.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Bill oversees a paid staff of 150, countless volunteers, and six separate outreach ministries under the Boise Rescue Mission “umbrella.”
This year, he and Sandy – the woman who stayed with him through it all – celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary. Next year, Bill is set to celebrate his 20th year as the Mission’s executive director.
His goal in life? “To be a man of God; a man of integrity, courage and honor,” he says. “I want to be the best husband, father, grandfather, and friend to all the folks God has brought into my life. I want to love and help people as much as possible. And I want to never forget that ‘but for the grace of God, go I.’”
Steve Bertel is a multi-award-winning radio, television, print media, and social media journalist, who recently retired after a 30-year broadcasting career. Now a busy freelance writer, he recently released his debut suspense novel “Dolphins of an Unjust Sea”, available on both Amazon and Kindle. Steve and his wife of 39 years live in Meridian, Idaho. He can be reached at [email protected].