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Advocates for the Downtrodden

A small Hispanic congregation in the largest city in Montana is making a big impact by ministering to the addicted, hurting, and abused.

Billings Praise Center , an Assemblies of God church of 40 regular attendees, provides much-needed assistance for poverty-level children and families, drug and alcohol counseling services, and help for rape and abuse victims.

In years past, Time magazine labeled Billings as the “crank capital of the USA.” For years, Montana also had more suicides per capita than any other state.

The number of single mothers and Native Americans losing their lives to addictions and human trafficking is astounding, according to Billings Praise Center Pastor David Morales. He was born and raised in the south side of Billings, where the church is located, and considers the area as rough as many inner cities.

“Many modern-day churches have been unable, unwilling, or unknowing how to engage these modern-day lepers,” says the 58-year-old Morales, himself delivered from selling and abusing drugs nearly 40 years ago.

Billings has only one inpatient treatment center, which costs thousands of dollars for a four-weeks stay. While there are many outpatient services, those in the programs typically go for only a few hours a week, as mandated by the courts. Recipients usually don’t receive enough support to sustain sobriety, according to Morales.

Billings Praise Center provides advocacy for youth and families involved in the justice and educational systems, assists in finding housing, offers marriage counseling, and provides rehabilitation for men and women emerging from incarceration.

The church soon will open the Jeremiah Home, a place for women coming out of treatment or prison who still have a chance to regain custody of their children in foster care. The Jeremiah Home will provide sobriety support and discipleship. There are 4,000 children in foster care in the area.

“While the south side of Billings in no way resembles the projects of the large cities, it has the same demons that cause women, men, and even children to do the unspeakable,” says Morales, who has pastored the church for more than seven years. “It is our privilege as well as our obligation to the Cross to bring Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to those whom Satan has had his way with.”

Billings Praise Center has a laundry room with two commercial washers and dryers for single mothers who can wash their children’s clothes for free. Child Protection Services, the state’s Human Resource Development Council, and the public school system all send families to the church for the service.

Morales’ wife of 28 years, Theresa, oversees Billings Praise Center’s day care. It is a faith-based program with more than 50 poverty-level children who daily learn Scriptures and pray.

Andy W. Smith, secretary/treasurer of the Central District, says God has uniquely equipped Morales to be a bright light in a dark place.

“David is a guy who leaves it all on the field,” says Smith, 39, who pastored Billings Praise Center in his 20s. “He has been a phenomenal advocate for the downtrodden of the Billings area. David is a world changer.”

Veronica Romero, 35, celebrated her 11-year sobriety in December. Eleven years ago, she came to the church for help after being charged with a felony assault stemming from a drunken brawl.

“Pastor helped me through the court system, as well as finding a reason to be sober,” recounts Romero, who is assistant director of the church-affiliated Little Dreamers Day Care. “After a life of abuse, neglect, and self-destruction, I surrendered to the will of God and have never been the same since.”

Last year, Billings Praise Center announced it will have a new Dream Center facility paid for by the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby.

The family has committed to purchasing a three-story building that will serve as headquarters for many ministries of the Montana Dream Center. The church also will be opening a Teen Challenge ranch facility, which is still in the fundraising stage and will be purchased separately. The Dream Center construction project recently hit a snag because of an environmental issue.

“We give kudos to Hobby Lobby for fighting and caring for the local church as well as the poor and throwaways of society,” Morales says. “They believe in the vision to reach and serve the modern-day lepers.”

Photo: Despite the challenges, David and Theresa Morales love ministering in Billings.

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