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A Grain of Wheat: A Profile of Tom Basile

by Millicent Martin Poole on September 1, 2010 in Profiles

Tom Basile never forgets the past. He sees it every day. Anyone who sees his office in New York City might think he’s always had it together. On the wall by his desk hangs his wedding portrait—taken nine years earlier and blurred with streams of colored light as he dances with his bride in Times Square. On the other side of the desk stands a bookshelf full of Bible commentaries and policy manuals along with NYPD coffee cups and “I Love My Daddy” photos of his daughter, Ashton. 

But just downstairs are reminders of his former life—the drug addict sitting in the second pew; the tall, slender man standing in the free dinner line; the unemployed professional milling around on the gritty sidewalk. Prior to graduating from Dallas Seminary five years ago, Tom was like them—homeless.

Today as the leader of the third oldest and one of the nation’s most recognized homeless ministries, Tom loves the men, women, and children at Bowery Mission, and he esteems them as if they were royalty. 

God used Tom’s season of hopelessness and addiction to alcohol, drugs, and pornography to equip him for his calling. He relates to the thousands with broken lives, seeing their potential for transformation into spiritual wholeness.

Though Tom had heard about Christ from his family, he began abusing alcohol at age thirteen. And alcohol led him to drugs. But he says, “The thing that had me totally addicted was crack cocaine. I used drugs as an excuse to avoid dealing with my bigger problem: work.” 

A Way of Escape

Tom built a successful career as a boat-show promoter and landlord of apartment properties. “I loved it,” he said. “I loved being the businessman. I loved being the promoter, the guy who made it all happen. I had figured out how to make money. I loved having nice cars. I loved being able to buy properties. It was intoxicating.”

But before long Tom used more and more of his income to finance his cocaine habit. And eventually he had to file for bankruptcy. The house, cars, and properties went into foreclosure. It was all gone. About that time Tom received a call from a friend in New York inviting him to a Word of Life Christian retreat.

Out of desperation and a little curiosity, Tom drove eleven hours, hoping to find answers. “I didn’t want to go to New York, but I knew if I stayed in Michigan, I would be drawn back into my world,” Tom said. While attending the retreat, he found something more. Tom sensed the presence of God and didn’t want to leave. God’s Word came alive to him, giving him hope. “I had to know what it meant to follow God with all my heart and all my soul.”

The Breaking Point

Yet the road to wholeness was filled with potholes. In the year that followed, Tom slept on his friend’s couch in Brooklyn . “I had massively messed up my life,” he recalls. “I had only one relationship with a godly person. Everybody else was a mess just like I was. Then one night I got into a discussion with my friend that didn’t go so well. So I acted like a five-year-old. I stormed out of the house and walked down the block in one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world for crack addictions. So I knew I could find someone on the corner with crack cocaine. And I did. I got high that night. I had only forty dollars and blew it.” 

Afterwards Tom thought, “I have one friend in the world in New York. Is this one friend gonna allow me to continue to live here?” Tom felt certain that friend would tell him, “You’re saying one thing about turning to God, but you’re obviously doing another, spending the night getting high.’”

That bad night broke him. It convicted him, causing him to ask himself, “Can I get off crack cocaine? I’ve tried and failed.” But despite his past Tom chose to keep believing in God’s greatness and His goodness to free him from his addiction. He knew he needed God’s help. 

Tom started attending Bible classes at New York School of the Bible and volunteering at his church. One of the ways God freed him was in bringing him to understand his true identity in Christ. “Proverbs 23:7 says that ‘as a man in his heart thinketh so is he’ [KJV]. When I stopped thinking of myself as an alcoholic, I stopped acting like one. We were created to rule over plant life. I was reversing God’s order of things. This [idea] that drugs and alcohol were more powerful than me was baloney!”

Finding New Purpose

One evening Tom asked his pastor, “How does the church help the alcoholic and drug addict?” The response marked Tom for life: “That’s a discouraging ministry. So often the people keep getting drunk. But here’s a number and name of the place where you can go and learn more about it.” 

The number was for the New York Rescue Mission. After volunteering there for three months, Tom was offered the position of Operations Manager. He accepted and served for more than three years. But he wanted to help more. “The Lord calls us to respond to the least. I wanted to do homeless ministry for life.”

Tom wanted to teach the Word. “The two things that motivated me to go to seminary were the battle cry for this ministry in needing more well-trained ministers, and I knew the first thirty-three years of my life were absolutely void of any biblical education.”

After several years of saving money and eliciting friends’ support, Tom married his sweetheart, Jill, and pursued his dream of attending Dallas Seminary.

Shortly after graduation he and his wife moved back to Staten Island, where Tom began his career at Bowery Mission.   

Many Christians believe that once you receive Christ you will never struggle with addiction. But Tom tells the people to whom he ministers, “Don’t let a bad night become a bad month or a bad year of going back to your old lifestyle. You may have a setback or stumble, but you’re still on that same journey. Just like a child learning to walk, a stumble should facilitate growth, not take you back to zero.” He reminds them of his own setback that led to healing. “Was I perfect? No! But three or four bad nights compared to the 365 in my previous year—that was a remarkable improvement.”

Out of bankruptcy, pornography, substance abuse, and homelessness, Tom found his way. Through stumbles, bad nights, and vices that might have destroyed him, he found unconditional love and a deeper relationship with Christ—and his purpose. That purpose is reaching out to serve God’s people in a ministry that in one year provides 306,000 meals, 45,000 nights of shelter, 50,000 articles of clothing, and 460 professional doctor’s appointments. Celebrities and countless volunteers have become involved in bringing homelessness and the Bowery Mission into the media spotlight. 

Thanks to the lives he touches daily, Tom never forgets his past. But he also has a present and a future. Like a grain of wheat that’s buried and grows into a thriving plant, by the grace of God Tom’s past is bringing forth a harvest. 

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