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From Burger King to Guiding Light Mission

Director of Guiding Light Mission using business experience to save souls and spur economic development.

As the owner of what once was the 5th largest Burger King operation worldwide, Stuart P. Ray worked hard to allow his customers to “have it your way.” But in his Encore life as executive director of Guiding Light Mission on the edge of downtown Grand Rapids, he gently endears his clients to “try to see it my way.”

Stuart emphasizes that it’s not really a stretch to go from operating fast-food eateries to restoring the lives of men who have been affected by alcohol, drugs, depression, homelessness and more. It’s all about building a business and moving people forward. “For me, the work I do here is about economic development,” he says. “It took me nine months to figure that out, but every one of these guys has special gifts and talents … as I look at it, God gives everyone special gifts and talents; how do I facilitate those? It’s exactly what I did at Burger King. My last 10 years were really about human potential.”

He pauses. And then? “Giddyup!”

It’s a word that encapsulates both the mission and passion Ray has brought to the mission since being hired to direct it in in the Spring of 2009. When he took over, Guiding Light was $300,000 in debt and boasted virtually no assets. Today, the mission at 255 South Division Avenue thrives to the tune of $750,000 in revenue and donations totaling around $1.7 million.

Stuart says he’s worked hard to change “the culture” at Guiding Light, which is the way an entity not only operates, but feels. Toward that end, he’s strictly enforced the “No Loitering” rule on sidewalks bordering the mission. No more sitting around in the lobby watching TV, either. Act like a gentleman. And if a guy shows up, he’d better be prepared to work.

Above all else, there’s a spiritual component that drives the mission: “It’s about putting people back to work,” says Stuart, “but with Jesus in the mission, and with faith-based Gospel-operating principles.”

Giddyup indeed.

Photos by Carson Brown